A Better Start

Who’s the Expert? – Innovation in Co-production and Service Design Conference 2019

A Better Start
Rachel Wood

At A Better Start Southend (ABSS) we are constantly looking at new ways to support the development of our workforce to create research-informed practice. We also look to see how we can use what we have learnt to impact on the wider research and knowledge agenda, in order to support our overall ambitions for outcomes in the early years.

Co-production with our communities is crucial to our success. To highlight our commitment to co-production our annual conference in 2019 was titled ‘Who’s the Expert?’

We wanted to emphasise the importance of lived experience[1] and show that everyone is an expert in their own life and community.

In order to get commitment from partners and those attending it was crucial that we maximised the learning and development impact of the day. We also wanted to ensure that we embedded the principles of A Better Start in all of the content, and that meant that we focused on innovation, service design and co-production in all of the preparation work that we did.

One of the innovative elements that we aimed to embed in the conference programme was to create an environment of facilitated conversation, where families could share their learning. Our previous experience in service development identified that providing an on-site creche[2] would maximise engagement and give parents and parent champions the opportunity to attend on the day.

In order to extend our messaging further we used innovative evaluation methods (e.g. a social media ‘wall’, displaying a live feed of the tweets posted under our hashtag) and had the support from some amazing young people to act as rapporteurs for the day. It was great to see that #whostheexpert2019 was tweeted 385 times during the day showing the ‘buzz’ that was being created in terms of the content. This hashtag was also trending locally to.

Parent Champions and our delivery partner Southend Association of Voluntary Services were key in co-designing our overall aims for the day. These were:

  1. Shared learning and collaboration.
  2. Experience, networking and shaping.
  3. Co-design, co-production, and lived experience.
  4. Innovation and research in the early years.
  5. Test and learn and improving through delivery.

It was agreed that the content would include a mix of key-note speeches (many thanks to Southend Borough Council, University of Essex, Dartington Service Design Lab and Snook for making these happen), as well as outcome-based family learning, and practice-based sessions which encouraged open conversation[3] about ‘what works’ and ‘what doesn’t’.

We asked what those due to attend would most like to share and learn on the day, and this would also be used to inform how we could further work in partnership with those who co-design and deliver our services.

After the event we could see that the biggest self-reported increases in knowledge were ‘the use of lived experience’ (+ 30.83%) and the ABSS programme (+ 14.67%). This is useful for looking at the strategic direction of ABSS, its case for change and in developing policy and practice as a partnership. Building further on this we will be looking to do further impact assessments relating to the conference, including following up as to how messages have been sustained in terms of ‘takeaways’ and how they have been embedded into practice.

If you would like more information about our conference and how we are taking forward the learning from it, visit our knowledge exchange lab or alternatively contact rachel.wood@eyalliance.org.uk

Rachel A. Wood is Knowledge, Research and Evaluation Lead at A Better Start Southend and Editor of the ABSS Research Bulletin

About A Better Start

A Better Start is a ten-year (2015-2025), £215 million programme set-up by The National Lottery Community Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. Five A Better Start partnerships based in Blackpool, Bradford, Lambeth, Nottingham and Southend are supporting families to give their babies and very young children the best possible start in life. Working with local parents, the A Better Start partnerships are developing and testing ways to improve their children’s diet and nutrition, social and emotional development, and speech, language and communication.

The work of the programme is grounded in scientific evidence and research. A Better Start is place-based and enabling systems change. It aims to improve the way that organisations work together and with families to shift attitudes and spending towards preventing problems that can start in early life. It is one of five major programmes set up by The National Lottery Community Fund to test and learn from new approaches to designing services which aim to make people’s lives healthier and happier

The National Children’s Bureau is coordinating an ambitious programme of shared learning for A Better Start, disseminating the partnerships’ experiences in creating innovative services far and wide, so that others working in early childhood development or place-based systems change can benefit.

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[1] Glasby, J., Beresford, P. (2006) Who knows best? Evidence-based practice and the service user contribution. Critical Social Policy 26(1): 268–284, Byrne, L. Happell, B. and Reid-Searl, K. (2015), Lived experience practitioners and the medical model: worlds colliding? Journal of Mental Health, 25 (3), pp 217-223

[2] Goodall, J. and Vorhaus, J. (2010), Review of Best Practice in Parental Engagement, DfE

[3] Davis, MM. Nagukaldi, Z. Darby-Lipman, P. and Haught, J. (2018), First International Conference on Practice Facilitation: A Success!, Annals of Family Medicine, 16 (3), 274-275