Greater Manchester Combined Authority: Coproducing and All-Age Autism Strategy

Partnership across Greater Manchester to develop a new All-Age Strategy. Ensuring that the strategy meets the needs of autistic people at all stages of the life-course.


The challenge

Greater Manchester Combined Authority: Coproducing and All-Age Autism Strategy

Partnership across Greater Manchester to develop a new All-Age Strategy. Ensuring that the strategy meets the needs of autistic people at all stages of the life-course.

The challenge

The National Autistic Society has been commissioned to partner with councils in Greater Manchester to support autistic people and their families since 1993. Through the Greater Manchester Autism Consortium (GMAC) they have been providing information, advice, training and resources and working with multiple stakeholders in the region. The consortium is a partnership of the ten Social Services Departments of Greater Manchester (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan) and, since 2017, the ten Greater Manchester Clinical Commissioning Groups.

In 2019 GMAC launched Greater Manchester’s first Autism Strategy for all autistic people over 14. The consortium have since been working with councils and clinical commissioning groups across Greater Manchester to develop a new All-Age Strategy. Ensuring that this strategy meets the needs of autistic people at all stages of the life-course and living in all places and localities in the region has required everyone across the sub region to work closely together, to recognise the potential benefits of collaboration (for example economies of scale), to remind system leaders that we are all in similar places and that the sharing of resources and ideas leads to improved outcomes for people living in Greater Manchester.

Building trust, breaking down silos and combating the competitive culture that can grow around intellectual property and resources have all been important steps on the journey towards an all-age strategy that meets the needs of the ten Greater Manchester councils and health bodies, as well as the autistic people living in the region. 

The solution

The new all age strategy builds on the lessons learnt from the 2019 strategy, specifically ensuring that the strategy is rooted in what can be changed without becoming entangled in large system level issues. It focuses on what is ‘in our gift to change’. Part of this is a maturing of, and increased understanding of, what co-production means and recognition that real co-production takes time and effort and can have cost implications.

Building co-production into the governance structures of the project has been important with quarterly meetings of two advisory groups (Autistic Adult Advisory Group and an Autistic Family Member Advisory Group). A Young Person’s Advisory Group has now been commissioned.

These groups meet in between the delivery group meetings and hold GMAC to account and discuss all aspects of the strategy. It has also been important that the governance structures are linked in with other partnership boards and groups. For example, one advisory group member attends the Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel. This has meant that this Panel has recognised and picked up neurodiversity and autism in the public services disability reform agenda.

To recognise the differences in needs across the region each place or locality has been asked to set three local priorities, whilst GMAC has led on defining the overarching support, training materials and resources.

The original strategy had six priorities and workstrands and learning has come from all of these, not least the importance of properly recognising and appropriately paying for autistic people’s contributions to training or involvement in service development.

GMAC has made this policy clearer and easier for consortium members by writing Training Standards and also by working with United Response Consultants, a disability awareness training and consultancy organisation whose consultants are autistic or have a learning disability, to support autistic people to become self-employed peer mentors, trainers and consultants.

The impact

The initial strategy impacted on how the Consortium came to understand what can change and how partnerships develop and how ideas grow from action.

For example, it became apparent that a focus on supported employment and supported internships, whilst important, missed the employment needs of a great many autistic people. GMAC developed a positive campaign about the benefits of employing autistic people. This was done alongside other organisations and has led to links with local and national employers, which has in turn led to the development of the Neurodiversity and Learning Disability Employers Network and the involvement of autistic entrepreneurs, thereby widening the scope of what is now thought of in terms of support for employment.

Focusing on payment for autistic people’s time has led to a group of experienced trainers and peer mentors and support workers who are being paid for their work. This is a big part of GMAC’s messaging.

The main impact though is the development of a new all-age Autism Strategy that has high level buy in across Greater Manchester. It is a strategy that is action focused and is tailored to the specific needs of each place in the region.

How is the new approach being sustained?

Securing a three-year funding agreement, with a formally agreed service specification, has helped GMAC to feel more secure and has cemented their place as a strategic partner, not solely a deliverer of services.

Councils and CCGs (soon to be Integrated Care Systems) subscribe to the services offered by GMAC (£5,800 annually) and this is coordinated through one member council making the process easier to manage.

It is also important to keep an eye on policy agendas and horizon scan for the pressures and priorities of the members of the consortium. Being ‘policy savvy’ ensures that GMAC remains relevant.

Lessons learned

vice specification, has helped GMAC to feel more secure and has cemented their place as a strategic partner, not solely a deliverer of services.

Councils and CCGs (soon to be Integrated Care Systems) subscribe to the services offered by GMAC (£5,800 annually) and this is coordinated through one member council making the process easier to manage.

It is also important to keep an eye on policy agendas and horizon scan for the pressures and priorities of the members of the consortium. Being ‘policy savvy’ ensures that GMAC remains relevant.

Leadership and governance is needed that leads to buy in at all levels: having committed champions, across the system, including the Mayor Andy Burnham, who are passionate about the work is essential. It is equally important to have governance structures that reinforce and exemplify the changes you are seeking to make.

The importance of trusting relationships: GMAC has developed over almost 30 years. The value of these trusting relationships should not be underestimated.

Knowing what is in your power to change: Developing and implementing the original Autism Strategy helped the Consortium understand what was possible and a lot was learnt about the parameters of influence and where wins might be found. This was very important in developing the new All Age Autism Strategy as it is very ‘action focused’

It has been helpful to commission external organisations, removed from local politics, to coordinate and manage the development and delivery of a strategy that crosses over many places and areas of practice.

Linked documents

Contact

Mari Saeki, Project Lead, Greater Manchester Autism Consortium (GMAC) National Autistic Society

Email: mari.saeki@nas.org.uk