Sophie shares her experience of the importance of coproduction in social work particularly in Suffolk and social care, coproduction is a really powerful thing that enables people to have good lives. 

Would you like to introduce yourself? Yes, of course. Say, my name's safety Walters. I'm assistant involvement coordinator for social work at the University of Suffolk and Suffolk County Council. Thank you, Sophie

So I can you share with me an experience of co production and And if this has had any changes to your work and your practise Yeah, absolutely. So I work with a Greek called social work voices so that all people who have lived experience of social work or social care and they're an incredible group. They're so incredibly passionate about changing things for the better

And since I've been in post, which is about two and a bit years now, we've very much used an approach of co production in everything that we do. Um, so we get them involved from the very start of an idea through the design of something, the delivery, the evaluation. Um, and, um, it's much more than just getting them to turn up and tell their story

Um, and we've had them involved in podcasting. They've done webinars on coproduction. They've done international webinars on co production

They they teach in the classroom. They interview every student that comes on the social work. Of course, they are designed in writing teaching materials

They do role plays. They examine the student's. They sit on steering groups that if they have an idea of something they want to do, we will make it happen

And they often come to us with ideas, um, of something they thought of, or something that's not addressed in currently in social work, education. And we make that happen. And the feedback we've had for them is that it's quite cathartic for them to be involved in that way

Um, that it's quite healing for their experiences to be heard in a way that they perhaps haven't been heard during their social work journey. Perhaps, And we've got someone who has heard a huge number of social workers in her life, and she says that she can tell you categorically where social workers qualified from, which is amazing, because there's very little research done on whether the involvement of people with lived experience changes, social work practise. But actually what she's telling us anecdotally, is that she can tell if they graduated from the University of Suffolk, by the way they stand in her kitchen by the way they approach a relationship, by the way they interact with her and her son

Um and that's quite incredible. And, yes, she's been involved for nearly 25 years since she's seen generations of social workers come through. I don't know if that's OK

Yeah, that's brilliant. So I've got loads of questions as well. So you talk about coping

So is there Have you been doing it this way for a long time? And you've talked a lot about the impact. So, like, what do you think the impact on value is for? Um, you talked about the kind of individual, but I'm wondering about sort of like the social workers, the course, the society and the organisation that you work for and sort of. Yeah

So what value and impact? You think it has some, Um, So firstly, I used to work in homelessness hostels, so we used to use a co produced approach there, so they would, um, sort of design things they wanted to happen and be involved in. And since I came into post two and a bit years ago, I've been using co production in my role. Um, and it has enormous impact for the institution

It takes us places We didn't think we were gonna go. It helps us centre people's real life concerns at the heart of social work education. It makes it more relevant

It brings it to life. Um, we've created things that I never envisaged at the start of the project. Um, we it just enriches, enhances everything that we do, um, as an organisation

And I think, um, as I've already said, people feel valued in that and they get a lot out of that. And I think it really should be an equal partnership in that we should get something back, that they should get just as much back and say we give people access to the library, we pay them for their time. They get university email addresses, they're allowed to attend training courses and things like that

Um, but I think also it just keeps things relevant. It, um as they're much more up today than some of the academics working in the institution because they are experiencing it day in, day out. Whereas the academics might not have been in practise for a number of years

Um and they often come. I mean and tell us that something has changed that we're not aware of. And they bring that to us

And like I said, put those real life concerns in front of the students and say, Well, how would you deal with this? What would you do for me? And I think personalising it as well. So, um, it's not someone in a textbook that they've never met. It's that person in front of them whose name they know whose story they know

And then they take that out into social work practises. Someone is not a case there, an individual with a story to tell and to be valued. And I think that's so important

Thank you. You talked about the impact in value. So, like, I wonder about your own experience of co production and working in that way

Has it changed your behaviour, your perception in relation to what do you do? Um, I think it's I've always sort of valued people and their stories. I have my own lived experience, and I think that kind of makes you realise it's not in any way a kind of us and them approach. And I think, um yeah, it It's always been my kind of approach

But what's been really gratifying is to see the people around me recognise how valuable that approach is and to become someone who's sort of leading on co production and every time, just by the nature of my job title. Every time I turn up in a meeting, someone thinks where other people with lived experience if they haven't invited them and it just naturally evolves. Um, so I'm not really sure if I'm answering your question, but I think, um, it's something that has felt like it came quite naturally to me

But then I'm very used to being on the other side of it as well say, like, not being co produced with. And I think that, um, you really get a sense that you don't want to do that to someone else. That's really, really powerful

So what to I was really struck. Are you talking about, Sort of. I think the way that I'd frame it is like the conditions that you have created, like training, payment, all those things

Um, So So what are the things that you, uh you've got any top tips to making it work? and being successes. And I have there been or are there any challenges or things that people need to look out for? Definitely. So I think the top tip is it's about how you make people feel

It's not about the outcome, necessarily. It's not about what you produce. It's how people feel in that process of getting to the end point, whatever that looks like

Um, and it's about relationships, and it's about having an individualised personalised relationship with every member of that group. I know their strengths. I know when they work

I know what their preferred method of communication is. I know their special interests in social work and which bits of work they want to do in which, because they don't. And it's about trying to make that process as equitable as possible

Um, bearing in mind that everyone's starting at a different point but making it accessible, making it so that people can get involved in the way they want to when they want to. And I think there are challenges there are. There are challenges for us as an institution, so getting around paying people on benefits is a challenge

Um, working in a University. Um, processes take a lot longer than you think that maybe they should, because it goes through so many people. It's such a large institution to make things happen, and everyone can be agreeing that this is the right thing and we need to do this

But it just takes a lot longer than you expect. And I think one of the challenges they've spoken to me about is the balance between being an individual and at times being angry at the system and then being a person with lived experience and being a professional in that. And where does that balance for them lie? Um, and not becoming a professional who agrees with everything the institution says, but creating a space where people feel they can say no, I don't agree with that

You miss the mark. I'm not prepared to do X Y Z or I don't feel like this is the right thing for me, um, creating an environment where people can disagree. I think it's really important as well

Um, people retain their own voice in that. Thank you. So I'm wondering about you like feelings, because, um so how does what feelings come up when you co produced, are they different from when you're not producing? And yeah, I think, um, when I'm co producing, there's always a small element of me that's a little bit frightened that we're not going to meet the deadline

But I don't know what the project is going to look like at the end, Um, and that's mine. And I need to hold that and not necessarily share that with the people I'm working with. But you have to be

You have to be brave within it and it is messy and it is complicated. Um, but I did a course on co production with the University of Wales and they said, If you're doing coproduction right, it should be messy and it should go all over the place and it And, um, there's something in that that I used to reassure myself. So if I'm getting emails about things that I didn't think were connected to this or whatever, I think if that's happening, I think actually, I'm probably doing this right because it's gone all over the place and someone's created something and we need to slot that in, and um yeah, say I think there's definitely that, um, the other feelings, I think

Uh huh. At the same time as being slightly frightened. There's a There's a sense that we're doing the right thing, and that's where really hard feeling to describe

But it just feels right. You feel like you're not, um, coercing people or encouraging them to do something they don't want to do. It's being led by them, and you kind of follow in their wake and do whatever it is

You need to make that project happen. Um, and I think that's really important. Um, and I think there's a sense of pride in it as well, like, there's nothing that kind of makes me proud of them putting the people I work with, who I have such faith in to the forefront and showing other people the amazing skills and talents they've got that might not be connected to their lived experience

They might be an expert in a data system. They might be an expert in something else that's not connected to the lived experience, and they still have that. They just happened to identify as someone with lived experience at the same time, Um, and like watching them deliver sessions and watching the students, like engage with the way they're delivering and learn and get something out of

It is so incredible that when it's working and it's working well, it kind of makes the hairs on your arms stand up a little bit. It's just like this is this is, um, quite, um, almost on the edge of something where it could It could go wrong at any minute, but also at the moment it's just working, and that's that's quite incredible, I think so. What would you say the value of co production is? I think, that the value of co production is that we deliver a far better education to social workers and nearly qualified social workers and students than we could without the people being involved

Um, and co production allows us to create an environment where people feel truly seen and truly heard, and that's not an experience. They get everywhere. Um, and that's a real privilege to be able to provide people with a space like that, I think

Do you have anything else you want me to add about? Pay production? Um, I don't think so. I'm going to stop the recording. That's okay


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