Tag Archives: CoProduction

Making Action Learning Work!

Re-blogged from WCVA

Action Learning

In addition to training and bespoke support the Communities First Support Service is offering an increasing number of people in the CF workforce the opportunity to learn from each other via our Outcome Learning Groups (OLGAs). These are based on the methodology of Action Learning. Here, Jane Lewes from The Learning Consultancy, who is working with the CF Support Service to develop the framework for this peer learning, explains the ‘rules’ of Action Learning.

Action Learning is being used increasingly frequently as a tool to help community groups to work through some of the issues they have to tackle on a daily basis. The kinds of issues or “knotty problems” may cover just about anything; they can be irritating, frustrating and even the source of genuine distress. Whatever the nature of the problem, one characteristic they all share is that others will almost certainly have experienced the same, or a similar, problem.

So, how does Action Learning help to unblock problems and break through barriers?

The technique of Action Learning is a remarkably simple and effective way of supporting an individual to work through a real and current problem, leading to new insights and, ultimately, solutions. The technique is simple because all it requires is a group of people (round about 6-8) who agree to follow the “rules” which are few but essential for success. These are:

Trust: When a group of colleagues agree to meet as an Action Learning Set (ALS), there needs to be a strong basis of trust – trust in one another and trust in the process. One of the cornerstones of trust is the commitment to confidentiality. An absence of trust will almost certainly cause the ALS to implode and could lead to further damage.

Clarity of role: There are 3 roles in the Action Learning scenario:

  • The Presenter – the individual who shares her/his issue or problem
  • The Supporters – the other members of the Set whose job is to listen intently and ask insightful and powerful questions about aspects of the issue
  • The Facilitator – the individual who acts as a “benign referee”, ensuring the entire Set keeps to the rules of the process

The Process: A typical Action Learning Set will run something like this:

  • The Set meets in a venue where they will be assured of privacy;
  • The Facilitator reminds the Set about the “rules of engagement”, management of time, commitment to confidentiality, the requirement to listen with empathy, suspend judgement and give total focus to the Presenter;
  • The Supporters listen – listen, not to reply, but to understand;
  • The Presenter speaks for about 6-10 minutes;
  • The Facilitator opens the floor for the Supporters to pose questions to the Presenter, but NOT to give advice or provide possible solutions!
  • When the questions have dried up, the Presenter sums up the situation, identifying any new insights and actions they will take before the next session;
  • The session ends with the Facilitator running an evaluation about the session’s overall effectiveness;
  • The length of the session will vary, depending on agreement among the Set

Quality of the questions: The ability to ask powerful questions is essential for an ALS to work. Questions should be designed to help the Presenter identify some new aspect or angle – something that hadn’t previously occurred to them. Questions should be open and focus on the positive, with the tacit assumption that there IS a solution to the problem. The quality of Supporter questions is the key ingredient for effective Action Learning.

Outcomes: The aim of Action Learning is to help individuals identify actions they could take to solve a problem or resolve an issue. Each session should begin with an update from the previous Presenter, sharing what has happened as a result of the actions to which they committed at the last Session. It provides a real boost to the dynamic of the Set to hear about positive outcomes.

Motivation: When a Learning Set first assembles, members agree to commit to a defined process – regular attendance, adherence to the process, total engagement, confidentiality and so on. As time goes on, if individuals ignore these commitments the level of motivation will diminish and the Set will lose its effectiveness. Motivation to participate is essential as it acts as a spark that ignites energy to “fire and inspire” the work of the Set.

Here is what a couple of OLGA members have said about their initial experiences of Action Learning:

“It was very thought provoking and made me take a good look at myself and the other Cluster Managers. It also made me feel worried about all of us – I suppose a bit scary. It was a bit like a light bulb moment and realising we have the same issues and problems to deal with. This is something we can now work on to achieve and support each other with.”
“What I brought back from the session is to look for the positives in any situation as you can nearly also find something to positive to build on.”

“I thought the whole afternoon was brilliant. Not knowing what to expect, my first experience of a learning set under the facilitator’s guidance was really worthwhile and the issues it raised have stayed with me since and I’ve actually spent some time addressing these. I have found myself reflecting on the whole experience in the weeks that have already passed and am looking forward to the next one.”

If you would like to learn more about how Action Learning could be of use in your role as a member of an OLGA, please contact the CF Support Service on help@wcva.org.uk or 0800 587 8898.

Participation Cymru offers a facilitation service for action learning sets that helps to set up a set and facilitate initial meetings as well as monitor and evaluate Action Learning. Would you like to enhance your learning by being able to reflect with colleagues on current work issues? Visit our website for more information.

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Where does your power lie and how do use it?

Power!There is an urgent need to transform public services in Wales. Money is running out, efficiencies alone will not be enough. The demand for acute services is rising and preventative and community services are being cut.

Quality of life cannot be delivered by the state alone and many people are now looking at a different co-produced public service, which places the citizen and community at the centre, with the state as the enabler and facilitator.

As most large public sector organisations are traditionally very structured and hierarchical, it’s clear that a culture change is needed in order for shared power to become the mainstream way of working in Wales.

Last week, the entire Participation Cymru team attended the annual WCVA Conference and AGM in Cardiff entitled: Moving forward with sustainable local services. We played a key role in this year’s event by holding a workshop, having an information stand and Mandy Williams, Participation Cymru manager was one of the keynote speakers. We wanted to encourage people to think about how they (or their organisation) are currently using their power so we asked delegates the question:

Where does your power lie and how do you use it?

At first many delegates found it quite difficult to answer as it’s a question which does require some thought – thankfully many people did come back to write their answers down, here’s a summary of what was said:

  • My power lies in my belief in equality and my drive to make that a living reality for everyone by listening, learning and using my voice to help others!
  • My power lies in being part of a team with a wealth of experience and knowledge
  • My power lies in working for an audit body and my responsibility is to share knowledge and improvements with others.
  • My power is present in lots of different places – I always use it responsibly for the benefit of the community – unless it involves chocolate…
  • My power is in my enthusiasm for getting people involved and I use it to make sure that engagement is meaningful and makes a real difference
  • My power lies in being able to influence others thinking about the importance of engaging citizens in the design & delivery of public services that matter to them
  • Sharing my knowledge and passions with the people in my life: both personally and professionally
  • Being a trustee of an organisation and I use my power by giving my voice to vulnerable groups.

Flipchart

If you weren’t able to attend the event, please leave a comment below with your thoughts on the question: Where does your power lie and how do you use it?

Sarah

Co-Production in Action

Co-production, the idea of organisations seeing communities and service users as an asset in providing services, appears to have achieved a philosophical consensus as being a nice idea. However few organisations are really willing to move beyond fluffy rhetoric into making this ideology a practised reality. Perhaps one of the biggest barriers is that individuals within organisations forget that they too are members of the public and not something so separate from the people their organisation exists to serve. It may be a case of organisations not realising or recognising that the service user is a valuable asset with something to contribute, to ‘give back’ to the organisation that serves them. Or maybe it is as simple as this: co-production asks that those at the top of organisations who currently have all the power share this power with people and communities. This is impossible without trust. Those who currently hold power have to trust communities enough to consult with them, to be ready to talk and to listen and to do so honestly.

If you have never met anybody who is openly in recovery from or has recovered from a drug or alcohol addiction, it is possible that you do not consider this demographic particularly trustworthy. When I started volunteering for Recovery Cymru (a recovery community where people recover from drug and alcohol problems) in August 2012, I saw that the entire organisation (especially back then, before it received lottery funding) would fall apart without the hard work of not only the two paid members of staff but also the other volunteers, many of whom are recovering or recovered alcoholics and drug addicts. The ethos of Recovery Cymru is that we are a community, whether you are a member, a volunteer or a paid member of staff and whether or not you personally have ever had an addiction problem, and that every member of our community has something to give as well as something to gain from being part of it. I consider myself extremely privileged to have met some wonderful, strong and inspirational people through my involvement with Recovery Cymru.

Recovery CymruIf you were to walk into the Recovery Cymru building or indeed to any of our group sessions or events, it would not be immediately obvious who was a ‘service user’ (a word that is not used within Recovery Cymru, but the importance of language is something I will save for a later blog!) and who was not. Many of our members who join to get help with addiction are also volunteers, so the line between the service user taking from the organisation and the staff and volunteers giving to them is immediately blurred.

The level of responsibility volunteers (many of whom are also ‘service users’) choose to accept varies from helping with administrative tasks and keeping the building tidy to facilitating groups such as the weekly cookery social and arranging one-off events to representing Recovery Cymru at conferences such as AWSUM. Everyone who ‘uses’ the Recover Cymru services are also giving something back and the Recovery Cymru community thrives because of this.

Crucially, this ethos of co-production not only gives a sense of worth and value to individuals who have often been rejected in other areas of their lives, but is also massively beneficial to the running of Recovery Cymru. It seems obvious but in so many organisations it is overlooked that the service user is in fact the expert and that their views are the most important of all. At Recovery Cymru the experts are those people who are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction and the organisation depends upon their knowledge not only of the recovery process and the various paths to recovery but of the many issues that often (but not always) accompany a history of addiction such as housing issues, mental or physical health problems and in some cases trying to find employment after being in prison. The people experiencing these issues, and those who have overcome them, are best placed within Recovery Cymru to shape the organisation because, after all, Recovery Cymru exists (like many organisations) to support the service user.

At Recovery Cymru, every member is invited to input into an open meeting which is held bi-weekly. Here members discuss things such as which new groups they would like to see run – how better to make sure that the groups meet the needs of those using them then to ask those people what they want? Many of the groups are facilitated by volunteers – some of whom are in the recovery process. Members also get a say on the procedural elements, including being able to review the code of conduct. In fact, when Recovery Cymru received Lottery Funding that meant they could take on new members of staff, current volunteer members of Recovery Cymru sat on the interview panel and questioned candidates.

It could only be a good thing if more organisations recognised their service users as the asset that they are and took advantage of their expertise to improve the service through mutual trust and co-operation.

–          Non

May Regional Participation Networks: Co-production

Co-production seems to be the latest buzz word to be found in all sectors of public service and some would argue that is means different things to different people. In the participation networks that took place at the beginning of May, we explored what co-production means to people and tried to make sense of what it means in the context of participation and engagement. Participants at the network also shared a lot of examples of co-production happening in their projects/organisations – but not everyone is calling it ‘co-production’. As we’ve learned in previous network events (February 2014, October 2013) it’s important not to get bogged down with definitions.

We began each network meeting with an ice-breaker exercise. We asked participants to form pairs and think about what co-production might look like, what is probably is and what it probably isn’t. This exercise wasn’t aiming to pin a definition down into words but aimed to identify what working co-productively actually entails.

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The group identified that co-production is not a tokenistic approach to engagement; it’s not just about saving money and not about consultation. The groups also recognised that shared power, working towards a common goal and recognising people as assets capture what co-production ‘probably’ is – synonymous with Edgar Cahn’s core values of co-production:

  • Recognising people as assets
  • Valuing work differently
  • Promoting reciprocity/mutuality
  • Building social networks.

Click here to download the full icebreaker notes.

We had a different guest speaker in each event. Anne Collis from Barod was our speaker in North Wales. Barod have produced a sister document to WCVA’s Putting People at the Centre publication called Being at the Centre which will be published shortly. Being at the Centre is written in Everyday English and is aimed at members of the public who use public services.

Barod has developed a method that they call coffee shop conversations and they used this technique when developing the Being at the Centre publication. The method involves listening to people’s views in a relaxed environment (coffee shop or cafe) as opposed to a formal consultation meeting.

Our speaker in South East Wales was Gareth Coles, Public Service Delivery Officer in WCVA. Gareth asked participants to think about the barriers to working co-productively and they came up with:

  • The idea of co-production can be confusing as there are many different ideas and definition of what it is
  • Co-production asks people in organisations to give up their power and to give power to communities and members of the public. Co-production can’t happen unless kick-started by the people at the top, who are often unwilling to share power.
  • Financial pressures.  Also a current lack of honesty in communications with the public – many organisations are actually afraid to meet residents and to be honest with them.
  • Organisations don’t always recognise that service users have something to give back

The group then discussed what steps organisations can take to work more co-productively:

  • Spend more time listening
  • Not being afraid to give the answer they don’t want to hear
  • Ask for concerns and solutions
  • Put yourself in shoes of recipient
  • Building and pooling skills/resources
  • Accept criticism
  • Give it a go (with good faith)
  • Creating transparent dialogue

In South West Wales, the speakers were Rick Wilson from Community Lives Consortium and some project leaders from the Time to Meet project. Time to meet is organised by people with learning disabilities and their friends, family and staff in Swansea. It is there to help members to build stronger social lives with people around them by sharing skills, interests and time. This includes jewellery making workshops, card making workshops, coffee mornings and lots of other activities including their own version of Come Dine with Me called Come Eat With Us!

Rick demonstrated a method they use to identify what their members want to do. We were each given red pieces of paper and blue pieces of paper. The red piece had a question: What would you like to do? And on the blue piece: What do you like doing, or are good at doing? Once we’d all written our answers down we put all the papers on the floor and grouped them together. It turned out that a lot of us wanted to learn about gardening and cooking and there were also people in the room who already had knowledge about these topics so as a group we’d immediately identified an opportunity for people to learn and a resource to do so.

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To end each network meeting we always break into small groups to share recent pieces of work and examples of good practice or just to continue general discussion. Finally participants are asked to complete a participative evaluation exercise.

Participation Cymru no longer receive any funding to facilitate and organise these participation networks so we’re very grateful to the participants’ organisations for providing the venues and refreshments (on this occasion: Careers Wales – Bangor, South Wales Fire & Rescue HQ – Llantrisant and Carmarthenshire County Council). We’re also very grateful to the speakers for giving us their time. We will endeavour to keep these network meetings going and the next round of meetings in October will focus on participative tools and techniques so if you would like to demonstrate or try out a technique or if you’re able to contribute anything else to these networks then please get in touch.

Next week, Non Humphries will blog about Co-Production in Action.

–       Sarah