One Hand Can't Clap: Learnings from a co-production experiment

July 21, 2021
Tarana Wafi
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Tarana Wafi

There's growing interest in co-production and participation work with people with lived experience across the sector. Whilst there is a lot of experience and dedication to this work, there is little information or guidance to draw upon.

“When you produce something you want it to be used. What drove everybody to produce it is the impact we hope to get out of it. The bottom line is - we want a better service user experience out of it. It needs to be accessible so that many people can really use it. It is not a perfect document. There is also room for us to learn and some people might challenge it which is a good thing. It should start a conversation! I can only see things improving.” Birani

Interest has grown during the pandemic as organisations have had to radically change the way they deliver services to meet changing needs, and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, many recognise that meaningful involvement and strategies to shift power to people with lived experience are more important than ever. Refugee Action has prioritised this approach in its current strategy, it is one of the Early Action Principles and we are exploring what it means to embed this in our Good Practice and Partnerships work.

Organisations are all at different stages of this work and many often end up starting from scratch and reinventing the wheel. Practitioners who have developed expertise often move on or funding runs out without their methods and learning being embedded across an organisation.

People from many organisations tell us that they want to do more meaningful work with people with lived experience but feel that they lack the knowledge, confidence and skills to make participation or co-production work successful, inclusive and valuable for everyone involved. Even experienced facilitators have found group dynamics can be challenging, when discussing emotive topics, and with participants bringing histories of trauma, cultural diversity and very different backgrounds as well as current situations. 

In 2020, we decided to do some work on this. Experts by Experience from the Early Action Expert Panel looked at what meaningful participation and inclusion looks like for them and for the organisations that make up the Asylum Early Action partnership. Following a design sprint and joint webinar with NACCOM in August 2020 we decided to form an action group to co-produce guidance and resources for the sector.

We invited people who had been involved in the webinar and in the Expert Panel to join, using a short recruitment video that explained what would be involved. Four people signed up - Maha, Iman, Sipilien and Shukry. They joined Refugee Action’s Expert by Experience leads Jonathan and Ana, and the process was supported by Katie from NACCOM, Refugee Action and Side Labs.

“I wanted to be involved in helping organisations to help asylum seekers and refugees the best they can.” Maha
“I got involved after the Expert by Experience and Power to Change Webinar. I felt that it would be important to share learning from my own experience as an EBE Trustee to develop guidance that could encourage more Experts by Experience to join as trustees but also support organisations to do so.” Shukry

Getting ready to create the guidance

Everyone in the action group brought distinct skills, experience, insight and passion for this work and the impact it could have. Building on this the group thought about what training and support they might need so that everyone could fully participate and we put together a ‘curriculum’ or training package that was interwoven with the group’s working sessions. 

The training package included:

  • Introduction to the app Miro (collaborative whiteboard platform)
  • Using Google docs
  • Writing in plain English for the web
  • Running research sessions, including interviewing and note taking
“I learnt so much from the training sessions, how to use a Miro app, Google Docs, the importance of writing in plain English for the web and enjoyed putting it into practice during the sessions. It was helpful during our [NACCOM] board away day and I now use Miro for every training or brainstorming activity with the arts & homelessness steering committee and forum I run for Experts by Experience”. Shukry  
“I liked the google doc training and Miro. Miro was all new for me and I believe it is the most important tool for sharing ideas within groups. I am using google docs now and maybe in the future, I will use Miro.” Iman

A timeline and work plan was developed using the platform Miro

This included the themes of each action group meeting, for example: ‘planning’, content brainstorming’, ‘working content session’, ‘script writing’, ‘planning/ practising/ shooting/ editing video’, ‘review of written guidance’.

Also the learning sessions, that were delivered as part of each action group meeting, for example: ‘intro to Miro’, ‘learning google docs’, ‘writing in plain English for the web’, ‘running a research session’.

And homework, for example: ‘find inspiration for content’, ‘write content’, ‘prepare for research session’, ‘develop content’, ‘script writing’, ‘practice video’, ‘review guidance’, ‘feedback on web design’.

The content created at each state of the process was developed and recorded on Miro, which meant that it was a truly interactive process, despite the work having been carried out remotely and online.

The content creation process

The Action Group decided to focus on developing guidance on two priority issues - recruiting trustees with lived experience and facilitating Experts by Experience user groups. The group split into two cohorts to work on these issues. Each cohort met every two weeks with some follow up work going on in the background in between meetings. Both groups worked collaboratively on the following activities:

  • Workshops to draw out knowledge, insight and experience
  • Setting up and conducting research interviews with key individuals and organisations doing this work
  • Synthesising research findings
  • Content writing
  • Creating videos (with the help of a film maker!)
  • Designing structure of website 
  • Working with an experienced writer to bring content together into guidance
  • Giving feedback on written guidance 
“The discussions I had with members of the EBE Action group, it was wonderful to hear people's journeys and share learning from one another. The training sessions were also invaluable, I enjoyed the interactive sessions and getting to know each other better and watching this grow. I also really enjoyed presenting at the Info Hub with over 60+ organisations. It was proud moment to have a voice in such a platform”. Shukry
“Obviously we didn’t have a template - we were learning as we were going. The training was one of the key things. Apart from just that learning a new skill - it made the work easier. I also loved the diversity - if you look at the people in the group - culture, religion - at the end of it having a comprehensive document was pretty amazing. Before the pandemic there were things we never knew we were able to do - having constructive meetings with people in different places. It’s communal but with individuality.” Birani
“Knowing other individuals who do the same work and have the same passion was good. Feeling the ownership of the project as the team was really nice and making me feel this project is important for other people to be involved the way I do. I enjoy the process of the project.” Iman

So what have we learnt about 'doing' co-production through this project? 

“One hand cannot clap. But our group was like two hands clapping, doing amazing work and sharing useful information” Maha. 
“As an Expert by Experience trustee - that we are all going through similar fears and experience and that you aren't alone, that  co-production takes patience and a lot of time but I think the outcomes are so much more rewarding and hopefully help others overcome those fears”. Shukry
“I learnt how valuable individuals are when they are given a chance to be involved in a project. I learnt how to get people of lived experience involved and they just need other organisations to adopt an inclusive diversity approach. I learnt that sharing ideas with other people is difficult at the beginning but it goes well with the time and under preparation from the team.” Iman
"Organisation! There are so many interdependent moving parts and so many busy people involved, you need to be organised to keep things on track and plan ahead to make sure everyone can be involved and knows what is expected of them. Involving more people might take longer, but the final product is richer and the journey much more interesting!" Lora

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who has given time and support to this project, and shared their knowledge, experiences and the challenges of doing this work so generously with us. 

Beth and Ken from Bristol Refugee Rights

Dick from Asylum Wakefield Hosting

Cathy and Mary from the Refugee Action Strategy Group

Rachel from Refugee Action

Hera from Lewisham Refugee and Migrant Network

Dave from Brushstrokes 

Next steps

We hope this work can be a contribution to greater collaboration, sharing and learning around involving people with lived experience for our sector. 

We would love to know how people find the guidance, is it useful, does it work? Please tell us and keep in touch. 

We are looking at how we could support a network of people interested in discussing co-production in our sector. For now we have the an EBE channel on our slack workspace.

“As organisations put this into practice and share learning we can continue to adapt and improve the guidance. I would also like to see us help organisations to encourage EBE’s to join as mentors/ peer network to support one another in trustee roles or joining EBE groups.” Shukry
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