Helen Phoenix (Head of Customer Collaboration) Heads up a small team which has had lots of different names! she share her views of co-production in housing.
It's another cloud. Thanks. Hi. Do you want to introduce yourself? Yeah So I'm Helen Phoenix. I'm ahead of customer collaboration at South Yorkshire Housing Association based in Sheffield. Hi, Helen Really nice to meet you. So what is your like? So you said, head of customer collaboration. What does that mean? Yeah, really good Really Good question. So I suppose I had a really small team that's been called lots of things over the years, and it's had lots of different roles in it from old fashioned tenant involvement or tenant engagement officers. At one point, my teams called co design and improvement Um, but basically, I always describe my role in the role of my team is putting the tenants that live in our homes and the other people. We do quite a lot more than just provide housing. So all the other people that we work with and alongside, and all the other sorts of things we do that So those people are customers, tenants, the people who work alongside, putting them at the heart of our organisation, the heart of what we do. Um so I guess I strategically lead for the organisation on things like co production. But other sort of things like our post Grenfell results sort of response is a housing organisation How we were going to listen to tenants, more things like that. Really. So anything that's really about, I guess, um, enhancing tenant and customer voice, but not just voice, actually, more meaningful stuff than just voice So I guess tenant and customer voice and influence would be you know, where it's at, I suppose sounds really exciting. Um, so I'm really interested in sort of learning from you or you sharing an experience of co production in action. So could you share with me some co production that you've done? Yeah So I suppose one of these a fairly big thing of thing we did during covid. Actually was we co designed a new set of customer promises. It took an awful long time to do so This was, I guess, the game. This is a part of our post Grenfell response. The idea that we wanted to be clear We were listening to tenants more. But also like many organisations, we've always had sort of customer service pledges along the way. Many people have them now Your bank does anyone has it, don't they? They sort of say, these are what are sort of commitments to our your train company might have, but like, yeah, we wanted to sort of go back to the drawing board and really sort of co produced them with our tenants and customers. So instead of us just saying this is what we promised we're going to do, actually, people, I guess, telling us what we should be promising. So that was a really meaty piece of co production that took us probably about a year to do, actually And it was co produced right from the start. We got a really diverse group of people working reverse people had not worked with us or engage with us in that way before. Um, and yeah, we co designed this new set of customer promises The tenants and customers agreed everything in those the words they used, how they were phrased, which promised should come first. How many promises they were, Um, and we took them obviously to our board to get signed off, but I didn't take them to board. I facilitated the tenants going to board and and presenting them Um, now they're adopted across the organisation. But I guess off the back of that we haven't just left it as a set of promises because what really became clear actually joined the co production is that people didn't want just another set of words that got stuck up in reception or put it on the website. And they said, You know, actions are really much more important than words, so you can come up with this set of promises and we don't mind helping you to do it, but you need to do something off the back of it So one of the other things we've done and we're just in the last few weeks and that is that we've done a piece of sort of tenant led customer led evaluation, so they're sort of doing a bit of a guest co evaluation at baseline study of where they think our organisation is against those promises. They're co designing and co producing their first report. We're calling it an annual health check and again they'll be taking that to our board in June to report their findings and again, that's been a really co produced piece of work We've given absolute freedom to go and talk to whoever they want to in the organisation, to dig out this research absolute freedom, to then theme the stuff and say what they think they found out. And we're not, I suppose, influencing it or biassing that in anyway. So I suppose that whole thing, the initial co design and production of the promises but actually the really the other bit that I think really goes with it is the co evaluation as well There are a piece of a hole and open and ongoing thing for us. We're hoping that every year people will come and see whether we've made any further progress on the things we've committed to as a result of the approach that you've taken. Have you changed your perspective or your behavioural practise? And what did you an organisation learned from this process? We've definitely had a bigger emphasis on diversity and diversity of voice So that came across really strongly came really cross really strongly that when we try to do this work before we talked to the same old people, you know. So we've definitely has shone a light on diversity and I suppose, unheard voices and trying to talk to, Not the normal people who might, you know, just It's very easy often, isn't it? I think for organisations just to end up inviting the same old people to a workshop and some of those people are are us as well. I kind of perennial workshop pretender myself So I do sort of get that. But it's really easy to just do that. So I suppose there's something about diversity, of voice and unheard voices, and that might be unheard voices, making sure we've got a much better spread of sort of are racially and ethnically diverse tenants than than we had done before Age again. Age. So all that stuff about diversity of voice, really I mean, one of the interesting things about the pandemic is that although obviously we still like everyone to have a chunk of our tenants who are digitally excluded for many people actually have been able to do some coproduction online, get people in the room online work for people. So for people who are caring responsibilities, for example, who didn't want to come to a dusty, draughty hall but actually could come to a quick online zoom meetings. So I suppose, um, there's something about diversity of voice And the other thing, I think, is just those new ways of working at the pandemic of toys. That actually, um, I guess I think the future will be multi channel for coproduction because for some people actually being able to do stuff digitally has been an enabler. It's still a barrier for some But I think there is another narrative that for many people told us I wouldn't have bothered coming to something like this before. But I do want to work with you if it's just an hour zooming on a Tuesday evening sort of things. So I think the digital stuff has been some real learning But I mean, that goes for many, many people in many different ways, doesn't it? But yeah, thinking about that. I suppose that's that's been some learning. So I wanted to show that you really did talk about sort of co production and your process and what you have learned, and I'm wondering about the impact So what impact this approach do you think had on sort of the people that involved the organisation and ultimately the end product, whatever that may be and you talked about a charter? Yeah, on the people involved, I think it's given them. I mean, you know, I don't want to speak for them. I can only speak for the things people have told me, but certainly definitely a few of them really talked about feeling much more confident So one of them, for example, has gone on to get employment. And she said that some of the things she did with really made her feel confident in other aspects of her life. So, for example, when she came and sort of co delivered this stuff to board, she found that a really good experience and empowering experience, and it made her feel sort of more confidence So I guess there's something about that for the people involved. Uh, just that general sense of, I suppose, empowerment from having being able to contribute and say and be listened to, I think was really important to people. Um, and I think, you know, they felt it was meaningful what they were doing, and they felt that they were sort of being listened to So, for example, when we went to board, I think we got into a bit of a wrangle about one of the words in the promises. You know, there were a couple of people who didn't like, but actually the customers really stuck to their guns, and I think it was, you know, that that sort of stuff could be really empowering carnet. When you actually say, Well, hang on, we've done a year's worth of co production It's so actually, these are the words we want to use sort of thing And you know, So there was that. I think, on our organisation, it's made people more visible and their voice louder, which I think is a good thing. But I think it's also lead us on to do other things So, you know, some of the people involved in that have gone on do other bits of coproduction rivers, but also as an organisation, we have gone on to co produce other stuff. So I guess it starts things in train, doesn't it? I suppose, Um and I suppose it just helps me others bang the drum drum for the fact that this should be the way we work. We get really good results and working this way So I think, um, compared with a few years ago. My team now are often asked for requests to help facilitate co production from people who wouldn't have asked us that before. So it's just something about showing that a successful way of working And actually these tenants and customers aren't sort of strange people over there. They're humans just like us. They've got really valuable things to say Um and all of that just sets things in train. I think I'm not saying that that's job done or easy, but I think it does set some things in train. Um, helpful I suppose it pushes us on, I guess. Um were there any challenges or are there any things that people need to think about? Time things take can take a long time And I mean, I I personally think that's okay. I'd rather spend time on a job well done But actually, business and organisations sometimes have different pressures. So I think time is one of the things, Um and also I think you have to accept that often on co production. These are people who have given up their time voluntarily or for a small payment of recompense or whatever it is so you can't really say to them Well, you know, the deadline was the end of May. So I want to end by the end of May. There not your paid staff, are they like that, You know, So not that I speak to have paid staff that way either But you know, there's something about appreciating the length of time it takes and also just understanding that these people have given up their time. And so, yeah, it might take longer because they're not. This isn't their full time job They were living the rest of their lives, you know, and then helping us out of some stuff as well. So I think time is one of the challenges, um, of the challenges. I guess there's always a small cohort of people who just want to ignore it Isn't there sort of thing? You know, I'm sitting there saying, Oh, our new co produced customer promises are brilliant and our new piece of co evaluation is brilliant. But I'm sure that there's some people in the organisation who thinks that that's been a waste of time because I've been sort of lying. If I thought that everyone was convinced by this way of working because they just won't be Will they suppose I suppose the challenge is continuing to sort of bang that drum, Isn't it sort of thing. I mean, I think increasingly that is happening in our sector, across sectors, you know, I suppose the other challenge I think you know, is how you keep things meaningful and authentic. Because I hear this this all the time As I'm sure you do that co production is becoming a bit of a buzzword. Are people doing it properly? They say they're doing it. But are they doing it? Is it consultation? How much have you agreed before you go out and say you're doing Coachella So I suppose that's the other challenge, isn't it? Keeping it meaningful. Is it co production, you know? Uh, yeah, So I wanted to explore if you how coproduction makes you feel. So jean coproduction How does it make you feel? I think it can give you some real light bulb moments. So there's that those lightbulb moments, a piece of, I don't know, a piece of insight, a piece of design, something that gets delivered in a way that you wouldn't have thought on your own or you change something because of the results. So I think those lightbulb moments were really, I suppose, just that insightful sort of feeling, that sort of like Oh, gosh, I wouldn't have thought about that is one thing that it makes me feel Um, I find it quite exciting, but I think that does depend on the sort of person you are because some people very like much like order and structure. I think you have to be quite happy to sit with the unknown or the mess for a while or not that I think that's probably a challenge for some people. You know, I think I'm okay with that But I think other people probably find it a bit messy. Doesn't make me feel messy, you know. But I suppose, um, I guess I perhaps have quite messy brain anyway But, you know, I think that's that's sort of a Yeah, yeah, I find it quite exciting. I like those sort of light bulb moments when you think, Gosh, that's a really powerful point. Or actually, you know when we've changed services, you know, because of what people have told us and said Well, that just won't work Or what about this? And I think that's you know, that's an exciting place to be, actually, Do you have any top tips? Oh, gosh, top tips. Um, number one really get people involved from the beginning, which it doesn't always happen at out saying, I mean, you know, But you get people involved from the beginning. And if you're wondering, is this the right moment to get people involved or not? Then it probably is, you know, So just yeah, stop having that internal conversation and just, you know, And I suppose that leads onto magnetic and tip Which second tip, which would be get started because you can spend an awful lot of time, can't be thinking about the fact was in a meeting about something else this morning, which was about some patient involvement in something unhealthy and get this exact same conversation came up. Should we have a patient representative here or not? Now, do you think it's too early? And I was thinking, Well, you know, as long as this person is well briefed, they know what they're coming into. Why is it too early? So that that conversation was happening earlier today So I think that's, you know, get started. Don't have endless conversations about, or do we need in terms of reference, should we invite someone in Now, you know, most things you can work through with people. Um, other tips to give something back People are giving up their time, so whatever that is, whether it's payment, you know, and try and find out what it is in terms of reward and recompense that people want. Not everyone wants paper, you know. You know, you know, what is it that people want? But give something back some fair reward for people's time? Um, that that seems really important to me Otherwise, I really think you you just get these pool of people who are kind of like, um labourers, aren't they? They're just like coproduction labourers going around, but not so I think giving something giving giving back for time is really important in whatever way that suits people according to sort of their circumstances. But don't presume you know that either. Um, you know, people have endless debates with people about Shall we give people vouchers or do they want this or do they want that and it's like, Well, why don't we just asked them? Yeah Um, and that's probably my other tip, which I said to people all the time. You know, I often hear people say, Well, what? I wonder what we should do about this new service or what would tenants think about this? Or what would people think about this? And it's like If you're having that conversation, your head just go and have it a person don't you know? That's my other thing. If you have one of those internal conversations in your head, I just don't know what they're going to ask people, you know, just linked to getting started, really But I think we have been interminable sort of conversations in our head that we could just go and ask people about other tips. I suppose it's just generally resourcing stuff, so I think, um, not just sort of paying people for their time, but you need often you might need some facilitators. You might need people to get things going along You might need some admin support to do sort of things like room bookings or venue bookings or whatever it is, so just make sure that you resource that, Um because again, otherwise you're pulling on someone. Someone's labouring for nothing Aren't those sort of things. So, yeah, resource to get, um, be prepared to go along with the mess and the uncertainty, and that's okay I think that's another tip. Um, and then I suppose the final tip is to make sure that in some way you capture what you're doing. So whether that's the story of what you've done, however you do it whether you record a story whether you do something like today, whatever you do, capture what you've done because it's kind of gone, isn't it? You've lost the learning you've lost, how it felt You know those things, How did it feel? You've lost that. So capture some element of it. The story of it while you're doing it So my final question is, what for you is the value of co production? Oh, gosh, The value. Um, that's a really big, difficult question, isn't it? Um, I suppose there's all sorts of ways you can answer that, but I think I mean, why wouldn't we get people involved in the things that matter to them? The things they use you know all of that services they use, whatever it is, why wouldn't you? I mean, there's the argument, obviously, that things are going to be better if you speak to the people with the expertise with the knowledge who view stuff. But also, I just think, Yeah, it just seems to sort of, um the value of doing it of it is that I suppose you just get to a really sort of meaningful place Um, but just a really common sense place as well. Things just working the way they work because you've listened to the right people and you've collaborated with the right people. So, um yeah, but I mean, and then I suppose the the sort of of the values of it are just that the stuff I sort of talked about before about actually the way it makes people feel when actually their voices listened to when they haven't been listened to us And that's really, really important and that you know, the services that we run often people are very disenfranchised. They've been homeless there, and they've been in the mental health system, whatever it is. And so people are, you know, um, being homeless is almost one of the ultimate disenfranchisement, isn't it? You know, So, yeah, I think it's really the value of that That people who in a sense have been ignored or treated badly by the system to get there, get a worth back and their voice matters and that that has to have value. And did you have anything else you want me to add about co production or your experience of it? I don't think so. I think we've had quite a wide ranging conversation, haven't we? Yeah No, Not unless you've got any other questions. I could pause the recording there, if that's okay. You propose that?