How co-creation could hold the key to getting economically inactive older workers back into employment
Working alongside people with lived experience and local stakeholders, we found out what's not working when it comes to providing employment support for over 50s.
Our Senior Project Manager (Work), Elaine Smith, explains how two innovative services were selected be trialled next year after being developed by the stakeholders and individuals who might ultimately benefit from them.
The idea of co-creation is not new, it has been used in business circles for more than 20 years, and while its virtues have been extolled by companies in helping to deliver more successful products and lower product development costs, its full potential is still being explored.
As part of our work with the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Ageing Better commissioned Humanly, a specialist in human-centred design for social impact, to use this approach to look at how we could develop new or improve existing services. Over a period of 18 months, they mapped services and conducted co-creation activities with 168 stakeholders, including 53 people with lived experience of unemployment, focusing on individuals living in the Moss Side and Cheetham Hill areas in Manchester, Sale in Trafford and Bickershaw in Wigan. Others were then involved in the prototyping and refinement of concepts that came from this activity, ensuring people’s voices were heard throughout.
By focusing our approach on those with lived experience and putting them at the centre of the design process, we were able to work with local people, commissioners and stakeholders to find out what was and was not working from existing work programmes. The co-creation process then sought to find out what people with lived experience wanted from a support service and focused on how that would work in practice.
Due to the complexity of the employment support landscape, we committed to a three-month scoping phase to enable us to understand the extent of what was available and to avoid any duplication of existing insight and services. This process also highlighted just how complex the system is for people looking to access services, something that we were keen to help address through the ideas being generated.
This phase of work also took place during COVID restrictions, meaning that Humanly were unable to take their usual approach of immersing themselves in local communities. Instead, they focused on online engagement and linking with local services and community groups to access those who would most likely benefit from services and who were most at risk of missing out. A key factor to successfully engaging with people was that Humanly were not approaching them as a formal service that may have links to their benefits or housing situation, but as a neutral third party who were genuinely interested in finding out about their thoughts and experiences.
Our co-creation activities were designed to be conducted remotely, while enabling meaningful, enjoyable and accessible experiences for participants with different needs and preferences. Initial activities focused on postal kits, online and telephone interviews, all that could be completed in a participant's own time, adapting these where necessary to support accessibility.
We hope that our project will inspire others to see the benefits of co-creation and how the ultimate beneficiary of a service is often best placed to identify the best design.
Going out to people with a completely blank canvas gave us a much wider range of insights than could have been achieved without co-creation, particularly when coupled with Humanly’s fresh set of eyes on the employment support landscape.
This end-user-led approach involved understanding those users, challenging assumptions made in existing services, redefining problems and finally co-creating innovative solutions with older workers to prototype and test.
Through the co-creation experience, people aged over 50 identified the ingredients needed for good employment support which includes help in uncovering transferable skills, empathy for circumstances and a holistic view of the person’s life beyond their qualifications, education and training information in one place and the opportunity to try a job before applying.
The co-creation process then set about refining six initial service concepts down to four to be taken forward to the prototyping phase, before two preferred options were selected to be trialled in a pilot to be tested out next year.
Person-centred procurement - A reimagined version of the commissioning, procurement and contract management process that fosters local, person-centred support to help people in their journeys to meaningful activity.
Reach - A largely digital service, available to all people aged over 50 in Greater Manchester with 1:1 support tailored to each individual’s preferences, giving people the autonomy to choose how much support they need, and when and how they access this.
One thing that the process made clear, was that people were wary of accessing mainstream support and that they wanted some sense of autonomy over their journey. That’s why continuing to involve local services and those with lived experience throughout development, delivery and evaluation is crucial.
The design of the project meant we were on a journey into the unknown. Bringing together a range of partners together and committing to work on something without knowing what that end result would be was unique. Another virtue of the project was our commitment to reach those most at risk of missing out – those who do not want to engage with services or who feel like provision isn’t for them, either because it doesn’t fit with commitments in their personal lives or because they and others see their age as a barrier.
Now as we look to the next stage of the project and refining these concepts through piloting, the hope is that we can create a scalable blueprint for employment support for people in their 50s and 60s.
We hope that our project will inspire others to see the benefits of co-creation and how the ultimate beneficiary of a service is often best placed to identify the best design. We want to engage with commissioners to show them how services can be developed to better support this group in a sustainable way and support providers to ensure employment support is appealing and works for older jobseekers.