Reflections from a former co-chair of TLAP

Alex Fox
Alex Fox, Shared Lives Plus
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One of the most enjoyable, as well as challenging, roles I've had the chance to take on was to co-chair the board of the Think Local Act Personal with Sarah Pickup and then Sandie Keene (in their roles as successive ADASS presidents). I've been involved with TLAP pretty much since it started, so as my co-chairing role came to an end earlier in the year, I've been thinking a bit about what has changed in TLAP over that period.

Think Local Act Personal started with a mission to deepen people's understanding of what personalisation means and how it can become real, not just window-dressing on the same old services. TLAP has tried to do that in a number of ways, including the work of the Market Development Forum to help the sector build new kinds of provision and to help existing providers to build more choice into their work. Although TLAP's team and budget have always been relatively small for such an ambitious national programme, I think you can see the impact it's been able to have through being a collaboration between so many different kinds of people and organisation, with over half of councils and hundreds of providers signed up to the pledge to 'make it real'. Two changes have really stood out for me during the last few years though.

The first is the growing realisation that even a really well-tailored and high quality service doesn't necessarily make for a good life. The new TLAP agreement and work plan have more focus than ever before on building community capacity.

Many planners still see community action as essentially mysterious - it might magically happen in some places, but can't be replicated elsewhere. It seems mysterious because the things which services and bureaucracies usually do aren't set up to work collaboratively with communities informal support networks. However, every council and NHS Trust can do more to create the conditions in which community action thrives and is valued. Every service, whether a community based service like Shared Lives or a building-based service like a care home, can be offered in ways which on the one hand isolate people from their peers, confuse them with jargon and leave them and those around them less confident of their capacity and expertise. Or on the other hand, they can be offered in ways which inform people, help them to connect to those around them and help individuals, families and communities to build their confidence and resilience.

The second change is that co-production (whilst still a horrible made-up word!) has really started to take hold and change the way people involved in TLAP think and act. TLAP was always going to be unusual in that it brings central and local government, sector bodies and provider representatives like us around the same table, but it could have stopped there and been just another committee of professionals. Instead, the co-chairs of the National Co-production Advisory Group (NCAG -a group of people who use services and family carers) are the overall chairs of the TLAP partnership and they both sit on the board. It doesn't make me proud of my sector that it's still not the norm for people to sit on national boards and committees as service users, and it's even rarer that those who do are there as elected representatives of a wider group.

This way of working has changed the conversation at the TLAP board in both tone and content, I believe. If the board is not thinking about co-production and inclusion, there are strong voices there to advocate for those principles. But I think we are all more likely to think about co-production than we might have been a few years ago. I don't believe that TLAP has co-production 'nailed' by any means. Last year, I and TLAP's Director met with NCAG to discuss things which weren't working, including issues like meetings not always being at accessible times and the lack of time to understand issues, prepare for meetings and make meaningful contributions. The group didn't feel it always had the opportunity to set the agenda, only to respond to the huge volume of requests for comments the group was getting.

But it felt positive to everyone that we could address those issues and put changes in place, such as more regular meetings between members of NCAG and the board members and officers responsible for each workstream.

TLAP's approach to co-production feels like it is still at the beginning of a huge culture change which our whole sector needs to make. But it is one of the few examples of genuinely meaningful co-production being properly resourced and built into every stage of decision making (SCIE's Co-production Network being another). TLAP has produced lots of useful resources, but it's greatest impact may well be the way it has gone about producing those resources, role-modelling the value of co-production for the rest of the sector. It's not accident that TLAP's strongest resource remains the one which was produced by NCAG, and which is the key commitment TLAP asks the sector to make, and tries to make itself: the commitment to make it real.

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