Refocus, a new personalisation awareness programme by CNS, made possible by Skills for Care Innovation Funding

Refocus, a new personalisation awareness programme by CNS, made possible by Skills for Care Innovation Funding

Everyone in the health and social care sector says that a culture change to person-centred support is needed, but much of this is paying lip service to the concept; the industry still works in a task-oriented, time-based way, with training provided via toolkits. This means that support workers feel devalued while people receiving support are denied the better lives they desire and have been promised.

This is a story of how a small user-led organisation has achieved dramatic changes to personalisation in the workplace, and learnt a lot about coproduction in the process. 

That organisation was Community Navigator Services. We help build capacity in both individuals and organisations, and we help those two tribes talk to each other. Robert, Clenton, and I are directors; Mike and Matt are Personal Assistants; Beth tries valiantly to keep us all on track. 

Although my name is on this post, it’s a team effort. Everyone at Community Navigator Services CIC (CNS) has been involved — true coproduction in action! 

But let’s start this story at the beginning. Way back in 2014, Rob and Mike attended a Skills for Care conference about training and development opportunities for PAs and other front line staff. Mike asked how they could help develop him as a Personal Assistant. A skilled and experienced PA, he did not need yet another course on manual handling. He wanted something to lift the spirit and build the relationship. 

“How about,” came the reply, “advanced medication management?” 

Mike told us something had to change. “Ask anyone,” he said, “they’ll tell you.”

So we asked lots of people. 

Some were very articulate. Tracey Surgeoner, who describes herself as a mother, a wife, and an activist, amongst other things, told us “power, choice, and control — if I were ever going to have a tattoo, they would be the three words I would have.”

But mainly, we heard a thunderous roar of silence, which reminded Rob of Munch’s Scream painting, or, as Rob renamed it, “The Silent Scream” — the feeling of too many people that they have no voice and are not listened to. 

So we decided to do something different: to help people have their voice heard, and provide a translation service where needed. If you remember Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, there was a babel-fish that could translate any language. At CNS, we aspire to be the babel-fish between people and organisations — always remembering that organisations are made up of people. 

The first people we spoke to were Skills for Care. After all, it was their conference that got us started on this track! To their credit, they listened, and gave us innovation funding to run a small six-month pilot project raising awareness with front line staff about what personalisation really means and how we can make it happen. Hint, it’s all about conversations and small purposeful movements (SPMs). There will be more information about the project on the SfC website very soon. 

We cannot thank Skills for Care enough for this opportunity. The Refocus programme has been life-changing for us and we hope will be for many others. 

We all know the official definitions of personalisation, but at CNS, we believe personalisation is much more than just personal budgets and direct payments; it involves the dignity and well-being of each individual  — and their having choice and control of their lives. It is a conversation based on trust between equals so that we have choice and control of our lives. Because it is about having control of your own life, it will translate to different things to different people.  

Of course, for personalisation to work, we first need to build people’s skills and confidence — capacity building to use the sector jargon. 

So, we were trying to do three things:

  1. build capacity
  2. create an awareness programme that was fit for purpose
  3. take personalisation out of the world of corporate-speak and see it flourish in the real world. 

Our approach to tackle all three was to use a coproduction-like approach. In plain English, this means that we  got together with people who could influence or be influenced by our awareness programme — including people who use services, carers, front line staff, managers, commissioners, and senior decision makers — and we worked together as equals (no name badges, nor job titles).

We told stories and shared experiences. We started to understand how small things can make a big difference. And over several days, we thrashed out a shared goal and how to achieve it. 

The result was the Refocus Personalisation programme, a series of workshops and follow-up communications, conversations really in words that we could all understand (no babel-fish necessary), where front line staff and people who use services could share what personalisation meant to them and what could be done differently to make it better. 

A co-design workshop

A co-design workshop

We expected it to be hard work and slow going. It wasn’t. There was a gratifying energy and momentum in the workshops. One delegate emailed us: “First, can I say how much I enjoyed the workshop yesterday – it certainly opened my eyes into things I didn’t even realise I was / wasn’t doing for people. I can’t wait for the next one!”

The workshops were never meant to be the end of the story. We knew that we couldn’t change the world in a couple of hours. We continued the conversation with individual action plans (and reminders sent through the post), emails, and newsletters. 

Solihull Council (SMBC) have worked closely and enthusiastically with us on the pilot, and it has been entered for the “Together for Better Lives Awards 2016” under the “collaborative working” category. A Social Worker from the Solihull Advancing Adult Social Care Team described it as “a personalisation awareness programme for front line social care workers like no other programme before it … the impact on SMBC workers attending the sessions has been huge, with much more self aware and person centred practice taking place as a result.”

We have also had great support from Birmingham City Council, the Birmingham Care Development Agency, and private sector support from Lench’s Trust and Serene Care.

We have just finished a “facilitate the facilitator” three-day event so others can now take the Refocus programme and spread the word in their own, unique, ways. All we ask is that people who re-use our programme retain our core principles of personalisation and coproduction.  

This all started by thinking about front line staff and our belief that they, through small purposeful movements, could make a real difference to the lives of the people they work with. Of course, we are now constantly being told by those front line staff, “my manager should be part of this conversation!”

So, we are discussing with SMBC, Birmingham Council, and others just how we can make that happen. Watch this space. . . 

You only have to switch on the television, or follow social media, to hear about the age of austerity. Front line staff are worried about making promises that they may not be able to keep in these times. However, we have learnt that personalisation and coproduction may take time in the short term, but often prompt innovative thinking and problem-solving that help everyone in the long term. 

If we can do it, anyone can. Talk to us and we’ll be happy to explain more. Or just follow these three simple steps (that we wish someone had told us before we started).

  1. Take action. Don’t be a spectator. Define a small adjustment you can do in a short time frame and get it done! We call these Small Purposeful Movements or SMPs.
  2. Understand that coproduction can be messy and risky. Be comfortable with uncertainty. It helps with this if you can create the conditions for reflection. 
  3. Don’t do it alone.  Coproduction — at least as we saw it within the context of REFOCUS – is involves changing the relationship between people and professionals, and so building trust and empowerment.
A campfire conversation - we learnt coproduction and personalisation are all about conversations

A campfire conversation - we learnt coproduction and personalisation are all about conversations

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