Why short-term thinking short changes everyone
Short-term thinking when it comes to planning, funding and supporting engagement and co-production activities not only short changes the communities you're working with but also your colleagues and other local partners. Here's why:
Even when lived experience and insights are treated with the consideration they need and deserve there can still be an uphill struggle to properly cost and factor in the time and resources necessary for thorough co-production and co-design activities. These are often see as something to get out of the way quickly before the start of a development or implementation of a project, instead of being integral all the way along. A continuous and iterative process allows for dynamic changes and constant improvement and means a development or service can move quickly and adapt to changing circumstances.
Many times I have witnessed projects that are designed, and outcomes broadly decided on, before being taken out for discussion with those who will use them. Community opinion is sought in order to sign off a project or to tick the box that says "we have consulted with the community". Involving local communities from the very start to co-design projects and developments can be a lengthy, messy and drawn out process and many organisations lack the willingness, bravery and expertise to fully embrace this, perhaps afraid of what the result will be if they truly work alongside those using services as equal partners. This would mean upsetting the ingrained power imbalance that exists in many organisations between those who provide services and those who use them. I'm thinking particularly here of the NHS but it applies to many other institutions. What would services really look like if they were designed properly with users and patients as equal partners from the outset? This would require whole-scale restructure of some long established bodies and I'm not convinced many organisations have the appetite for especially at a time of squeezed budgets and multiple other pressures.
Short term thinking can also be seen in the voluntary sector where short term funding contracts makes for a high churn of projects and enthusiasm. This can drastically hamper long term strategic thinking.
Frequently I have been told by senior leaders that “engagement is everybody’s business." No-one can really argue with that. But often this is used as an excuse to not invest in specialist co-production resources - engagement staff, training for front-line staff, tech that would support co-production initiatives. Time and time again engagement takes a back seat as more pressing concerns take priority - when actually if engagement was properly given the time and resources organisations would find cost savings, higher staff morale, better understanding of the needs and desires of local communities and a host of other benefits.
The arena of community engagement and patient experience is still battling to be taken seriously. A proliferation of short-term thinking means that new services and project developments are frequently not granted long enough lead in time to establish true relationships. People using services are 'done to' rather than 'worked alongside'. Initiatives are still mostly top down. We now have a strong body of built up evidence to demonstrate the benefits of proper long term thinking and sufficiently funded engagement but It pains me to say that, for now, short termism prevails.