In March 2023, our Inclusive Involvement in Research for Practice Led Health and Social Care (IIRP) theme facilitated a ‘Doing Co-Production’ workshop for ARC East of England colleagues. This workshop was a space for attendees to share their understanding of co-production and to actively encourage inclusive involvement in research. In this blog, Jurgen Grotz and Sarah Carr reflect on the workshop.
Experiencing co-production in action is both challenging and empowering. It seems clear that without personally undertaking co-production, we cannot fully comprehend and enact what it can do. While we have extensively heard theoretical, methodological, and moral arguments, to make it happen now calls for inclusive involvement. In the Inclusive Involvement in Research for Practice Led Health and Social Care (IIRP) theme, we are determined to continue enabling all colleagues in the ARC East of England to learn about themselves and each other through working co-productively with others from different backgrounds and to develop identifiable ideas about making co-production happen through practical experiences of working together inclusively. We can experience how empowering it is to use one’s agency in a context where we can see and feel how others are equally able to use their agency too.
Reflecting on the ‘Doing Co-Production’ workshop
On 13 March 2023, all ARC East of England researchers were invited to attend the ‘Doing Co-Production’ workshop. This was a bespoke workshop that encouraged attendees to share their understanding of co-production and act on our commitment to inclusive involvement in research. It has been planned as one of a series of workshops organised by the ARC IIRP theme to build and share learning about what co-production can mean to develop and embed in our work and working organisations.
The workshop was co-produced from start to finish, and all its workshop activities applied co-production practices. We aimed for participants to experience co-production rather than just talk about it, showcase it, or try to define it. The idea here was to learn about co-production by doing something creative and practical together. People taking part could then reflect on their experience of co-production to grow their understanding and confidence. Before the main activity, we encouraged participants to consider times when they had experienced collaborative activities and to reflect on how they felt when this did or didn’t work well. Members of the ARC IIRP Theme’s Patient and Public Involvement Advisory Group had suggested that the main activity should involve co-producing stories. To do this, we invited participants to share personal memories in the form of images and then asked small groups to weave these memories together into a story. The focus was on the experience of co-production, not the output, albeit as we expected, the stories were beautiful. We spent the second part of the workshop reflecting on how participants experienced co-production and what they learned from that experience. The final exercise of the day was to prioritise do’s and don’ts with a series of online polls, enabling participants to take steps towards turning experiences into practice. We are happy with the responses that we received from the attendees, such as when one attendee said, "I loved the whole day and I learned so much, so I just wanted to say thank you."
Participants included senior and junior academics from Hertfordshire, Essex, Cambridge, and Norfolk, as well as four members of the ARC IIRP theme’s public advisory group. Many members of staff were unable to take part in the workshop or sent late apologies after having registered. From the responses we received, it appears that this relates to needing to prioritise other tasks. While university staff are compulsorily required to attend training on many things, even in programmes that explicitly encourage co-production and inclusive involvement, training is not required, and experiencing co-production is not prioritised in relation to other activities.
"Meaningful and effective co-production must require everyone involved to be able to act on their own agency, so is it a fundamental contradiction to ask for compulsory training where co-production can be experienced."
Yet if we expect training to undertake systematic reviews and Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) we must also carefully consider and show how and where co-production designs are different, how we can do it, and how this may affect other research plans. As it stands, institutions do not prioritise, enable, and reward giving enough time and attention to robust co-production in research. This means we are likely to remain institutionally non-co-productive. We therefore call on institutions to systematically take action to prioritise, embed, and reward experiential co-production activities.
As part of our ongoing work the ARC EoE IIRP theme will continue to offer innovative ways to experience co-production and explore individual reflective inclusive involvement practice. Our next workshop is ‘Making Research accessible to everyone’, an online collaborative workshop to gain practical advice about how to inclusively involve different kinds of people in your research, Tuesday 20 June, 10:00 – 13:00.