• Fiona Browning

The little steps you keep on taking

“The big steps are the little steps you keep on taking.” I can’t tell you who penned, voiced or authored this statement, but my year nine science teacher said it all the time. As an adult I’ve found it a good way to look at the journey of surviving and moving forward in the experience of a life impacted by mental health issues.

One of my first experiences with Mental Health Victoria’s Lived Experience Advisory Group was to attend a meeting to discuss the 65 recommendations that came out of the Royal Commission. I felt overwhelmed and my first response was to say, This is much too big a step to achieve. It felt too hard and too full of rhetoric which would not result in much.

Like so many of my peers, I am cynical when it comes to the idea of government reform being authentic and likely to happen with my input. But my recent experiences working within government and non-government mental health entities as a Lived Experience Consultant/Advisor have shown me that real, positive change is possible.

The big C-O

The question is how? I believe the key elements of reform all start with ‘co’ … Co-production, co-design, co-development, co-evaluating and co-researching.

Having now had time to read through the recommendation summaries (I admit I haven’t attempted the whole report), I identified 10 which specifically speak to lived experience coproducing the reform — some via the peer/lived experience workforce, some via the co-design of system entities such as “safe spaces” or models of care.

On a personal level I see the recommendations which respond to trauma and suicide as critical steps to take if there is to be genuine, life affirming outcomes.

The recommendations that do not speak directly to lived experience involvement still have capacity for coproduction to take place with all relevant stakeholders.

The how of reform

Again, the question arises; how do we do all this ‘co’ stuff? Projects that I have been a part of which I believe resulted in constructive positive outcomes had several elements/enablers which promoted effective coproduction:

  • Time, time, and more time — It takes time to learn how to do things differently

  • Understanding the impact of power and power imbalance, leaving labels and professional monikers at the door and ensuring commensurate remuneration

  • Being prepared to not be in control or sit in spaces which are not your usual spaces

  • Being able to challenge one’s mindset and world view and recognise all life experience has value

Like I said, the challenge feels enormous. Sometimes it might feel like we are taking one step forward and two steps backward. But if we do this with true intent, we will be taking steps in the right direction.


Fiona Browning is a member of Mental Health Victoria's Lived Experience Advisory Group. Today in her consultancy work she combines the perspectives of over 30 years personal lived experience and 20 years working in clinical and community health roles.

You can hear more from Fiona at our upcoming symposium Preparing for reform where she will be participating in a panel on what coproduction looks like in practice. Click here for full program details.


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