Over the past year the Centre for Local Economic Strategies (CLES) and partners, funded by Lankelly Chase, have been undertaking action research to understand how people who have experienced severe and multiple disadvantage and decision makers can effectively work together to tackle the causes of inequality across Greater Manchester.
Often termed “coproduction”, exploring ways for citizens and professionals to work together is of-the-moment. However, there are a number of challenges that prevent coproduction becoming mainstream practise. These barriers are the “elephants in the room”: everyone knows they are there but no one wants to talk about them. We brought together ‘decision makers’ and those with personal experience of severe and multiple disadvantage to openly discuss these elephants, and see whether we could get them to leave the room for good. In a series of blogs this week we’ll be sharing the insights of people who took part in this research project. #ElephantsGM
The Big Lottery Fund supports communities to thrive and take action on issues that matter to them so that amazing things can happen. The Big Lottery Fund understands that when communities come together they can really make a difference. Because of this we are interested in supporting the concept of co-production and have funded 12 Fulfilling Lives Projects that look at how the experiences of people with multiple complex needs can create system changes in their cities and regions. Within my role at Big Lottery Fund I manage the relationship with Inspiring Change Manchester, the Manchester Fulfilling Lives project. I work closely with them to understand and support the incredible work that they do, encouraging and celebrating their coproduction approach. Through this work I was invited to participate in the Elephants in the Room project.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first got involved in the Elephants project. I knew I was keen on coproduction and championed the approach to my peers and grant holders, but the Elephants project really opened my eyes. I suppose it could be summed up with two words: frustration and space.
I was frustrated with the Elephants process itself, it wasn’t what I was used to, there were no concrete outcomes from each session, or clear end goal and I never really knew what the meeting would hold from one to the next. I often felt that everything was up in the air and I wasn’t achieving anything. But it did provide me the space to understand that this was ok and was all part of the process. I learnt that really doing co-production was so much harder than I ever imagined.
Through the Elephants project I became frustrated with myself. I came to understand that although I was a champion of coproduction I’d not been doing it well. I hadn’t fully immersed myself in it before and was instead falling into the power structures that come from being a funder and just telling other people it was something they should be doing. Elephants gave me the space to reflect and see this. It allowed me the opportunity and time to think things through, explore the concept in action and recognise that my approaches, although well meaning, were perhaps not breaking down the power structures I was hoping they would. Instead, in some ways I was holding them up.
I was frustrated with how to move forward from these revelations, how to start dismantling structures, frustrated that between meetings I would slip into old habits, repeat the behaviours that were easy and plough on with ‘getting the work done’ rather than ‘getting the work done right’. I was frustrated with myself that I could not carve out the space I needed to implement coproduction in other facets of my role instead just constantly trying to keep up with what I needed to do. Coproduction was difficult and takes a considerable amount of time and effort to do it right.
The Elephants work has been really thought provoking and the gift of time and space that it has provided me has allowed me to understand others, their experiences, build relationships, think, talk and learn. It’s given me the space to breath and the opportunity to change. This work and its insights will allow me to implement these values within my work and have much more meaningful conversations with grant holders and applicants about the way they deliver coproduction within their projects.
Hannah Paterson is the UK Portfolio Manager at the Big Lottery Fund