Most engaging presentation of local area research

Essex County Council – From monster mother to local leader


This project has achieved real impact by engaging decision makers and practitioners through innovative presentation of local area research to coproduce an All-Age Autism strategy.

We changed our usual way of developing strategy by modelling the principles of coproduction. In collaboration with parents of children with Autism, we presented local stories and research to an audience of senior commissioners, policy officers, education, health and social care decision-makers.

We have been on an inspiring journey with our partners and citizens that started with a system which parents felt, “…is set up to create monster mothers who are fighting for the rights of the child in a maze of professionals who write a lot of letters but not much else”, to building reciprocal and respectful relationships between the public sector and citizens, and now a future investment into local peer support and local empowerment.

Wow factor

It is possible to create such an environment, based on research, where a senior Director of Commissioning can feel confident and compelled enough to make an instant commitment to invite families to be a greater leader in addressing their own local community issues.

Video of the coproduction workshop


Instructed by the citizens’ choice
We asked local families how they would like to give their views on their experience of seeking advice, support and treatment for their autistic children, offering a range of engagement methods. The resounding response from parents was that they would prefer to do this through an online survey.

Tales of despondence and disillusion but also local peer support
The most poignant finding from the survey was that there was a significant breakdown of relationship and an alarming lack of trust between parents and practitioners. Regardless of the quality of services that were available, parents felt so disillusioned and mistrusting of public services from not feeling listened to, leading to poor outcomes for families. However, within this distrust emerged evidence that some families were coping through seeking local peer support.

Our Objective – Doing the insight justice
We recognised that a standard survey report would lose the powerful insights such as the extent to which families were feeling abandoned and was not a sufficient mechanism for building the case for change. So our objective was to win hearts and minds through a more creative presentation of the survey findings to a range of multi-agency senior decision makers. Instead we decided upon a coproduction event that modelled and promoted both the theory and practice of coproduction.

A Call to Action and Repairing Relationships
We designed a workshop where four exemplary case studies drawn from the survey findings were clearly presented, telling the stories of families’ journeys through the system. Compelling survey quotes were presented around the room on large posters.

To repair relationships, we invited survey respondents to attend the event and carried out individual pre-briefings in local libraries to those interested in attending the workshop. We went to parents, we shared our ambitions with them and we sought their views on the design and potential effectiveness of the workshop.

We invited some respondents to present their experiences first-hand at the event. In particular, we worked with one respondent to write a 6 year account of her family’s experiences. Her story was an exemplary representation of the opinions of other survey respondents’ so we sent her written account to this tailored audience the day before the event.

We invited some respondents to co-write the autism strategy with us.

Our Impact – A commitment to change

Two powerful things changed on this day. Firstly there was some reparation in relationships achieved through the facilitation of parents to feel empowered to challenge the local authority through a positive dialogue focused on finding solutions.

Secondly, presentations given by parents evidenced the effectiveness of peer support and gave confidence to ECC’s consideration of peer support as a demand management strategy. The case made by parents was so impactful that a Director of Commissioning publicly made a commitment to work and support parents in their ideas.

Lessons learned

From coproduction to investment
The insight from the parents’ presentation on peer support was so convincing and compelling; the Director of Commissioning offered at the workshop a commitment to invest in piloting the peer support approach that had worked so well for those two families.

Before this work began we took these two significant steps to take the organisation on a journey to do things differently:

1. Leader endorsement to embed coproduction principles
We’ve been flying the flag for coproduction intensively in the last 24 months. This began with a coproduction paper with reference to the expert guidance of leaders in the sector like Tony Bovaird from Governance International. The paper was endorsed by ECC’s Corporate Management Board and the Executive Director for People Commissioning.

2. Socialising coproduction ambitions with key decision-makers
We’ve also designed our own Collaboration Tree, adapted from Governance International’s Coproduction Tree to socialise the council’s ambitions and seek further commitment to coproduction principles and practices.