Co-production: sniffing out the fakes

Co-production means many things to many people.

For me, REAL100% co-production means developing ideas and putting them into action collaboratively – experts by profession (eg drs, psychiatrists, researchers etc) and experts by experience (eg people who use services, carers) working together from start to finish.

Whether it’s a training programme, a publication, an infographic (a graphic that has key messages embedded), campaigns, whatever . . . What it ain’t is a tick-box exercise where you get a few lay folk (bless them – I’ve been there) who give their feedback (because they’ve been touched/impacted by said issue) on a project that has already been shaped; and fits into a strategic plan that isn’t shared amongst the good folk who want to be “involved”.

6 years engaged in all kinds of (supposed) co-projects – with a mental and physical health emphasis – with a wide range of organisations from the national, regional and local – from the NHS, charities,  research organisations and local authorities – has made me a pro at smelling a co-production fake.

Surely a real 100% co-production project shows two clear signs:

  • Investment and commitment: proper money has been put into it and clearly detailed in objectives and strategies at the organisational/collaborative level.
  • Equality: Everyone is equal. The voice of the expert by experience (say the carer) is as important as the expert by profession (say the dr or psychiatrist or researcher) as to what projects are going to be developed, how they’re developed and how their impact is assessed.

Force Field Analysis explained: on the back of three envelopes

Hi – This is the first of a short series on how to use popular models to create change that lasts. We’re going to start with Force Field Analysis.



Imagine a boat. Certain forces will make the water rise (the driving or positive forces) and others (resisting/negative forces) will make it fall taking the boat with it.



If someone – let’s call him Alex – wanted to improve his mental health using the force field analysis tool he’d start by drawing out how things are now. He eats well and exercises regularly (his positive forces). Medium length lines to represent that he knows he could eat and exercise better  (if he was being honest). But he’s also stressed, scared, isolated and sleeping badly. Long lines to represent powerful forces (in fact he feels quite over-whelmed by them when he thinks about it). So to make things better for Alex – ideally – he’d have to take active steps to weaken the negative forces or enhance the positive ones.


Let’s apply it to a more professional, public affairs context – take campaigning – then the idea would be to get the water to rise with strong allies and key messages, well-timed activities, and knowing who your opponents really are etc; and minimise the negative forces like failing to have a clear purpose and sloppy planning.


If you want to know more and like videos here’s something for you.

If you like reading stuff then why not try this one or perhaps this one.

How you can help mental health carers

A blog to mark Carers Week 2017

I’m a carer. An unpaid mental health carer. And an active mental health carer campaigner. It’s not all of me, but it’s a very important part of how I’ve chosen to be. I’m proud that I care.

It’s very easy for us – unpaid carers – to become apologetic and lose self-confidence when we tell someone new that we’re an unpaid mental health carer. Because people tend to respond to the news in one of four ways (all unhelpful):

People switch off. Distance themselves from you. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe my face becomes a mirror reflecting big stuff they’d prefer to sweep under the carpet? Things like ill-health, lack of control? Perhaps they’re frightened? Best leave this alone because I’m digging myself a wee hole.

People start saying strange things to me like: “You’ll get your reward in heaven.” Framing me as if I’m some sort of sad soul totting-up the points to my miraculous assent to heaven. Is this a tiny bit patronising or is it just me (being “sensitive”)?

People start interrogating me, questioning my judgement: “Why didn’t you . . . . . Why don’t you” Framed in a way that they have the answers to my “problem”. Problem is I don’t see how I choose to live my life as a problem it’s how I’ve chosen to be because it’s important to me to be that way (to care).

People presume you don’t work and time is not important to you. Untrue. My experiences as a carer have blended into my professional life so that everyone gains from the “journey” I happen to have been on with others.

So what can you do to help me and other carers?

If you care about us, please ask the 3 hows:

How is . . . . . . [the person you’re caring for]? I love it when people ask me this question because it tells me that they understand a bit about my life and what’s important to me; and that they care about me and the person who I care for. 

How are you? 50% of carers will become unwell because of their caring role. So the more you can remind us to take care and look after ourselves the better.

How can I help? Little acts of kindness go a long, long way; and can turn a tough day into a better, brighter one. 

We’re all in this together. It’s just that some of us – at some point on the dial – have chosen to step into the world of the unwell to help someone out a bit; and they’re helping us in some way that we might not even understand yet.