Power, Boundaries and Expectations

“How do we challenge the power and make sure that voices are actually heard?”


At this month’s Conversation on Co-production, the group discussed individual expectations, group expectations and what some people believe is ‘realistic’. Where do we find the balance? Are unanimous decisions always the way to go? What if people with lived experience get emotional or angry about a topic, does that make their voice any less valid? Should we censor raw emotion just because it makes others feel uncomfortable?

It was a great session where members explored some challenging ideas and we reflected on our own practices, values and beliefs.

Below are some excerpts from the conversation.


Expectations and decision making

Chairmanship and facilitation can sometimes manipulate the way a group comes to a decision, by the way a question is presented. By adopting a system where all decisions are made by a unanimous vote, are we implying that the majority is always right? What if that majority goes against the voice of lived experience?
Managing expectations for all parties is important, having conversations prior to meetings to discuss the agenda, share context and give people the space to practice answering questions can help to produce meaningful conversations.


“Set parameters at the beginning - ask the group at the start what they would like to do in the event of a disagreement”

“I wonder if by saying ok, we are going to set up systems where we can be nice to each other and find ways to agree, then you are basically cutting yourself off from saying the more extreme things. I say extreme but it’s not extreme, it’s sensible things, but the things that organisations would see as being extreme requests or viewpoints. I would say if there is power to be fought over then there are going to be people falling out along the way and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it could be a good thing”

“People are pushing for a thing that we won’t move on until we have 100% agreement. You know, there are some co-production groups that work on that or consider working on that, and my thoughts are yes that’s good but it enlightened me a bit to good chairmanship, and good chairmanship you get everyone to the point where the question that you’re voting on…actually everyone is going to say yes…you actually change the question so that nobody can really say no or disagree with it.”

“There are lots of boards in our health and care system and everything is unanimous, but how can it be?”

“We (people with lived experience) have to start driving the agenda and then invite the people who are supposed to deliver the agenda to those meetings and they can challenge it…We need to go to the other extreme of co-production. We are at one end where the organisations and systems seem to drive everything, we may have to go to the place where we drive everything so eventually we do get to a place where we start in co-production and end in co-production.”


Challenging organisations to be brave

Some individuals and organisations still fear the inclusion of lived experience in decision-making. To overcome this, a universal cross-sector acknowledgment and commitment to learn and improve is required. Letting go of power can be challenging, changing old ways can be difficult, but we must learn and grow; The voice of lived experience should be leading this drive for change. Let’s start seeing people with lived experience as change-makers in their own right, and not just informants for services.


“Services should listen and accept whatever comes out.”

“…I still think it is that not knowing and it’s his fear of thinking hang on a minute, because not more than a few years ago he wouldn’t let people who were using our services come up to the central office because there was that fear there…but now they can.”

“If they can’t get why it is important that people have input who have got that experience, then I don’t know what hope they’ve got”

“The systems themselves are very oppressive”

“One of the challenges I come across in health, whenever you raise a question, they feel they have to demonstrate that it is already resolved immediately. They cannot just rest and listen and receive the challenges in that way, they must immediately respond with a positive answer that it is not really a problem and we have it all sorted.”

“There is not really the environment for the leaders to actually work collaboratively, they are firefighting…sometimes a fire that they don’t need to fight.”
“Building trust comes with time, not by parachuting in a person that uses services or a carer or somebody with lived experience, but it also doesn’t mean parachuting in a professional either. There is a lot of work going on in training leaders in collaborative leadership, but there doesn’t seem to be a space for them to do it. They teach you all these wonderful skills and then say ‘yep get on with what you’ve always been doing”

“As part of co-production...do you give people support to build power to challenge and how is that done? It’s not necessarily that you can bring people into a room and it’s all equal, we all know that.”


Relationships, understanding and empathy

Organisations who implement co-production in its truest form, embrace the emotion that the voice of lived experience can bring to the room. There needs to be an understanding and compassion for what that person went through before entering the ‘co-produced’ space. As humans, we naturally attempt to contain and censor things that make us feel uncomfortable. Maybe where lived experience of multiple disadvantage is involved, sometimes organisations need to be pushed. We need the focus to be on change, not on comfort zones.


“Sometimes you win by smaller steps. Something that we have been thinking about is making sure that all roles including leadership roles there is a criteria of valuing lived experience…when that happens we will have people who can see the whole journey and really empathise and value that lived experience in those leadership roles”

“Do you allow someone to become emotional? A good organisation with good leadership would hear what that person was saying, even if it was said in a clumsy or potentially emotional way but that is a test of a good organisation and otherwise, there is a danger that organisations say yes, we tick the co-production box because we have an ex-service user on our board so we get more funding but there is no real input, they just kind of silence that person and that person gets used to tick that box…”

“We have had good success working with the Jobcentre in Brighton, coproducing with lived experience and our systems change team so we had a mixture of volunteers and lived experience staff and non-lived experience staff and that relationship with DWP was very organic, it felt very organic and harmonious really and I think that relationship that we have, it felt very much that we were all on the same side, there weren’t angry voices. I think if there were then I think the trauma-informed care training would go some way in helping people understand where those angry voices come from and help staff take it less personally. There is sometimes a detachment between what someone is seeing in front of them and where it came from, being able to see in an objective light”

“You have got to have an immense amount of patience, things do tend to roll back and I quite often found myself thinking why has someone done that or decided that themselves?”


If you have any thoughts or ideas on how we can better balance the power, improve understanding of co-production and encourage giving people with lived experience the space and support to be able to drive change themselves…we would love to hear from you! You can email us at info@expertlink.org.uk

If you are wanting some pointers on getting started with co-production, check out Expert Links videos

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