Collaborative pairs: leading co-production, together

20 July 2016 | By Amanda George

A post by Emily McArdle

Whether in health, social care, education, criminal justice; it is critically important to understand, learn from and build upon the experiences of those who have been through the system. In some cases, such as the Care Act, the need to do this is even legally-binding. But how do organisations make sure that they are doing this in an organised, logical and effective way?

One way is through collaborative pairs. A collaborative pair is made up of a professional from the organisation and a person with lived experience. This could be a former patient or a pupil, for example. The person with lived experience will be able to bring their voice to the project, and by being part of an equal partnership with the professional, they can start to influence and co-design the future of the service together. They also have a critical role to play in gathering further feedback and opinion from other service users, and as someone who has been through the same journey, they are ideally-placed to foster trust and openness.

Developing our approach at H S A

At Helen Sanderson Associates we’ve been developing our own approach to collaborative pairs, integrating person-centred tools into the process of building the relationship. This creates a structured foundation on which the pair can get to know each other and how each of them approach work.

Alex and I have formed our first collaborative pair. I am the lead for H S A’s work in Hospitals and Hospices, and Alex has a wealth of ideas, knowledge and information that comes in part from her lived experiences. As we will be working together in the future to co-produce solutions with people in hospitals and hospices, we were ideally-placed to take this forward.

Developing One Page Profiles together was a natural starting point, as this outlines what really matters to each of us. We have also used our tool about giving and receiving communication and feedback. Using the information we learnt about each other, we’ve developed a shared ‘pitch’ that will explain to others who we are and why we are so well-placed to form a powerful team that combines professional and personal experience.

Click on the image below for our step-by-step approach to developing a collaborative pair.

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An equal relationship

In a collaborative pair, there is no one person who is more important than the other. It is crucial that both parties feel valued and that their opinions are respected. This extends itself to practicalities too. In our case, Alex is remunerated at the same rate as I am. In other collaborative pairs, it may be that different remuneration or reward systems are designed, but this is dependent on the wishes of the individuals involved. In principle, they should be equally weighted, although the individuals may choose to be remunerated in different ways.

Additionally, it’s important to note that the person with lived experience is not intended to represent all people with lived experience. This is absolutely not the right approach to a collaborative pair! Co-production for a group of people can only exist if they are truly represented and included, and no one person can do this for them, even if they share similar experiences. Instead, our collaborative pair will work together to identify and collaborate with other people who are relevant to the project at hand. Alex is well-placed to build relationships with the group, as she isn’t simply a professional looking in at the situation, but someone who knows what it’s like to be there. In our case, I also bring extensive knowledge of person-centred approaches, and combining this with Alex’s experience, we will be able to lead co-production in a way that is both structured and sensitive.

What next?

We’ll be blogging about the development of our collaborative pair and the work we’re doing. In the meantime, we’re really excited to talk to other people and organisations who are interested in developing collaborative pairs.If you’d like to know more about setting up collaborative pairs with a person-centred focus, just e-mail me. I’d love to hear from you.

To learn more about person-cented thinking tools, some of which we use in the development of collaborative pairs, click here. You can also explore our person-centred thinking tools e-learning at

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