Ruby Wax and co-production

Today I had the pleasure of meeting Ruby Wax, probably the best campaigner for the elimination of stigma against mental health problems. Although I am a critic of the cult of celebrity, when it is used as a force for good I am suitably impressed.

Ruby was the guest speaker at a Hestia seminar on co-production. She used some of the material from her ‘Losing it’ tour to promote her latest initiative. In February she is launching a new website – blackdogtribe.com – to create a ‘tribe’ to challenge mental health discrimination. Learning from gay pride, Ruby has a vision of people with mental health problems coming out loud and proud about their experiences. It will culminate in a momentous celebration on World Mental Health Day in October 2012.

Ruby is using her celebrity to empower people to find the confidence to talk about their experiences and share it with others. Like most social networking sites, blackdogtribe.com will build social capital and should be a force for tremendous good.

It is rather difficult to follow a performer such as Ruby Wax, but that is exactly what seminar organiser Elvis Langley asked me and others to do. I was a member of a panel to take questions from seminar participants and discuss some of the issues arising from the day. I was in esteemed company, sharing the platform with Peter Beresford, Mike Seal, Stephanie Royston-Mitchell, Mimi Nunez Trejos and Anthea Sully.

I felt ambivalent about joining a panel such as this as it implied I had answers to delegates’ questions. I mentioned this quandary when I introduced myself and instead posed a question to the floor. How do we break down professional barriers to achieve true co-production in services at both a macro and micro level? I don’t know the answer to this, but I think it requires changing people and challenging worldviews. Easier written in a blog post than achieved in reality…

I had in mind the intervention model we are developing on the Connecting People study when I talked about ‘micro co-production’ during the session this afternoon. This refers to workers and individuals co-designing interventions and its outcomes to achieve user-defined goals. In reality, this means workers sitting alongside individuals and exploring their assets – what they are good at or passionate about. They then use their assets to achieve goals the individual sets for him or herself. It is only after we developed the intervention model that I realised it embodied co-production principles. It has social capital at its heart, as well as one of its anticipated outcomes.

One questioner challenged the panel to name four co-production values (to help distinguish the concept from others such as ‘user involvement’). I suggested that it embodies equality, genuine partnership, empowerment (of both worker and individual) and adds value to existing services. The man who posed the question noted that we did not mention reciprocity. I kicked myself under the table for not being clever enough to come up with this myself.I should have mentioned this because reciprocal relationships are at the heart of co-production, right as they are at the heart of the Connecting People intervention model.

I left the seminar invigorated. I had met a celebrity who is genuinely doing good; I had met up with some great people from Hestia I know through the Connecting People study; I had met the commissioner of Kingston RISE as well as its director; I had met people I didn’t expect to see there; and Elvis, the seminar organiser, had told me that the idea for the day came from a conversation I had had with him ages ago (flattery goes a long way…). Perhaps most importantly, I came away with two more potential research projects to engage in. If only there were more hours in the day…

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