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Reflections from #coproweek

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog, and I seem to have a lot to write about! After a fantastic #coproductionweek I’ve taken a bit of time to reflect on all I’ve seen, heard and spoken with people about.

First of all, it was great to be able to share some of the coproduction work I’ve been personally involved with lately, via Big Picture Graphic Facilitation and Affinity Trust. If you check out our social media feeds on Facebook, LinkedIn and X, you’ll see posts about the get together tour we facilitated in partnership with Affinity Trust between March and May this year- meeting with people they support, family members and staff to hear about good lives, good support and great ideas. We visited Leeds, Leicester, Norfolk, Aberdeen and Staffordshire on a quest to listen and learn as much as possible. Mollie and I had a wonderful time meeting people, hearing their stories and listening to brilliant ideas and suggestions for improving the way people experience being supported by Affinity Trust. The tour is already having an impact on new ways of working and decision-making. You can listen to the coproduced playlist from the get together tour on Spotify.

For #coproweek itself, there were so many brilliant events and activities taking place simultaneously. For me (being based in the Midlands region), it made absolute sense to go and support the event being hosted by Curators of Change and Ideas Alliance in Moseley ‘Not another coproduction event’.

From the moment of arriving at the building and seeing the Camerados public living room adornments outside the front, to the welcome I received as I walked through the door, I knew I was with ‘my people’.

I made my own name badge (no job titles here, just preferred name and a whole load of brightly coloured stickers and sparkly bits). I was joined at the badge table by a lady whom I later found out was the principle social worker for one of the Midlands authorities. Not that you would have known, because our conversation focused on stickers of choice, the distance we’d travelled to get there and exchanging preferred names with each other! I think this experience in itself set the tone for the rest of the day. Everyone was there on an equal basis. There was no difference in power between professionals, practitioners and people with lived experience. We were just people, being together, in a giant public living room.

The day started with some brilliantly joyful songs from a local community choir… ‘Three little birds’ by Bob Marley, and ‘Here comes the sun’ by the Beatles. How on earth can you be miserable after a start like that?! We were guided to the different activities taking place around the building.

My first activity of choice was a workshop called ‘Making marks on paper’ facilitated by an Arts organisation. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it sounded cool. There were eight of us in the group, and we were guided to a quiet room for the workshop. We sat in a circle of chairs and the facilitator guided us through an exercise where we each had a piece of paper and a pencil. We were instructed to look, think and draw. We were first asked to draw the shape of a face (no other details, just the shape) and were given 3 seconds to do that. We then passed our drawing to the person on our right and received a new piece of paper from the person on our left and repeated the exercise, each time adding a different detail to the drawing in front of us. By the end of the workshop, as a group we had coproduced eight different drawing of faces with differing features and each face had been given a name.We took a few moments to review our work as a group. It was such a powerful exercise.

The first thing I reflected on was my level of discomfort at handing my piece of paper to somebody else to continue developing the ‘face’ I had started. I did not like passing the control to someone else when I could not envisage the outcome. That’s when it hit me- this is what Coproduction is like for people who hold power. If you are accustomed to designing and controlling the outputs and outcomes of your work, it is extremely uncomfortable to share that power with others.

I realised that in order to actually understand and facilitate authentic coproduction really well, you first need to experience it yourself!

I then experienced an adult social care assessment from Katie Rose Stone (Lived experience expert at Making it Real team in Shropshire). A very powerful and unpleasant experience as I personally learned how intrusive and dismissive the adult social care assessment process can be. Incredibly humiliating, dehumanising and not remotely person centred. Did I really need to share about where my partner lives, whether we are in a sexual relationship and if I am taking precautions to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections? I thought the assessment was about my social care needs….

I had some brilliant conversations with people from different organisations who are using coproduction in different ways. I was especially interested in the work of Gary at Gobby, who is developing an innovative tool for capturing authentic feedback from audiences and customers- coproducing detailed responses and insights. At Imagineer, we are excited to see how this tool could really help to shape impact measurement, customer experience and development of new products and services.

The Equality Trust were involved in organising and leading the day. It was really helpful to learn about how they are working with Councils in different areas of the UK to adopt Section 1 of the Equality Act 2010- Socio-economic duty, which would help to reduce inequality at a local level.

The whole day was surrounded by creativity, and there were lots of pinpoint facilitation stations around the main room, where people could add their ideas, comments and doodles. There was even a lego station!

We need more events like this, particularly for creating a space for people to share stories and experiences but also for professionals and practitioners to hear and experience firsthand, what coproduction looks and feels like.

If we are going to do coproduction authentically- wherever we work or live, and whatever our circumstances; we first need to create spaces for listening, talking and understanding the differing perspectives and experiences of others.

Until we do that, we will always be in a position of ‘othering’ people who don’t look, sound or behave like us; and that’s really damaging to the fabric of our society.

Sarah Holmes









Director of Development and Communications, Imagineer


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