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  • Writer's picturesabina strachan

Challenge convention – partnership and co-production

Cartoon: Two people with an idea. One says 'but have we thought of everything?' while thinking about people that could bring new perspectives.

Where should I start when thinking about co-production? What kind of partnership is going to help make co-production a success? Do I need to do things differently? This blog looks at a project’s beginnings, how ‘Grace’ and ‘Amir’ challenged how they might typically go about developing ideas and implementing a project, and highlights some of the benefits of this kind of collaboration.

Grace and Amir wanted to apply different disciplinary approaches to a research project looking at the effects of job market changes over the past decade on a particular neighbourhood.

They had got together, brainstormed a few ideas, drafted an initial proposal and were about to work up a funding application. Then Amir attended an event which showcased several community initiatives from different parts of the country. Many of the projects were community-led or co-produced with multiple partners.

Amir was struck by the words of one of the community representatives in particular – she said “it worked because we weren’t regarded as ‘other’, as the ‘problem’. Instead we were – and are – part of the ‘solution’. People from [the organisation] didn’t just dive in, they took time to listen to us, build trust and find a common purpose. The most important thing is they let go, we had an equal say in what happened, when and how. So we worked together to work out what was going to work best for everyone.”

Amir thought back to his project with Grace. Their methodology included qualitative interviews with community representatives and series of public engagement events. But could they bring the community they were trying to reach (and ultimately benefit) closer to the project? Could they ‘let go’? Amir took his thoughts back to Grace.

Firstly, they acknowledged that they weren’t the experts at bringing community representatives on board to shape the project ideas. So they found out which public, third-sector and voluntary agencies with community development roles were based in the area and approached a few of them for an initial chat.

Their conversations were a real eye-opener. This is what they decided to do differently:

  1. They approached one of the community organisations who shared their desired outcomes to become a partner in the project.

  2. The community partner reached out to individuals within the community with relevant lived experiences and came together to shape ideas for a research project.

  3. As well as the community organisation, several community representatives became partners in the project too. This meant that they influenced or co-led many areas such as designing research questions, data gathering, public engagement and dissemination.

Amir and Grace recognised that the project would benefit from a broad range of expertise and that a collaborative approach would lead to more impactful outcomes for all. Yes, it took a bit more set-up time and planning than they’d first imagined, but the rewards were many. By letting go, being open to influence and embracing diverse perspectives, richer narratives emerged, strong relationships were forged and new doors opened.

Next time, how do you get a relationship back on a ‘collaborative track’? Used to going round in circles or going nowhere fast? The next blog is for you!

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