Listen to a summary video of these findings here: https://www.youtube.com/embed/b2ATDqzcae8
A key benefit of co-production is that it brings together people from different backgrounds and with different life experiences. We spoke to 100 people with lived experience of co-production and they said that one of the most important benefits of co-production is its ability to allow services, policymakers, organisations and researchers to get a variety of viewpoints on a topic from people representing the diversity of the stakeholders involved. The more open the co-production process is and the more people with lived experience that you involve, the greater benefits will be seen here. One storyteller shared the importance of co- production being “available to all people with lived experience, regardless of their abilities”, while another felt that “all those impacted by decisions, policies or ideas should have an equal say, so that their needs and opinions are able to shape it”.
Listening to unheard perspectives
People discussed how the co-production projects they have been involved in made space for the voices of people whose perspectives are often ignored or unheard in wider society:
- “the value to me is in really listening and affording an opportunity to marginalised neurodivergent voices.”
- “[the project] has given a voice to people with a learning disability - that for sure they did not have in COVID-19.”
Storytellers talked about “hearing unheard voices”, including categories like ethnicity, age, and the importance of “not talking to the same old people”. The benefit of this is that services, policies and research can learn from and be shaped by those voices, reducing the risk of getting things “wrong” and respecting the contributions that individuals can bring.
Cultural inclusion and adaptation
What works for someone from one cultural background or from one set of life experiences might be inaccessible, offensive or traumatising for another. Storytellers described how taking a co-pro approach had helped to make positive, inclusive or culturally-sensitive changes.
- One storyteller described a co-production project in which a group of Asian women got to learn cycling. They described their joy and awe at this - “it might not be very unique for a person from the UK but for a person like me - Pakistani ladies we always dreamed this is possible!”
- Another storyteller emphasised the positive role that co-production can play in creating equality, diversity and inclusion. Co-pro “helps make sure services are culturally sensitive”, they told us.
- Co-production may also help build trust with communities who have been harmed by research, policy or services in the past. “In the populations that I work with... they really have, oftentimes, justifiable reasons not to want to be involved in research... as communities have not been treated as well as we would like in the past...” said one storyteller.
For organisations, service-leaders, commissioners or researchers, co-production allows them to address issues of equality, diversity and inclusion in meaningful ways that go beyond tokenism or box-ticking - because this way of working allows them to work alongside people with those lived experiences and cultural knowledge.
Multiple perspectives on a topic
Our stories tell us that having a set of very different people feeding in to address an issue or problem offers a greater range of answers and perspectives. This helps researchers, people designing services or policy-makers to understand complexity, generate findings based on lived experience.
- “it was just wow, like there was one question but you think there are a couple of our answers to it but no, every single person there has perspective, has their own side and their own story to tell about that question”. This storyteller also told us an analogy of how the humble potato can teach us the value of bringing together people from different backgrounds.
- “It’s an opportunity to work with people with a diverse range of experiences. Apart from this forum, where would I ever have met, really, all the people I work with as part of this forum?...It’s about generating knowledge and ideas that come from a whole range of different sources. And sometimes people’s small parts of their experience link with parts of someone else’s experience, and collectively you actually generate a whole range of different ideas that you wouldn’t have done on your own.”
- “Having that diversity of thinking creates better solutions” offered one storyteller.
- A research team described how they can’t affect social change if they only approach the issue from one angle: “we have to bring together people who have different experiences and knowledge.”
- ”everybody is unique...you get to meet so many different people, and so many different experiences and get your conscious and unconscious pretty much ridiculed everyday and your assumptions challenged.”
Sharing life experiences, suggested one storyteller “helps the organisation to have a fuller, rounder perspective.” These contributions suggest that, without taking on a variety of perspectives, the work that is being produced would be less robust - missing important points, working on assumptions, and lacking in diverse voices.
Offers learning opportunities
The stories highlighted how much professionals had to learn from people with different perspectives - particularly people with lived experience.
- “We learnt about parents’ experience and that this is critical.”
- “How can we do research that better meets the needs of people that are less served by it, and how do we encourage them to get involved?...I knew I had to start from a place of understanding the problem first and understanding the barriers.”
Co-production creates plenty of spaces for people to learn from each other - and this is of benefit to individuals, organisations and communities. We discuss this in more detail in our co-learning section.
See things from another point-of-view
Storytellers also described how the diversity of perspectives that co-production had brought them face-to-face with had led to greater understanding and empathy. As well as professionals coming to understand the experiences of people using their services, for example, people with lived experience also learnt about the staff working for organisations and the conditions and restrictions that they worked under.
- “I see how hard this person’s job is now. I see how difficult this is, whereas before that they thought, ‘...they’re only interested in saving money’.”
- “The idea of listening to other people saying things is an eye opener because I might not have thought that way, and then with that new idea coming through, it’s opening doors to new ideas.”
- Another person with lived experience described how valuable it had been to them to “understand the why” - to be given a proper and honest “explanation of why something you want can’t happen” in a service.
These quotations show the power of co-production to help people hear and understand alternative positions and perspectives. As well as the personal value of this (as one storyteller commented, “I love understanding the minds of people who think differently to me”) the stories also demonstrate the value that this has to community cohesion and satisfaction with services. If people better understand and empathise with each other, more productive conversations can be had, and changes can be made that have mutual benefits and with understanding of external restrictions.
Several stories also alluded, directly or indirectly, to the idea that having that diversity of perspectives is important for moral reasons as well. Inclusion was an important value to many of the people we spoke with. One researcher described how “taking a co-production approach is important to me as I come from a minoritized community. It matters because it’s a way of creating justice into the healthcare services.”
Often, it was this belief in co-production’s power to support social justice aims that had driven people to get involved in this kind of work - whether they were coming from a lived experience perspective, a professional perspective or acting as a facilitator
Difficult to achieve the same results without lived experience
Our participants in our deliberative workshop noticed how storytellers discussed their work in ways which showed that the quality of the work produced was better thanks to the inclusion of lived experience. Several of the stories contain acknowledgement that the findings, results or outcomes would have been very different if they had not taken a co-productive approach - and that they potentially would have ended up with “the wrong” types of provision, or results that were missing key points.
Our 100 storytellers offered a variety of different co-production experiences and - as the length of this report shows - an extensive list of benefits. Whether their experiences had been positive or negative, almost every participant had something good to say about co-production as a way of working. The language that was deployed by people during the sessions was full of enthusiasm, positive emotion and joy.
People were also able to point concretely to differences that had been created through co-production. They were able to gesture to less tangible, but in some ways even more essential value that had been added - such as professionals describing the way their practice had changed as a result of working with people with lived experience. There was shared learning, exchange of knowledge and new ideas generated by bringing people from different perspectives together.
People did not shy away from telling us the challenges of co-production, but most felt the benefits were worth some of the extra work, effort, time and battles against “the system”.
Co-production, described by one participant as “a way of being, not a way of doing” has value to individuals, organisation and society. We will leave the final words to one of our storytellers - with great thanks to everyone who shared their experiences and insight with us:
“It’s the feeling that you get when everyone involved in a project is bringing their own different set of skills... and it’s working in harmony... we all have our own different areas of expertise we bring to a project, so it’s not that anybody is of higher value or lesser value... when that works really well and we’re all treating each other as equals in that project... we’ve all got our own areas of interest and agency in tasks that we’re dealing with delivering on those - that feeling when that project comes together at the end is just amazing. Because we’ve all contributed equally in our own way and the end piece of work - it really does feel collaborative - it feels like we’ve all inputted into this equally.”
This feature articles pulls together some of the core findings of the Community Reporting strand of the Value of Co-Production Research Project. People’s Voice Media and Co-Production Collective wanted to explore the value of co-production by speaking to those with lived experience of working in this way, and allowing them to share their own stories.
You can find out more about the work here: https://www.coproductioncollective.co.uk/news/what-is-the-value-of-co-p…