Co-Production Collective: a new co-pro community

| Lauren Wallace-Thompson

It’s no secret that we’re big champions of co-production here at the Ideas Alliance. So when we heard about Co-Production Collective, a new co-produced community of co-producers (try saying that 10 times fast!), we just had to find out more. With the launch last week of their brand new, co-produced website, this ever-evolving community is establishing itself as an important site of support and development for people involved or interested in co-production.

What is the Co-production Collective?

Co-Production Collective at its heart is simply a community of people interested in co-production: patients, carers, practitioners and students, and anyone else who wants to get involved. They also support several co-production projects in the field of health research, service and policy development, “working in equal partnership to create better outcomes for everyone”. What we love about Co-Production Collective is that their dedication to the method and approach of co-production runs right through the whole set-up – their identity, strategy and mission statement were all co-produced by the collective’s members.

Their story

Co-Production Collective’s journey began back in 2017, when a small amount of Wellcome Trust funding was secured to set up the UCL Centre for Co-Production in Health Research. Through this set-up funding, they have been able to run pilot projects to learn more about what works – and, importantly, what doesn’t work, when co-producing. The focus is still primarily on co-production in health and research, but the scope has broadened to support a wider interest in co-production more generally. The launch of their “Co-Pro Stories” report and video playlist, giving insight into people’s lived experience of co-production, is an example of their commitment to understanding the process of and barriers to co-production as much as celebrating the outcomes of co-produced projects.

It’s rare to see an organisation where co-production is so embedded into every element of their operation and practice, and it’s especially rare to see this emerging out of an institution as traditionally rigid and hierarchical as a university. But Co-Production Collective are the living, breathing, ever-evolving proof that it can be done. The Collective is led by four core values selected by members of its community – human, transparent, inclusive, challenging – and these will guide everything they do.

Almost all aspects of the group’s identity – the name, the branding, the logo and the website – have been, or are in the process of being co-produced. Particularly interesting is the ongoing project to co-produce the group’s payment policy. The issue of ensuring that everyone involved in the co-production process is fairly and equitably compensated has long been a concern in co-production circles. Even when we go to great lengths to create an atmosphere of equality and to share power, the fundamental barrier and disparity in co-production projects can be that some people are there as professionals whose time is being well-compensated financially, whereas other experts-by-experience are expected to contribute for free or for some token gesture like a voucher. Co-Production Collective have co-produced a draft payment policy which invites members to contribute their views. They are also honest about the fact that Co-Production Collective does not exist in its own bubble: “because our ‘forest’ of practicing co-production depends on the bigger ‘ecosystem’ we live in” says Co-Production Collective member and payment policy co-producer Susan. The ideal solution may be out of reach because of legal or institutional restrictions. The plan is to simply get the best policy within the existing regulations for now – and then work to challenge and change to the restrictions.

What they’ve been up to

It has been a busy few months for Co-Production Collective. Back in October, they held their official launch. Thanks to coronavirus it was a slightly different affair than they had envisaged: a massive Zoom call with over 300 attendees, lots of different speakers, and even its own afterparty with DJ Lady LXA (aka Cristina) on GaGa Radio. The Collective’s co-produced new website launched last week to much celebration. These are the big milestones in their journey so far, but behind these are weeks of collaborative working – from co-creation sessions, informal Co-Pro Cuppa drop-ins, and “Get Togethers” where the community gathers to discuss a specific topic related to co-production. This is in addition to the ongoing co-produced research projects that the Collective are involved in, including a collaboration with NHS England and NHS Improvement to co-produce new approaches to diagnosing hearing loss in children and young people with autism, learning disabilities or both.

Diversity and inclusion is a priority for the group – something that COVID restrictions have made all that bit harder – but the Collective do not brush off their responsibilities with regards to this. “Our move to virtual sessions has led to a decrease in the diversity of the groups, specifically in relation to participation of those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds,” write Niccola and Cristina, two of the centre’s co-producers, in a blog about diversity in research. While they acknowledge that some factors might be out of their control, they are clear that “this doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to try and turn it around”. They are piloting new ways to find out “who is in the room” as the response rates on their diversity forms are much lower online than for in-person sessions – this will be the focus of a special session in April.

The Collective is also aware of how previous experiences with co-production or participation in research where the power imbalance was may have lasting impacts on people’s willingness to get involved: “Let’s not kid ourselves that some groups are ‘hard to reach’, ‘less often heard from or listened to’, ‘seldom heard from’ (or whatever term it is that is being used) when we are actively ostracizing them” writes co-producer Mandy, reflecting on how people experience hierarchical institutional settings. Co-Production Collective wants to create spaces for co-production that are the exact opposite of this. They are not shy about the scale of the challenges and the barriers they face, but they know they have the power of a collective, human, collaborative approach behind them.

How to learn more

You can keep up-to-date on the latest from Co-Production Collective by reading their blog, following them on Twitter or signing up to their newsletter. If you’re interested in co-production, there are lots of chances to get involved with the Collective, whether that’s by joining the community, dropping in for a Co-Pro Cuppa session or collaborating in a co-creation session. You can always email coproduction@ucl.ac.uk for more information on anything, and they will be able to provide it in a format that is accessible to you if you let them know your requirements.

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