From its inception Leapfrog’s Working With Young People project planned to include a phase that co-​designed with Policy Makers. We wanted to include decision makers and Commissioners of Young People’s Services in Lancashire and develop new tools specifically for them. This did not go at all to plan. In this post we have captured the reasons why, with the intention that if we work directly with Policy Makers again we can reflect on the experience and try a different approach.

We began the strand with Policy Makers as we start all co-​deign projects – by building relationships and trust with key people to understand their objectives and motivations for collaborating with Leapfrog. Following on from this we invited key contacts and a wider group of policy makers to a scoping session at County Hall in Preston. Unfortunately the day before the scoping event Ofsted announced they were to be inspecting Lancashire Children & Young People’s Services. Many of our intended participants had to send apologies, as they needed to lead their teams in preparing for the inspection.

The policy-​scoping workshop went ahead. The small but successful session resulted in a call for a highly visual diagram, which could be used when commissioning an engagement process. This could also be used when colleagues enquire how they can engage or consult with young people effectively and would be a desirable and useful tool to co-​design together. Based on the Ladder of Citizen Participation [Sherry Arnstein] the visual tool could convey how young people can best be engaged effectively in a consultation process to inform the development of policy and decision-​making. The tool would also convey which Leapfrog tools could be used at the different stages of an engagement process.

Leapfrog organised a follow up co-​design workshop for which dates were sent out well in advance. In the meantime we met with some of the Policy Makers who had originally intended to come to the scoping workshop but had to send their apologies. In these 1–1 meetings we got to know them, and checked that the tool we proposed to co-​design together would meet their consultation and engagement needs.

We could only offer a limited number of dates to policy makers as other Leapfrog projects were at a very demanding stage. Unfortunately these dates clashed with an important meeting at the council and another event in London that several of the group needed to attend. What we found when we invited Policy Makers to the event was that they would automatically check with their colleagues to see who else was planning on attending. It proved impossible to convince them that for them to co-​design as a group more than one person from an office needed to be present. It was especially difficult to get more than 2 Senior Managers from the same service in the room as day-​to-​day workloads and demands are high.

Some of the policy makers who couldn’t attend offered to find another member of their team to attend in their place. Usually this wouldn’t be a problem, but in this instance we wished to co-​design with senior decision makers who take the results of consultation and engagement processes to develop policy. We wanted people with this specific experience to come together, rather than dilute the group with people who didn’t truly work at a policy level. With numbers rapidly dwindling we took the decision to cancel the co-​design event with policy makers. Co-​design is fundamentally a group activity and impossible with only 1 or 2 people.

The above experience illustrates the challenges of working with the County Council in such challenging times of austerity and change. Whilst there is a clear need to transform services and officers are keen to collaborate with Leapfrog, it was understandably very difficult for senior managers to take time away as a group from their strategic and day-​to-​day management priorities to explore new ways of working. We hope to work more with this particular group in future and will reflect further on how we might make it work better for everyone for future projects.