In this @CPI_foundation article, @HealthLatrobe's Chloe Benson shares lessons from their largest project to date - the design and establishment of a #mentalhealth café by and for the community.Share article
How does @HealthLatrobe's #mentalhealth café demonstrate the power of @CPI_foundation's Vision for Better Government principles in practice? Read this article to find out.Share article
“To have people listen to you and take into account your life, real experience is what’s needed. If I can help the next generation by contributing to this, that's wonderful.” Learn about how @HealthLatrobe's #mentalhealth café is helping the local community.Share article
Partnering for Learning
We put our vision for government into practice through learning partner projects that align with our values and help reimagine government so that it works for everyone.
The Latrobe Health Assembly is a community-led organisation working to improve health and wellbeing in the Latrobe Health Innovation Zone. Formed in response to the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, the Assembly is a key mechanism for increasing community engagement and collaboration on complex challenges. With around 45 members, the majority of whom represent their community on a voluntary basis, the Assembly collaborates with the broader community, service providers, and government to facilitate new ways of working.
The Assembly is currently working on one of its largest projects to date – the design and establishment of an after-hours mental health support service called the mental health cafe, that was designed by and for the Latrobe Valley community. Already, a range of lessons have emerged from this work that help to demonstrate the power of the Centre for Public Impact’s Vision for Better Government principles in practice.
So, what are we learning so far?
We are achieving great things together, but collaboration takes time
This work has been collaborative from the start; seeking to optimise for learning rather than control, challenge unnecessary hierarchy, and collaborate across boundaries.
The idea emerged via the regularly occurring Mental Health Forum, one of the key recommendations that emerged from the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry. Chaired by the Department of Health and Human Services, the Forum brought together local and state-wide providers, people with lived experience, carers, and other experts to collaborate on opportunities to enhance mental health locally. This created space for diverse perspectives and experiences of the mental health system to come together in dialogue.
The concept of a mental health café, or ‘non-clinical’ after-hours support service, quickly garnered enthusiasm. It was envisioned that a welcoming, café-style environment could provide people with an alternative to struggling on their own or heading to the emergency department for non-emergency issues. Forum members were keen to explore ways that a mental health café could provide people with support, connection, and respite, particularly in the evenings, so a task group was formed to develop the idea.
"It was envisioned that a welcoming, café-style environment could provide people with an alternative to struggling on their own or heading to the emergency department for non-emergency issues."
At times this group’s early work was slow and exploratory, but the work being done was crucial. By building rapport, engaging key stakeholders early, and investing time in shared sensemaking, the group laid strong foundations which continue to deliver benefits. Rushing to define the project and prioritising control over learning opportunities may have been a quick solution to mobilising the work – but this would have hindered both collaboration and innovation. Instead, group members demonstrated a willingness to lean into the unknown, be ambitious, and to learn how best to tackle this shared challenge together.
To benefit from the power of diverse conversations and inclusive decision-making, we need to work in diverse and agile ways
As the group’s vision developed it became timely to bring in more perspectives. Sharing power with those best-placed to act and championing the voices of those with lived experience is vital to designing meaningful action. People with lived experience, including carers, have played pivotal roles in this project from its inception. But in designing the service, the group felt strongly that the voices of those who are often heard the least needed to be sought out and championed. From the earliest meetings, group members stressed the need to engage the people who might use a service like this. Surveys wouldn’t suffice – the group knew that we needed to go to people and to create multiple avenues for participation.
Larter Consulting were engaged to lead an extensive consultation and co-design process. Hundreds of people with lived experience, carers, and other key stakeholders shared their views on what the service should look, feel, and be like. This required diverse engagement methods including in-person, SMS, email, phone, and virtual meetings. Although the pandemic added challenges, they didn’t curb the team’s commitment to delivering a diverse and inclusive process. Feedback throughout this process highlighted its power. For instance, one participant shared that:
“To have people listen to you and take into account your life, real experience is what’s needed. If I can help the next generation by contributing to this, that's wonderful.”
A series of co-design workshops were held to review the consultation findings and develop a model. Key decisions were made by those best-placed to do so. This included people with lived experience developing a range of non-negotiable recommendations to make the service welcoming, accessible, and suitably staffed. Service providers were also responsible for making key decisions in the model’s iterative development. The task group’s willingness to relinquish control and champion diverse voices resulted in a co-designed service that reflects the diversity of the people who will frequent it. An ongoing commitment to championing lived experience is also evident in the model itself, which includes diverse representation at all decision-making levels, a person-centred outcomes framework developed by people with lived experience, and a peer-led staffing model.
We need to realise local strengths, with an eye on the broader system
CPI’s Vision for Better Government highlights the power of strengths- and place-based work. As the principles outline, actions should be guided by thinking systemically, while acting locally and seeking out and building on strengths. This ethos is at the heart of the diverse work taking place in the Latrobe Health Innovation Zone.
Lessons from similar work elsewhere, most notably the Safe Haven café, inspired this work. But it was apparent from the outset that transplanting an idea that had functioned elsewhere would not necessarily work in Latrobe Valley. Consultation quickly confirmed this, with the community identifying elements of other models that simply would not work here. Unique opportunities needed to be identified and capitalised on throughout the design process to ensure the model would be feasible and owned and valued by the Latrobe Valley community.
The potential benefits of this work extend beyond the Latrobe Valley though and opportunities to share learnings and help foster wider system change are always welcomed. Shifting between a macro and micro lens has and will continue to characterise the work. For instance, the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System has been a key contextual factor in the development of the café to date, and presents a range of future opportunities for collaboration, learning, and partnership as reforms continue to be rolled out.
What comes next
The Assembly have now partnered with Lifeline Gippsland to bring this co-designed model to life. Work has commenced on establishing strong governance for the project, including an unwavering commitment to centering lived experience at all levels of decision-making. Priorities at present include recruitment, fit-out, and evaluation planning. It is important that the project remains responsive to feedback so extensive formative evaluation is being designed to support an iterative approach, including use of the co-designed outcomes framework. A cost-benefit analysis is also planned to help inform this, as well as the initiative’s sustainability into the future.
Partners who have been on board since the beginning are excited to see their vision becoming a reality and to continue this collaborative journey. To get involved or to learn more about this work, please contact us here.