Learning Disabilities & Autism Opinion

Leading with Co-production

Optalis Staff Forum
Jeannette Crisp, Director of HR and Corporate Services at Optalis

Optalis provides care and support services to older people and adults with disabilities, across the Berkshire region.

Co-production is not just a concept, it is a meeting of minds coming together to find a shared solution. For us, that means involving the people we support, our customers, and the people who provide that support, our colleagues in the decision-making process.

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Optalis has nurtured this approach since the organisation started back in 2011. Our commitment has always been to co-create with our workforce, at all levels, to ensure better outcomes for people who use our services and to build stronger communities. It is imperative that our workforce have the opportunity to influence the way that services are designed, commissioned and delivered. Most recently, support workers helped streamline the recording paperwork used within services, to ensure that their valuable time was spent working more closely with customers. Using employees experience and expertise, has contributed to a more efficient use of resources.

I am fortunate to spend time with staff in a variety of settings and I am impressed by their passion and engagement. I am consistently told that our staff really value the opportunities they have to openly discuss what matters to them and they feel part of something that makes a difference. This is supported by our recent staff survey, where we have seen a 9% increase of staff saying they are proud to work for Optalis. Studies have shown that employee engagement and customer experience are intrinsically linked, and it is this belief that we see in the ways that our staff interact with our customers and the positive feedback we get on how our staff support our customers every day.

Coproduction needs to take a flexible approach when engaging the workforce and working together as a team, ensuring that the journey is ongoing and responsive. We want our colleagues to have the capacity to make a particular contribution to the leadership of co-production initiatives, and to feel confident and empowered to make their voice heard.

This has led us to involving colleagues in the forming of the Corporate Strategy through ‘tea and talk sessions’ and building a vibrant and productive staff forum. Following on from the staff survey, a number of staff engagement sessions across the organisation were held to gain a deeper insight into employee responses and gave colleagues the opportunity to find solutions to their identified issues. This is when the ‘You Said, We Did’ model was introduced.

This model ensures that our staff have a clear line of sight from the issues that they have raised to the actions that we have taken as an organisation, as a result. For example, our staff told us that our eLearning system was difficult, so we did some user testing on alternative options and picked one that works much better for our staff. Because of this, our training compliance has improved, and staff are accessing more development opportunities to enhance the service they are able to give.

I believe that the increase in participation in the staff survey (rising from 42% in 2018 to 52% in 2019) is as a result of our staff seeing that we are acting on what matters to them, and that we are honest about the things that we are not able to do.

Optalis has built a culture that enables colleagues’ to influence the shape and direction of our organisation. Employees were recently involved with the recruitment of the new Optalis CEO. Staff and customers hosted a lunch, to meet and question the potential candidates. Informal discussions took place and views on each of the candidates were then shared with the main interview panel.

By ensuring employees are involved in generating ideas and developing the solution, great initiatives can arise, and this clearly aligns with our vision of a co-production approach. We are an organisation in service of our staff and have their voice at the heart of our decision making.


Edel Harris





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