Reimagining professionalism: towards co-production

An ESRC International Research Seminar Series

Researchers: Pamela Fisher (PI), Elaine McNichol, John Baker, Norman McClelland (University of Leeds), Martin Webber (SPSW), John Playle (University of Huddersfield), Albert  Dzur (Bowling Green State University), Hannah Howe (Volition) 
Funder: Economic and Social Research Council
Duration: November 2015 to November 2017    


Co-production involves mental health service users being able to make decisions about their own treatment and care as equal partners alongside professionals in their care teams. Service user choice and control have become important policy objectives in contemporary mental health and social care services.   It is widely recognised that new ways of working with service users (a new approach to professionalism) are needed in mental health care. Changes to practice, policy and commissioning, and education are required to support a new form of professionalism informed by power-sharing and equal partnerships with service users and carers.

Details of the seminars in the series are below.


The seminar series will bring people together from different stakeholder groups in order to develop ideas about new ways of working in mental health which are based on the principle of co-production. This will involve considering current practices, policies, approaches in different organisations, as well as education and training in mental health. Crucially, mental health service users and their family carers will fully participate in this process.

Experts in experience

We use the term 'professional' in a new way. A professional can (for us) belong to any occupational group. What makes someone professional is, in our view, their sense of commitment - not their occupational status. Importantly, we believe that service users and family carers should be considered professionals in this context because they are 'experts in experience'.

Democratic professionalism

This seminar series will encourage people to think about co-production by considering some of the key ideas associated with 'democratic professionalism' (DP). DP is based on the idea that it is important that the voices of 'lay' people, particularly marginalised people, should be regarded as highly relevant when it comes to shaping professional practice and values.

Another principle of DP is that professionals should be assessed according to the extent to which they support the involvement and enablement of people they work with, such as service users. They should share power with others, not exercise power over them. We believe that our seminar series will contribute to the development of professional practice and values which are suited to the 21st century. 


This seminar series has been developed jointly by a research team which includes service users, carers, and people working in charitable/voluntary organisations, and in public and governmental organisations. Academics in the research team are from diverse disciplinary backgrounds: mental health nursing, philosophy, political science, psychiatry, social work and sociology. 

Our speakers and participants include some people who are in positions where they can shape practice, education and policy. We believe though that it is important that all the participants have equal status. The idea is that sharing ideas across groups will be enable us to work out how professionalism in mental health can be based on co-production.

Each seminar will focus on a particular topic:

  • the first two seminars set the scene with a focus on co-production and democratic professionalism and on people's lived experience of co-production.
  • The seminars which follow consider how changes to practice, policy and education in mental health could be implemented to develop a new form of professionalism based on co-production.

Policy & practice

The beneficiaries of this work include mental health service users, informal carers, people who work in the field of mental health (employed by third sector organisations and by public services), as well as educators, policy makers, and commissioners.

Through their participation in the seminar series the beneficiaries will gain from the guidance of one of our project partners COLLABORATE, a social enterprise which has a well established reputation for providing practical support on developing outcomes-focused collaborations across multiple stakeholders in civil society, academia government and business.

The capacity of the seminar series to impact on practices, policy and education will be significantly facilitated by project partners and collaborators, which include high profile organisations and individuals.  Our NHS project partners (Leeds and York Foundation Partnership Trust, the South West Yorkshire Partnership Trust, and the Yorkshire and Humberside Leadership Academy) will enable us to reach multiple stakeholders.

Our seminar series will influence public policies and professional practices at regional, national and international levels. It will improve the effectiveness of mental health services and will contribute to social justice, particularly for mental health service users who are amongst the most marginalised members of society. Finally, the seminar series will influence the shaping professionalism in the field of mental health.‌


Seminar 1 - Democratic professionalism and mental health

University of Leeds, Tuesday 5th January (please register by 10th December)

Seminar 1 speakers  

Annie Dransfield, Carer and campaigner for Carers Rights. Annie is actively involved with the Carer and Service User Group at Leeds University. Former governor of the Mental Health Trust and trustee of Carers UK, Annie won carer of the Year Award 2013.  

Albert Dzur, Professor of Political Science at Bowling Green State University. Albert has developed the concept of democratic professionalism. His work focuses on both the barriers to lay citizen participation in professional domains and as well as the resources available for sharing power in typically hierarchical institutions.  

Michael Guthrie, Director of Policy and Standards, Health and Care Professions Council, UK

The seminar is free but you must register for a place before 10th December 2015

Register for a place

Travel Bursaries available

Five travel bursaries are available for each of the following groups: service users and carers, employees working in third sector organisations, and early career researcher. Please apply for bursaries by 30 November by following this link and fill out the form.

Further information For any other questions on the seminar series, please  email:

Seminar 2 - Enacting co-production

St Catherine's College, Oxford.

17th February 2016

This seminar will focus on co-production in action in order to identify and discuss the facilitators and inhibitors of power-sharing. The seminar will draw out the implications for practitioner and service user identity, for the division of labour, and for the status of professional and lay knowledge.

The seminar will take place on 17 February at St Catherine's College, University of Oxford. The seminar has been developed in collaboration with the Centre for Values Based Practice, University of Oxford.

Speakers and participants at the seminar series will come from diverse groups: service users, carers, professionals working in third sector, and public and statutory organisations, and academics. Academics in the research team are from diverse disciplinary backgrounds: mental health nursing, philosophy, political science, psychiatry, social work and sociology. Together we aim to build network of expertise which will inform the values and practices of mental health care.

Five travel bursaries are available for each of the following groups:

  • Service users and carers
  • Employees working in third sector organisations
  • Early career researchers

To apply for a bursary please visit the website here.


Dr Ruth Allen is Director of Social Work for South West London and St George's Mental Health Trust and a Research Fellow at St George’s University of London. She is Chair of the national Social Care Strategic Network for mental health which promotes effective social work leadership in mental health and former Chair of the Mental Health Faculty of the College of Social Work.

Dr Sarah Carr is an Associate Professor of Mental Health Research, Middlesex University and an independent mental health and social care consultant and researcher. Sarah is Co-Chair of the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) and uses her lived experience of mental distress and service use in all her work.

Dr Philip Houghton, Clinical Psychologist and Practice Leader of the Critical Values Based Management Centre, Nottinghamshire Healthcare Foundation Trust.

Ms Justine Keeble uses mental health services. She is a founder member of the 'Bristol co-production group' which has grown from its original brief to produce many collaborations, including the partnership teaching of mental health nursing students.

Professor Peter Ryan is an expert in mental health. He is currently establishing a research centre for co-production in collaboration with Sarah Carr at the University of Middlesex.

Dr Gemma Stacey, Academic lead of the Critical Values Based Management Centre, University of Nottingham.

Register now

Contact us with any questions


Seminar 3 - Contemporary developments in mental health practice: a help and/or a hindrance to co-production and power-sharing

University of Leeds

July 2015

Further details to be announced

Seminar 4 - Contemporary developments in mental health policy and commissioning: a help and/or hindrance to power-sharing

University of York

October 2016

Further details to be announced

Seminar 5 - Reconciling regulatory knowledge with co-production

Unversity of York

February 2017

Further details to be announced

Seminar 6 - Power-sharing within coercive environments

University of Huddersfield

July 2017

Further details to be announced

Seminar 7 - Education and training, supervision and professionalism based on co-production

University of Huddersfield

October 2017

Further details to be announced

Associated Research   

Co-design, co-evaluation and co-learning: 

Street triage, mental health and policing in North Yorkshire


Co-production of policing evidence, research and training:

Focus on mental health


Please contact for more information