29th August 2022
We chat with Louise Roberts from Cardiff University about her venture CASCADE Lived Experience Training, which aims to increase care-experienced people’s influence and participation in training for social care professionals and carers. This project is part of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator 2022 Cohort.
Q: What is your academic background and what are you currently working on?
I came to Cardiff University as a student back in 2007 to do a social work master’s degree, and I never left. I did the degree which involved a dissertation and decided that I really liked research and wanted to keep going. That led me to doing a PhD and after that, I secured postdoctoral funding within CASCADE, the Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre, and then eventually, I secured a lectureship. My postdoctoral research between 2014 and 2019 looked at what happens when young people in and leaving the care system become parents.
When the research finished, I wrote a book, which summarises the research findings, and at the end, there’s a letter from a care-experienced parent. She makes a plea that the research isn’t the end point, that work continues and positive change comes from the project. As a result, we secured funding for some impact projects that are ongoing at the moment. We have continued to work with care-experienced parents to develop a range of resources to support good practice. One example of this is a good practice charter, which we are asking all local authorities and connected public organisations to commit to in Wales and beyond.
Q: How did you come up with a venture idea? Why did you decide to focus on this specific problem, or tackle this issue?
My research into care-experienced parents influenced my idea for this venture. My idea is to set up a training service that delivers training primarily to social care professionals and carers. The service will communicate the latest research findings, but what is unique about this service is that all sessions will be co-produced with people with lived experience.
At CASCADE, we have done lots of work around involving young people who have spent time in the care system. For example, we have a Research Advisory Group, which is a long-standing and award-winning group called CASCADE Voices, and that group has been involved in our work in a range of ways. From generating ideas for research, from shaping the ways in which we do research, young people have acted as peer researchers, they have informed our recommendations, and they have helped in dissemination events.
I have seen first hand how powerful and insightful their contributions are. My research has benefited immensely from the advice and guidance of people with lived experience. I’m certain that’s why the project and in particular the good practice charter, has had such a positive reception, because it is rooted in real experiences. This venture is a means to extend that involvement further and use young people’s expertise to co-produce training sessions for social care professionals.
Q: What does your venture aim to achieve and how does it tackle the issue?
There are a couple of aims. Firstly, it is trying to increase young people’s participation in training and their influence in professional practice. When we did market validation work with young people, they said that any training about care-experienced people should involve care-experienced people – “no training about us, without us”. So one of the key aims is to increase that involvement and influence.
The second aim is to help support individual young people. I have seen the expertise that they have, but I don’t always think that’s fully recognised. We know from research that generally outcomes for young people in care are poorer than they are for people who haven’t been in care. This venture has the potential to help develop the skills of young people and add to CVs, which has long term benefits as they can progress in terms of employment. We aim to help meaningfully overcome the barriers that we know exist for young people, that could be clothes to wear to work, access to tech equipment, childcare…
Thirdly, the combination inherent in this venture, of trying to communicate latest research findings alongside the voices and the experience of people with lived experience, is what makes us special. We know that social work practitioners have real difficulty in accessing latest research findings, both in terms of time but also in terms of access to research papers. This venture aims to make that much more available to them, and with the expertise and involvement of people with lived experience, those research findings are then meaningfully translated into good practice messages.
Q: How is the ARC Accelerator supporting you in bringing your venture to life?
As somebody who had no commercialisation experience, no business experience and who is not business minded at all, this programme has been invaluable. It has given me some important foundational knowledge. At the start, I didn’t know what a business model canvas was. I needed the programme for those basics but it has been really helpful as well, in terms of things like market validation.
It really challenged my thinking and it has taken me on a huge journey, which I didn’t expect to go on. Things like practicing communicating your idea, having those opportunities to talk through the idea has been really good. My TTO has been great and the mentor that I have been assigned to has been fantastic. It’s just having that dedicated time where you were just thinking and focusing on the project, and having somebody challenge your thoughts or make suggestions has been really, really helpful.
Q: What has been the most useful part of the ARC programme so far?
In the terms of the sessions, I hated the roleplay sessions but I also think they were really helpful because I was going into “sell mode” immediately. It doesn’t come naturally to me to try and question people and tease out how they see problems. I was just approaching it like I have got this fantastic idea and you need to hear about it, because you’re going to think it’s fantastic as well. That stage was really helpful. Market validation generally is not something that I would have done. When they initially said, talk to between 30 or 40 people, aim for something like that, I just thought ‘What?!!’. But it has been really, really helpful. It has encouraged me and the venture has evolved as a result, so that has been great.
Q: What have you learned through the programme that you will bring back to your work or research?
I think it has changed my thinking in terms of commercialisation, because that isn’t something that I would have ever thought about because the vast majority of our research outputs are freely available. My attitude to commercialisation generally has changed and I will keep on thinking about that going forward. I was told a couple of times that just because something is free, it doesn’t mean that it will be used or valued more than when you put a value on it. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, so understanding that has been really helpful.
The other thing I will take away is about big ideas. Big ideas really need time, effort, commitment and development. You need to be open to the fact that what you originally thought and were really excited about, may not be the best end product. Keep calm, explore, do the groundwork, find out what the competition is or the next best thing that’s available. Those stages require patience and effort, but my experience in ARC has shown that to be invaluable.
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