Co-production in Regulation
By Rory, on 18 January 2021
Guest authors Tiegan, Isaac and Jack share their experience of co-producing in a new regulatory organisation in the hopes of contributing to the wider conversation around co-production, where it happens, and the positive effect it can have.
We are Tiegan, an adoptee who shares her lived experience and believes in bringing together everyone’s perspective; Isaac, a community campaigner who is passionate about co-production; and Jack, Participation Officer at Social Work England, who is motivated by supporting people to reach their potential; and together we are members of Social Work England’s National Advisory Forum.
The National Advisory Forum is a group of practising social workers, people with lived experience of social work, educators of social work and social work students. The aims of the forum are to act as a critical friend to Social Work England, contribute individual expertise and act as a focal point for co-production across the organisation. You can find out more about the forum and its members on the Social Work England website.
Where are we now?
Although we have just celebrated our first year of Social Work England becoming the specialist regulator for social work, it is fair to say that we are still a new organisation, and the National Advisory Forum a newer part of that still. We set out to do regulation radically differently and we have committed to doing that by collaborating, engaging and listening to the voices in the sector. Co-production is an essential part of getting that right.
There is an interesting dynamic between regulation, which is often led by policy and procedure and is quality focused, and co-production which is non-linear and is more likely to be measured by feelings and emotions. In some ways they are very distinct and marrying the two together in such a way that they work together effectively can be challenging and time consuming. Achieving that balance is one of the key aims of the National Advisory Forum and indeed of Social Work England. The results of working in this way are worthwhile and we are starting to see the fruits of that already.
Members of the forum have already been involved in over 25 separate pieces of work across the organisation, stretching from policy to fitness to practice, however one that feels particularly worth highlighting is Social Work Week. The first of its kind in England, Social Work Week is a virtual programme of events planned for 8 to 12 March 2021. Members of the National Advisory Forum, including Isaac, have been part of the working group planning this programme from the very beginning. Working with staff from Social Work England, all aspects of the week have been co-produced which we hope will deliver a diverse, relevant event for the social work sector.
For the three of us, the wider success of this week has been who we have involved, the approach we have taken, the foundations we have laid and the momentum we have created as a group.
Why are we talking about co-production?
As an organisation and as individuals, co-production is key to what we do at Social Work England because it is how we root the work of the regulator in the experience of those who work in the profession and those who are supported by it. Social work is a unique profession in that it has a profound impact on those who encounter it, and as a result there is a huge amount of passion and motivation to make the profession the best it can be.
We have a responsibility to make our work relevant and accessible to those it impacts. Co-production is the key to that, and the National Advisory Forum is the vehicle we have created to make this happen.
As Isaac notes, drawing on his experience, there is no blueprint for co-production, especially in regulation. Part of this journey has been working together and learning how to put it into practice. And our values have been essential in guiding how we work and creating the conditions for a culture of co-production to develop.
Social Work England’s values are: collaborative, transparent, fearless, integrity, independent, ambitious. All the work that we do is built on the foundations that these values create.
Tiegan feels that our values have had a big impact on the approach to working that she has experienced since joining the forum. She feels that members have felt welcomed and been encouraged and supported to get involved in a range of projects, both where they have expertise, but also where they bring a fresh perspective.
Our values were also key to the conception and development of the forum. We consciously made the decision to have the group mixed in this way as we wanted there to be an equity in knowledge – whether that knowledge is gained from lived or learned experience of social work it is equally as important and valuable. In recruiting we tried to ensure a diversity of experience both across social work practice, but also across the ways that people have been supported by social workers.
From the very beginning we have facilitated the group in an open, fair and equal way; we co-produced the terms of reference, each meeting is co-chaired, and current members have been instrumental in the recruitment of new members. It is not solely down to the organisation to say whether the group has been a success, or the direction it should take; the process for evaluating the National Advisory Forum has started and will be co-produced.
Our hopes going forward
We are ambitious about getting to the point where co-production is embedded into our ways of working across Social Work England. To enable this, we are in the process of creating an internal co-production training offer for the organisation which will be rolled out later this year and will be a key step towards achieving this aim.
The forum is still developing – our first meeting was only in June 2020 and we want to develop the forum to one that is established, has longevity and sustained impact. One that stays true to its ways of working, values and ethos.
We also very sincerely hope that we all get to meet face to face for the first time in 2021!