Recently we’ve had the chance to reflect on the types of changes we have seen across Inspiring Change Manchester (ICM) through trying to meaningfully involve people with lived experience in the design and delivery of our project.
Working together with our partner agency Groundswell (www.groundswell.org.uk/) we have been developing an evaluation of our involvement work, seeing how it can lead to real changes for people facing multiple disadvantage across Manchester. We are still in the early stages of this but one thing that has come up time and again is how ICM has provided a useful space to have some fairly open and honest conversations about the role that co-production can play in creating real change.
So let’s start with the difficult bit
It’s inevitable that when we bring people together from different backgrounds to talk about things that are personally emotive there is always going to be a level of underlying tension and conflict that can be difficult to acknowledge. Whether we like this or not, we have to reflect that there are differences in our personal identities, life experiences or social histories (such as our gender, sexuality or ethnicity) that can mean that tensions are deep-rooted and ever-present in every truly co-produced process. At the same time these tensions can also exist within our own organisations, reflected in our different aims and agendas, or, (more deeply) our own philosophies in how best to support people.
These tensions can sometimes spill over, leading to relationships that can, at times, feel adversarial and challenging, no matter what our best intentions are. Left unchallenged, we can sometimes struggle to get past these early tensions to help create real solutions that tackle our common problems.
So what do we do?
When we start co-producing solutions we have to initially be open and honest about the potential conflicts that can arise during the process, no matter what we are trying to achieve. This can sometimes mean bringing up some awkward conversations:
So let’s start with these…..
Inequality does not affect us all (and it certainly doesn’t affect us all equally) – hence the word. We have to recognise that we are not all in the same boat. There is a difference between those who want to bring an end to wider inequalities and those who are living it, no matter what our positions.
By recognising this though we start to open up powerful conversations about what our common purposes are, what motivations we have for wanting change and what role we think we can play in helping to create it. Those of us in positions of power and authority should always be honest in this process and set out what changes we can realistically make, as well as what powers we have in making them happen.
This is not easy and can certainly make us feel uncomfortable. But when facilitated right, we can open ourselves up to these conversations and engage in a deeply powerful restorative process that helps us to bridge previous divides and form new ‘co-producing’ relationships. Through doing this we can start to understand our own biases, whilst also recognising the strengths we are bringing to what should feel like a collaborative process.
From my own experiences of co-production, I have learnt that people can sometimes misunderstand its aim and meaning, often believing that it is a simple means for people to feedback on support that is offered within services- but it rarely finds a way to get beyond that. It can leave us all, whether we are in professional roles or not, feeling a little helpless as to what we do next. So it needs to change if we are to take it forward. It starts with a difficult conversation
Of course, recognising this only forms a small part of how co-production can work in the real world but at least it provides us with a useful start
So whether or not we choose to engage with this, what we can say is that, when it comes to co-production, a little openness and honesty can go a long way