Co-producing a new advocacy service in Kent: Getting started

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Kent County Council was looking to re-tender the Kent-wide advocacy service. This is a service for people from different backgrounds and with different support needs who might need specialist advocacy support in the county.

Commissioners wanted to co-produce the tender from the beginning. They wanted to go beyond just consultation and wanted to involve people in a genuine and meaningful way.

Commissioners asked two independent consultants to help them. One of the consultants has a learning difficulty. Everyone agreed to organise an event to find out what people wanted. The consultants coordinated and facilitated the event.

A diverse group of people were invited to the event, including commissioners, advocacy providers and people who use services.

The event used a combination of Open Space and World Café approaches in order to openly engage people and find out what they feel is needed in terms of advocacy support in Kent. World Café and Open Space are very informal approaches that enable diverse groups of people to plan important things together.

At the Kent event people were asked to think about the question: what important things do we want to say about advocacy in Kent?

If people had a particular topic that they wanted to 'lead' a conversation about, they were asked to write up the topic on a board against a timeslot. Then everyone was asked to come up to the board and choose a conversation to join.

People were reminded that they could take a break when they needed a break and move to another group if the current conversation was not working for them.

People were also reminded of the 4 principles of Open Space:

  • Whoever comes are the right people.
  • Whatever happens is the only thing that could happen. Be prepared to be surprised. Open mind to outcomes. If it isn't happening then it shouldn't happen. Go with the flow.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time. Creativity cannot be timed. Go with the flow.
  • When it is over, it is over. Or when it's not over, it's not over.

Some people found the day really inspiring and productive. Others found the format quite challenging and felt uncomfortable about having no fixed agenda. There were some problems on the day with the room shape and the technical equipment. Everyone involved agreed to learn from these difficulties to improve things for future events.

The outcomes of the day included people agreeing to:

  • Set up a steering group of a mixture of people to work with commissioners to write the advocacy tender.
  • Involve members of the steering group in presenting the tender document to senior managers and councillors.
  • Arrange more meetings (inclusive and accessible) to let everyone know what is happening with advocacy in Kent.
  • Share the notes from the Open Space/World Café event with everyone who attended and other interested people.
  • Talk about advocacy at District Partnership Groups and other forums.
  • Ensure people are kept informed about the outcomes from the discussions and how people's ideas have been put into practice.
  • Think about how the tender for Information, Advice and Guidance services could also be co-produced.