Case Study – Making It Real: Solihull’s Experts by Experience
Solihull Council Adults Care and Support Directorate
“Working with Solihull Council has allowed me to not just share my knowledge of a carer’s life but also gain an understanding of what councils are up against.” Keymn Whervin, family carer and former Expert by Experience.
In response to the Peer Challenge findings, ASC invited a group of people who were using our services, or caring for someone at home, to help us embed a Making it Real (MIR) approach. From May 2013 we began recruiting Experts to help us to shape and improve our information and services. With no pre-determined outcome we asked them what they wanted. They gave us four clear messages:
- “Hear our voices”
- “Include us – in the big stuff, too!”
- “Value us – as equal partners”
- “Use us – we can help!”
Using these four themes we supported the Experts group to lead the development of MIR practice in Solihull, with an allocated initial budget of £20K.
What changes have been made
Three years on Solihull Council’s Experts by Experience have worked with partners across the Council: presenting and reporting on their work to Council members; supporting and contributing to staff training; contributing to the commissioning process at every stage – helping to evaluate tender applications and service reviews, and feeding back about any frustrations with our systems and processes. Experts were involved in our planning for the implementation of the Care Act 2014 and have helped us draft literature for local people. They have also been involved in the recruitment of staff, including our senior managers.
Over time our Expert Group changes: members come and go. Some Experts’ personal circumstances change and they step down to focus more on their own lives. For other individuals their time as an Expert has helped them develop and use their talents, skills and knowledge in other ways, a number or our former Experts have developed community interest companies (CICs) using their knowledge and insights to train and advise agencies across the public, independent and voluntary sectors. Last year the Solihull Experts by Experience Group became a Community Interest Company. The Group is now utilised by other organisations which need an understanding of people with care and support needs.
The Experts programme began in 2013, since when Solihull Council, like other Councils, has achieved unprecedented savings and continues to work to secure a sustainable model for the future. The Experts Group voted to become a Community Interest Group in 2015.
Who was involved?
We have recruited Experts through a number of routes: people who have contacted our offices during a sample week and people who initiated complaints in relation to their care services; though voluntary sector partners’ publicity and more recently through Expert-led recruitment drives. Practitioners, commissioners and senior managers have worked alongside Experts, making sure they are involved in everything we do.
The success of the Experts’ programme was underpinned by support throughout the Council. Colleagues from different directorates contribute to induction programmes, which help new Experts to understand our decision-making processes and how we work to safeguard and protect our population.
Utilising an Innovations in Dementia “DEEP Involvement” Grant, our Experts by Experience engaged with people from different faiths and cultures.
Solihull’s Faith Forum invited two Experts: a person living with dementia and a former carer to deliver a keynote speech at the Forum’s AGM – reaching over 60 people from different faiths and cultural backgrounds. The Experts used this opportunity to consider how faith groups might help their communities and support members of their communities to become dementia friends. Peter, an Expert living with dementia talked about himself, how long he has been living with dementia, the benefits of using our commissioned services and his hopes for the future, including potential outcomes of the meeting. Our overall aim was to ensure that local Faith Groups would take action within their communities to improve the knowledge around dementia and to reach out to people who might be isolated.
As a result of this work a number of dementia sessions were held with local church groups and with other agencies who were present at the AGM, such as the police. Subsequently regular Dementia Cafes have been set within local churches, supporting more sustainable community support for families affected by dementia.
Challenges and how they were overcome
Culture change was needed to embed the practice of working with Experts and support from senior staff was critical to effecting change within the organisation. Working alongside Solihull Experts by Experience while the Group developed as a Community Interest Company has not been a smooth and easy process but we have always worked openly and honestly together and our relationship with Experts continues to be positive and productive.
Co-production is an art, rather than a science. Success relies on mutual respect, optimism and patience.