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The National Advisory Forum: our first year

A summary of the first year of the National Advisory Forum, and the impact of our co-production so far.

National Advisory Forum: a summary of our first year

10/28/2021 12:00:00 PM

We set out to do regulation radically differently and we have committed to doing that by collaborating, engaging and listening to the voices of those with lived and learned experience of social work.

Co-production is about giving people who are impacted by what we do an opportunity to participate in and influence our work. If we design our work without including those it most affects, we are in danger of making false assumptions, and subsequently failing to capture the nuance of real-life experiences. We have a responsibility to make our work relevant and accessible to those it impacts. Co-production is the key to that, and our National Advisory Forum is the primary vehicle to make this happen.

The forum provides expert support, advice and challenge, and co-produces our work in line with our corporate strategy. It is made up of practising social workers, social work academics, social work students and people with lived experience of social work.

The first round of recruitment for the National Advisory Forum took place in March 2020, with 10 people becoming the founding members. A second round of recruitment in October 2020 welcomed 5 new members, bringing the total membership to 15. You can find profiles of all the members on our website.

This evaluation summary is an account of what the forum has achieved in its first year and suggested improvements as part of our ongoing commitment to evaluation.

We want to ensure that:

  • Members find their role satisfying, rewarding and productive,
  • The group is running in an inclusive way which enables fair participation for all,
  • The group is operating in line with the expectations of Social Work England, and
  • The group establishes a lasting forum that has sustained impact.

Approach to the evaluation

A sub-group of the National Advisory Forum worked with our staff to co-produce an approach to evaluating the work of the past year. This identified 3 key areas for evaluation:

  1. The individual experiences of members
  2. The way the National Advisory Forum operates
  3. The relationship between the National Advisory Forum and Social Work England

Various activities were undertaken as part of the evaluation including reflective sessions, a review of the terms of reference, one-to-ones and feedback collected from across the organisation. Across these activities and the findings, the following themes were identified.

Theme 1: culture and overall experience

A prominent theme which emerged from the evaluation was the culture that has been created within the National Advisory Forum. This was described in a positive way, often as fair, open, safe and respectful and something that the National Advisory Forum should continue to uphold.

Sally, National Advisory Forum member, said:

“I feel I have contributed sufficiently to make changes that impact the voices I want heard and am enjoying doing so because despite the virtual element the rapport and teamwork has been continuous. My confidence, skills and personal development have grown hugely over the last year also.”

Jillian, National Advisory Forum member, said:

“I think the National Advisory Forum as a group works well and that even though most of us have never met in person, we have established good relationships and rapport. The group feels open and safe – I am not left feeling I cannot contribute. It feels like space is made for everyone. I have seen the ‘fruits of my labour’ make a tangible difference. This is good in terms of the National Advisory Forum having an important role in the organisation, but it is also affirming on a personal level that I have something to offer the organisation”

Sarah Blackmore, executive director for strategy, policy and engagement at Social Work England, said:

“From my perspective the National Advisory Forum has been an enormous asset to the organisation since it started. It’s clear to see members developing in confidence and becoming more actively involved in different aspects of our work which is wonderful. I would now like to see consolidation of their role, to ensure it is further embedded in our processes across the whole organisation.”

Theme 2: co-production

Our approach and influence of the co-production work achieved over the last year has been celebrated and the influence that has had across various parts of the regulator has been acknowledged. However, it has been noted that this is not what most members envisaged their role entailing and the ‘doing’ of co-production has been more of a significant part of the role than anticipated.

In the first year, members of the National Advisory Forum have co-produced 53 distinct pieces of work across Social Work England. This is an incredible achievement and would not have happened without the significant time, energy and commitment that members of the National Advisory Forum have dedicated. Co-production has happened across engagement, fitness to practise, policy, communications and people and development, ranging from guidance documents through to co-designing Social Work Week 2021.

Sally, National Advisory Forum member, said:

“I have been so involved with so many pockets, in so many ways, and at no point have I ever felt tokenistic, unwelcomed, unable to be instrumental in challenge and subsequent change and because all aspects the team as a regulator have an underpinning desire to be genuine, honest, transparent and human.”

Katie Newbould, policy manager at Social Work England said:

“I’ve been impressed by the level of their expertise and the value of their input in the various processes they’ve been involved with. That would only increase if we were to improve the process at our end.I now consider co-production at the outset of every project and major piece of work I do, not just with the National Advisory Forum but with other stakeholder groups in the sector.”

Theme 3: relationship with decision makers

There is a strong motivation and energy from the National Advisory Forum to help us as an organisation to be the best it can be for the profession, and those who receive social work services. Members feel that an effective relationship with decision makers at Social Work England is a key part of getting this right. In practice, this relates to our senior leadership team, executive leadership team and board. This will be an area for development over the next year.

Next steps

As part of our ongoing commitment to evaluation and improvement, the National Advisory Forum has developed a set of recommendations that are being formulated into an action plan.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the National Advisory Forum for the time and energy they've put into this evaluation, as well as their overall commitment to the work of the forum, Social Work England and the social work profession.

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