Authentic co-production – it’s the right thing to do!

17 February 2023

Topic: Throughcare and aftercare
Author: Rosie Moore

Rosie Moore, Participation and Policy Advisor at CELCIS describes leading on a project that has participation at its core from the very beginning.

Genuine co-production is hard! It’s lengthy, slow and makes a lot of U-turns! But when it is done right, when everyone is truly invested in the process, the cause, and the participants, the outcome can be truly incredible.

The biggest co-produced project I have led on recently at CELCIS, was the development of Continuing Care ‘Know your Rights’ information resources, which included creating a set of eight stories to be communicated through postcards, video animations and augmented reality, highlighting the rights of young people to Continuing Care. We started the project during COVID-19 lockdowns, using online platforms and software which we continued to use for the duration of the project, before finally launching all the resources in September 2022.

The materials have been one of CELCIS’s most successful information projects in terms of getting information out there, with 10,000 packs of postcards printed and distributed to young people and those who care for them. The online resource has been a huge hit in helping to provide ready access to anyone looking for information to understand more about continuing care.

Behind the successes and all the young people involved in the project, we experienced many challenges along the way - some big, some small, which concerned the very practical considerations of CELCIS’s processes and due diligence. Navigating these waters has left us with a huge amount of learning to take forward into our next co-produced project of this scale.

The value of participation

Any project that includes the participation of people with lived experience, automatically becomes much better, more accurate, impactful and successful, and this project is a perfect example! The importance of having those whose experiences a project is seeking to improve, around the table, is vital. Initially with this project, partners CELCIS, the Care Inspectorate and Clan Child Law aimed to create a more accessible resource to the available written guidance around Continuing Care, something we knew young people didn’t engage with. As partners, we envisioned a slightly more creative resource, maybe a short video, or summary document. However, none of us could have ever imagined the scale, creativity and entirely unique approach that the young people we were working with would in fact come up with.

What we learned along the way

We completed this project entirely online; I only met the young artist who created all of the artwork about seven months after the resources had launched! Building and maintaining relationships with people solely over a screen for several years, was hard for all of us. But at the same time, having a virtual project enabled us to have young people join us from a much wider geographical location than if we were in-person. In hindsight, had we known that the project would last as long as it did, we would have still planned to work predominantly online, but ensured semi-regular face to face meetings to both build and maintain relationships and interest. Being able to budget for this, and factor in the additional time and capacity would have made the timeline of the project much more accurate, something which is crucial when working in partnership with, or on behalf of external partner organisations.

One of the reasons the project was so successful is the flexibility we created, with young people being supported to dip in and out of the project depending on their commitments, but still keep involved in some way throughout. Young people joined at the very outset of the project, meaning they were able to shape the concept and direction of travel from the very first meeting with Liminal Studios, the design agency who were commissioned to help create the stories for the postcards. We also worked together in the evenings, after the young people had finished work or any other day time commitments. We kept the sessions productive, yet highly informal, and quite often we met in our pyjamas and ate copious amounts of toast together. The culture we created together within our sessions was relaxed and inviting, one which we all felt happy to join.

Being trauma-informed for all involved in the project is much more complex within an online space, and was something that we built into the design of the project very early on. Storyboarding and empathy-mapping were critical to working in a trauma-informed way, by creating a space between personal experiences and discussions via a third person animated ‘character’. It was through the use of these characters that the idea for the stories for the materials came from, as we quickly realised we were building entire stories around these characters, their experiences and their feelings.

Taking ownership

The young people took full ownership of the stories: they wrote the scripts and narration; designed all of the artwork, from what the characters were wearing, to the scene the animations would be set in, right through to voicing the characters for the videos. As such, what we had at the end of the project were resources that truly engaged young people. They looked like young people, spoke like young people, sounded like young people. And the project was so much better because of this.

CELCIS had never delivered a co-produced creative resource at this scale before, so in many senses this was new territory for us. There was lots going on behind the scenes: it became apparent that we’d need to factor in many practical considerations for our teams working together on this, including budgetary considerations around the additional hours of work for both the young people involved, as well as commissioned agencies that would be needed. Any tweaks or changes that needed to be made to the resources were always taken back to the young people, so that they could see what, why and how anything was being adapted for the resources to work they best that they can. Enabling a feedback loop between the young people and the wider internal CELCIS team was important to us to ensure that the young people understood what was happening at all times.

The resources make an impact

The learning from this project in a very, let’s say ‘non-linear or smooth’ manner, has proven invaluable, like most other co-productive projects. Despite the many challenges of getting this project over the line, we would, and will absolutely do co-productive work at this scale again. All of the challenges were internal learning curves, and nothing to do with the young people or the participative elements of the project. Co-production is the epitome of doing what is right, not what is easy. But when done right, what you get at the end is nothing short of incredible, every single time. The artist in the project, Ciara Waugh, was able to showcase her incredible work and talent at a national level, and has gone on to future successes and paid work. Ciara also wrote a blog about her experience of the project – be sure to give it a read, her blog writing is just as good as her artwork!

In summary, letting go of control and power, and handing it back over to the people who really do know what will work best can be a daunting experience for many organisations at the start of their participation journey. But it is something we all need to do. Having resources that young people can not only engage with, but recognise and see themselves in, is crucial. And it’s young people who are going to create that, not organisations by themselves. Authentic and meaningful participation and co-production are central to keeping The Promise, upholding children’s rights and keeping children and families at the forefront of all that we do – it’s the right thing to do.

Read Ciara's blog here


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