Written by: Alice Adams 02/07/2021
“The more people banging the drum for co-production, the better”. This phrase sticks in my memory from the first time I spoke to Darren Murinas, CEO of Expert Citizens C.I.C.
It was spring-time of 2020, and fellow Year Here fellows, Carolina Neu, Laura Steen, and I had reached out to Expert Citizens, amongst other organisations, seeking to understand how co-production was being supported in the homelessness sector. Through our various professional experiences, we had identified that staff who worked within local authorities, charities and social enterprises which tackle homelessness, often face barriers to genuinely involving people with lived experience of homelessness in the production of services.
We had ideas of how we could use our experience and knowledge of participatory action research methods and creative facilitation tools to support people at all levels of an organisation, including those experiencing services, to:
- Come together and meet as humans with empathy and understanding.
- Work together to identify and reach common goals.
- Acknowledge power dynamics, and;
- Ensure that everyone was benefitting from the process.
However, we were aware that all of our experiences of homelessness were “learnt”, through working within services, either supporting those experiencing homelessness directly or through strategic projects. We were also aware that we had more to learn and that we didn’t want to duplicate work or step on the toes of pre-existing groups. We were pondering with Darren whether we were the right people to take this on.
Darren’s approach shows the true spirit of co-production. He recognised the skills, experience and knowledge that we brought to the table, and how it could be complemented. And he took the time to keep in contact, support us and build the relationship.
Following some further scoping, fundraising and support we created Power With. We invited a group of people to join us in six sessions to use their lived experiences of homelessness and other experiences, skills and knowledge to further explore how we could make a difference. We were delighted to be joined by Phil Parkes, Volunteer Coordinator at Expert Citizens.
Phil brought with him knowledge of the sector, a passion for trauma-informed approaches, self-awareness and kindness, as well as ideas for effective partnerships. Oh, and kittens! Always a welcome addition to a zoom call!
Two of the focus areas for Power With that came out of the six-week sessions were:
- Influence change (by reaching those involved in service and policy design)
This included advocating for a lived experience voice to be involved in a service at design stage.
- Have a platform (educate/raise awareness and change perceptions).
Including bringing education and awareness to all levels of society.
After experiencing our approach and facilitation methods first-hand, Phil then supported Power With in setting up a mutually beneficial partnership with Expert Citizens.
Darren invited us to design and deliver 2 workshops on ‘What is Co-production’ and ‘How to Co-produce’ which would complement an existing training around the value of Lived Experience in service design and delivery.
We were delighted with this opportunity, not only to support staff involved in the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Rough Sleeper Task Group to build confidence and skills in co-production, but also to learn from Expert Citizens and the training participants in the process.
Carolina, Phil and I, set-about designing the training. First by holding a focus group with those we knew who had experienced and/or worked within homelessness services,and then by taking the knowledge and ideas and weaving it together with the requirements of the commissioner and our own academic and lived experiences of participatory processes. We then tested, re-iterated and co-designed the training with members of our community group, trusted advisors and supporters.
Staff members in various roles from small charities to local authorities joined us in exploring definitions of co-production, considering the principles that guide us, the benefits and challenges and putting themselves in the shoes of various stakeholders.
We were delighted to hear that one of our participants had learnt:
“Not to be afraid of (co-production) – to just do it – be human – be yourself… be open and honest and iterative with the process. It’s messy!”
We were also inspired to hear of projects taking place throughout the region. One participant shared that their organisation was collaborating on a theatre piece with staff and rough sleepers to support in re-writing their strategy-action plan.
And we were reminded of the need for persistence by another participant who raised that:
“The biggest hurdle we face is the resistance from pockets of people. All we can do is keep trying”.
So now to reflect on our learning, to regroup and to iterate.
We look forward to the future, collaborating with Expert Citizens to ensure that those who experience disadvantages in life are central to creating their own, and others’ opportunities for a brighter future.