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Working Together Toolkit A Guide to Involving People

About this Guide

This guide talks about the value of co-production and the importance of ensuring opportunities are inclusive and accessible to a diverse group of people.

View a PDF version of this guide

It has been developed with and for the local adult social care community. People with lived experience of social care, have played an essential role in putting this guide together. In addition, real local examples of involving people are used throughout this guide, to give an idea of how you can make co-production happen.

Although this resource seeks to give advice on involving people, it is not prescriptive nor is it exhaustive. This is an area where new ideas and developing new ways of working will always be welcome.

If you wish to discuss any aspect of this resource or would like to contribute to local co-production activity, please

email or call 0118 977 8600.


We are working to improve the way we involve people in the planning, design, delivery and evaluation of local services.

To ensure we operate effective adult social care services, it is important to understand the needs and experiences of people who use adult social care and actively seek opportunities for people who use our services to influence and guide our work.

Co-production describes an approach which centres on coming together to find a shared solution. For Adult Social Care, this means involving the people we support, their families, and people who provide that support in the decision-making process.

There is no set way of doing co-production. Just be prepared to try new things and reflect on what has gone well. Talk to your colleagues and above all, listen to what people with lived experience tell you about what they want and what works for them.

The Co-production Commitment

Our commitment is to co-create, at all levels, to ensure better outcomes for people who use our services and to build stronger communities.

We will seek to ensure that when we work together:

  • It is meaningful and a two-way process
  • We are open and honest about what we can and can’t do
  • We are respectful of people’s time and expertise/experience
  • It is accessible to everyone who wants to participate
  • We will always follow through on what has been agreed, and keep people informed and updated

The benefits of involvement

There are clear advantages to this way of working, such as:

  • Improving relationships and helping build a shared understanding and trust between the Adult Social Care Service and the community
  • Ensuring our work is informed by a broad range of experiences
  • Ensuring our services will be more effective at meeting the needs of residents
  • Validating people’s experiences and respecting the skills and contribution they can make
  • Providing an opportunity for people who use services to develop new skills and increase in confidence and independence

Getting started

Plan the engagement activity well, think about who you will involve and how you will involve people.
Co-production will look and feel different depending on the group, the nature of the project and the context you are working within.
It may help to start by setting out a group agreement. Talk with the group about what they need to ensure an open and safe environment where people can work together creatively and feel confident sharing their ideas and experiences. This discussion can also be useful to help set expectations for the scope of the work or activity.
If the group is not already established, take opportunities to get to know each other. This will help people feel more at ease about taking part and help to build positive relationships.

Communication is the key

The language we use and the way we communicate can create barriers for people. Complex terminology and ‘service-land speak’ can be difficult to understand and make people feel excluded.

  • Think about the following:
  • Plan what you want to say and cut out the stuff that is not needed
  • Use every day simple words and phrases, if you need to use difficult words or jargon explain what they mean
  • Make sentences easy and short
  • Speak clearly and don’t rush what you say
  • Check understanding, and repeat things if people don’t get it first time
  • Use gestures, especially pointing, when you speak
  • Show people what you mean/where you mean/who you mean etc
  • Give people time to respond
  • Use the same words and phrases consistently, even if it does sound repetitive

People with complex needs and/or high individual communication needs will need to get information through people who know them well.

Think about:

  • What is the person’s preferred ways of communicating?
  • Who is the best person to give or receive the information?
  • In what sort of environment do they communicate best?
  • What level of information is appropriate and relevant? Too much information can be as ineffective as none.
The power of listening, should never be underestimated - 
Social Cares Futures participant

Co-production Principles

Co-production is not a prescribed approach, but there are features that should be present if the engagement is to be credible and authentic. Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), sets out four principles, as follows:

  • Equality – recognising that everyone who takes part has equal importance and brings assets, skills, abilities, or time, which must be recognised.
  • Diversity – making sure that no one is excluded from co-production.
  • Access – making sure that everyone can fully take part in co-production, in a way that works for them.
  • Reciprocity – everyone should get something out of taking part.

We asked people what these principles mean to them, and this is what they had to say:


Some people may need support to participate. This may need help to understand what is being said or help to speak out. Different people will want different types of support. The type of support they want should be agreed with the person. It may be useful for people to pair up, then after each main point you can stop and discuss what has been said.

Example in Practice: People with lived experience were involved in evaluating funding bids for Prevention Services. An initial session was held to explain the project and agree what support people needed. It was decided that their skills and time would be best utilised by reviewing the bids, independently of the panel meetings. Written guidance was provided along with dedicated support, if needed. This feedback was then considered by Council officers involved in scoring the applications.

Create an environment where people feel able to ask for help if they need it.

Training gives people more confidence in their abilities and can help build their understanding. Consider with the group what their training requirements are.

Example in Practice: We worked with a training provider to develop a bespoke course called ‘Growing Local Leaders’. The training offered people with learning disabilities the opportunity to develop their self-advocacy skills.

Don’t fall into the ‘them and us’ narrative. Take steps to break down any barriers.

Example in Practice: Generally, we avoid using job titles in our introductions as this could create a power imbalance. Instead, we opt to share our interest in social care. At the first Social Care Futures meeting we asked colleagues to “ditch the power suit” because formal attire can be symbolic of a power imbalance.

Be authentic and bring your whole self to the group.

Example in Practice: The Social Care Futures meetings start with an activity that is designed to give people space to express how they are feeling and/or give people an insight into what’s important to the person.

Think about how to play to people’s strengths and best use people’s skills and expertise.

Example in Practice: People with lived experience have supported the recruitment of key roles within the Adult Social Care Team. Often the interview is divided into 2 parts. One panel will focus on the candidates’ ability to do the job. The panel involving people with lived experience primarily assesses the candidates’ value base and ability to communicate – for example, do they seem approachable? Are they respectful? How well did they interact?

Don’t make assumptions

Example in Practice: Before any meeting takes place, attendees are contacted to ask what they will need to take part fully and meaningfully. After a meeting takes place people are asked to share their reflections about how the session went, and if there is anything we could do differently next time.


Who does it affect? It seems obvious but ensure the co-production activity has relevance to the people who are taking part. If you are looking to develop a particular service seek out people who have recent experience of using the service or are likely to need it.
Depending on what you are trying to do or change you may need to look outside of social care. Think about involving faith groups, community leaders, local businesses etc.

Recognise that people want to take part in a variety of different ways and there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Be prepared to adapt, to meet the needs of the group.

Example in Practice: A focus group was arranged for people to share their experiences, as part of a review of the Housing and Support Service. Nobody accepted the invitation. It became apparent that people did not feel comfortable sharing their personal stories in a group environment. People were offered a one-to-one session, either over the phone or face to face and the opportunity to email in their experiences. The in-depth interviews that took place, provided rich, insightful, and detailed information about the service.

Welcome different perspectives, and deal with differing needs and opinions respectfully. Don’t be defensive. Remain calm, positive and proactive even in challenging situations.

Think about the timings of your event or meeting. For example, an evening event may be more suitable for working Family Carers.

Be welcoming and stay alert to opportunities to expand your network.

Example in Practice: The Adult Social Care Champions are a growing group of people who have previously been a part of co-production activities and given their permission to be contacted about new opportunities and projects.


Location is important. Not just in terms of the physical access requirements of the building, but also choosing a venue that people can get to easily. People may need support getting to and from a venue.

Consider going to where people already meet and feel comfortable, rather than asking them to come to you.

Example in Practice: We wanted to understand Family Carers’ opinions and experiences of local Carers Services. Rather than hold a separate consultation session, we sought an invitation to a planned event for Carers Rights Day and spoke with attendees informally, as part of a ‘marketplace’ stand.

Technology and video conferencing (e.g. Zoom or MS Teams) can be an effective way of reaching more people – but it can be hard to create an inclusive session over a digital platform. It cannot replace connecting with people in person.

It’s important to allow enough time for co-production and set reasonable time-frames. When deadlines are imposed, true co-production may be inhibited.
Keep things simple – avoid jargon

Example in Practice: Draft information about strengths-based working was shared with people for their feedback. The end product was more user friendly and useful for the intended audience.

Provide written information in formats suitable to needs of the group.

Example in Practice: The Draft Workforce Development Strategy was converted into an Easy Read summary and Braille to enable group members
to review and give their feedback.

Be realistic and honest. It may not be possible to co-produce all aspects of the project. Think about where people’s involvement will add most value and which parts of the project they can genuinely influence.

Some people may not feel confident or able to speak up in a large group. Small group activities are a good way of ensuring everyone can have their say and be used to check people’s understanding.

Example in Practice: For the development of the Mental Health Strategy, we used a quiz, group discussion and activities to harness people’s views and experiences.

Make the meeting, event or occasion fun and engaging. It is possible to discuss serious and complex topics in an interactive and interesting way.

Example in Practice: To help draw out people experiences of using a service, prompts were taped to a beach-ball. The ball was passed or thrown around the room, and people answered the question they landed on.

Take regular breaks, so people stay refreshed and able to concentrate. Break time can also give people a chance to develop bonds more informally.

Example in Practice: At the annual Customer Conference we took a break from doing our co-production ‘work’, to socially enjoy a lunch and musical entertainment.

Being a Carer is a full-time job, and it can feel quite isolating at times. It’s good to do something meaningful like this, where I can feel like I am doing something useful. - Social Cares Futures participant


Instigate a conversation with the group about how to ensure everyone feels valued.

Think about what you can offer in exchange for people’s time and views.

Show your appreciation! A simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way.

Show people that you are really listening! Make sure you follow up with people to let them know how their contribution has made a difference.

Value people’s time. Try not to cancel or change plans at short notice.

Payment should be offered for certain levels of involvement.

Example in Practice: Working with Optalis Supported Employment Service, we have been able to recruit, train and support people with lived experience to take part in local co-production activities on a paid basis. Members of the team in receipt of benefits were given support and advice to ensure their benefit conditions were not breached.

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