During 2016 MindTech staff and Involvement Team members have been co-producing a course on the use of digital technology to run at the Nottingham Recovery College. Recovery Colleges deliver education and training programmes within mental health services, providing education as a route to Recovery. We ran the 6 week course for the first time in November and December. Here is a short report on what we did and how the course went.

How did this course come about?
Conversations between Paul (Involvement volunteer) and Lucy (Research Fellow) led to the idea. Paul said:

‘I know how useful digital technology has been for my mental health. I know how increasingly important this will be in the future. But so many of my friends and peers are not part of this digital revolution – YET! I want others to see and experience the digital world and benefit from it. I want power in healthcare to move into the hands and smartphones of service users’

hand held toolsWhat’s the aim of the course?
Our course aims to increase students’ knowledge and confidence around using digital technology for mental health recovery. We hope it will provide them with information and skills so that they can develop ideas for creating their own digital toolbox that meets their own needs while staying safe online. Topics across the course include: getting online; online mental health information; apps; social media; games. One recurrring theme throughout the course is how new technologies can be seen as tools to help us, so we look at other tools across human history and how these have helped. 


How did co-production work in this context?
Co-production happened in a number of ways and could be described as a multi-level approach, where we could match people’s strengths and preferences with different ways to get involved. Paul was involved in all the conversations, meetings and discussion about the course. We also held larger open meetings where topics for the course were decided by gathering ideas from people who access mental health services and current College students – these meetings were highly influential on the final shape and content of the course. Through a series of detailed meetings with researchers, service users and college tutors, these topic ideas have been developed into 6 teaching sessions filled with interactive exercises, personal insights from Lived Experience and hands on experiences with technologies. It has felt like the coming together of service users’ needs and requirements with researchers’ knowledge about current advances in digital technology, which has resulted in a more comprehensive course than if one group designed it alone.

What did we learn about co-production?
The College require careful documentation about how the co-production works in the development process. This helped us to reflect on what had worked and what could be improved. Key things we learnt include:

  • There’s often a tendency for the professionals to take control or the lead – even if staff do the majority of the work between meetings, they need to guard against assuming control or making decisions without the equal input of service users.
  • Some service users way of engaging can be different from professionals expectations (e.g. anger, shouting etc) – how should this be managed/tolerated in open meeting settings?
  • There can be a temptation to minimise involvement to those who are easiest to involve and those most capable – here’s where the multi-level involvement is important.

How did the course go?
The course was co-delivered by Debbie Butler (Involvement Volunteer), Lucy (Research Fellow), Mike Craven (Senior Research Fellow) and Robyn Devine (College Peer Tutor). Across the six weeks, 8 students took part in the course, with four students attending at least five sessions. They were clearly interested in the topic and the discussions within the group were really engaging and interesting. Students fed back that they enjoyed the course and had learnt new things, but some also felt like they needed more help with actually using the new technologies, like smartphones and tablets computers. Mike said: 

'It has been a really great experience to take what we have learnt about the benefits of digital mental health in the first four years of MindTech and work with the Recovery College to share it more widely.'

Future developments?
We are working with the college to see how the course can be improved and adapted after this initial run. After this there is scope for the course to run by other people and organisations. The materials could also be adapted for a staff orientated course and other one-off workshops e.g. NHS Expo.

Spreading the knowledge about the value of digital technology for mental health recovery could keep us busy for years!

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