Seminar in the Welsh Assembly: There’s (much) more to life than services

You can take a horse to water… – Bob Rhodes, Lives through Friends
It was at the end of the launch of the Coproduction Network for Wales that an opposition AM approached me to ask whether I would be able to convene a session for new Members of the Welsh Assembly and their advisors to give them some background to the principles of strengths-based practice and co-production that are emblazoned so boldly in recent legislation – especially relating to Social Care and Wellbeing and Future Generations. We did something similar 4 years ago.
A date was agreed for a midday seminar and during the planning it soon emerged that we would be expected to feed our visitors – “they probably will go elsewhere otherwise?” We invested from our own pockets to satisfy this expectation!
Our emphasis for the seminar was essentially to share some of the best practice in community building and social care in Wales in the context of the obstacles and contrary systems conditions that the best leaders and practitioners need to overcome in order to achieve the results for which they are so appropriately respected. Leaders and practitioners in 9 leading edge agencies plus representatives of people who use public services and carers gave their time to planning and delivering an informative and collaborative event and, when the day arrived, only the sponsoring AM, one of his colleagues, and a press officer from the most relevant Cabinet Secretary’s team attended.
From this we can only adduce that the successful implementation, which will inevitably necessitate amendments, of Assembly policies on public services have little priority or interest for our elected representatives? With one exception, the subject of how we care for each other in Wales and the nature of the relationship between citizens and their institutions that impacts upon this did not even warrant AM’s delegating attendance to a researcher or advisor. We “led the horse to water” and ended up doing all the drinking (and eating) ourselves.
Our three hours together strengthened our Network but left us with little optimism that our life and career long experiences of rowing against the tide and working against the grain will ever change. The introduction of systemic co-production poses a deep-set culture change challenge for institutions in Wales – and that starts at the top.