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Space Wars: Exclusion from Research

By Rory, on 13 July 2020

Rory from the UCL Centre for Co-production shares her thoughts about exclusion from research and chats to Sudhir Shah, a person with lived experience who has been involved in both co-production and patient public involvement in research work, and researcher from National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) Northwest London, Meerat Kaur, about their ideas for action.

I’ve always loved Star Wars, to an embarrassing degree. It’s basically a series of classic Western movies but instead of cowboys you get people in funky costumes and a backdrop of infinitive darkness where the vastness of the Sierra Madre would be. And, of course, more spaceships and less horses. But what does this have to do with health research? Well, both are about a quest for new knowledge and in both cases deciding who comes along for the ride is mission critical. I like these wacky planet-hopping tales for the same reason I like my job: I like working with others and going somewhere uncharted.

However, unlike the cast of space operas, research staff still too rarely take the leap to go beyond their usual department, let alone beyond the “known universe” of academic connections. Unsurprisingly, new faces are rarely introduced. When the participants of the studies, those involved in patient public involvement or in co-producing, remain all too identical in terms of their background, some well-known phrases start popping up. The particularly offensive and untrue label of “hard-to-reach” often comes with the justification that there is mistrust towards the healthcare services and research professionals, implying a need for attitude change in communities and not for improved engagement skills among research staff. “Less often heard voices” is definitely more polite, but “ignored” would be shorter and more accurate. There is no need for complicated phrases and double hyphens, and no need to call the problem “distance” when its real name is exclusion.

Barriers are created by the use of language, methods, and spaces most convenient for academics, and by feeling content when that produces a low number of participants from BAME and vulnerable groups. As the Centre for Co-production, this is something we are working to change. Co-production has been gaining attention as a solution towards active involvement and equal power‐sharing, but there is still a long way to go. The diversity of those involved in our own recent virtual Co-production Network events has decreased since we moved from face-to-face. We are working to change this.

Photo by Daniel K Cheung

Going the distance – Stormtroopers have to cross many intergalactic deserts but research may not have to put in quite as much leg-work. The real challenge is not the distance, it’s the approach. (Photo by Daniel K Cheung)

What are the obstacles that we need to overcome?

It is no coincidence that those being most sought and required are often the least likely to respond to “in-house” research methods (written questionnaires, telephone consultations or one off group meetings). If we take the example of older people, having multiple health, mobility or vision difficulties is very likely, so individual face-to-face home interviews are preferred, unless focus groups are set up in familiar surroundings without the need to travel. To find out more, I asked one of our Centre co-producers Sudhir, a carer, a research co-producer, patient public involvement group member and also research participant himself, about practical barriers to inclusive research within his community.

“What I know is that some Asian carers and patients do not come forward to participate and those who have stated that their grandparents or parents feel isolated in dealing with their issues because they are controlled by their children. Even those who are in care homes rely on their children to translate and some of them may not be telling the whole truth. Some Asian families with multi-generational households, dependency on relatives, incidences of domestic abuse and language barriers face hurdles for service accessibility. For some, loyalty to family may mean they are reluctant to disclose issues or maybe family members are gate-keeping information and resources by translating for them. So what I am trying to say is that even those health professionals participating in co-production may not have the true picture of the older Asian patients’ feelings and issues.”

In addition to language barriers, the ignorance towards family and cultural values of BAME communities is still reported as a huge concern. Instead of glancing over this as inevitable, though unfortunate, let’s approach it as a direct consequence of a long-held convenience: insisting on jargon-heavy, academic English. Picking the language and tone of research is a great responsibility that can directly add to or challenge the existing inequalities in power and access. We reached out to Meerat to share the experiences of researchers who have worked with BAME communities to understand how we engage these communities can provide useful lessons to ensure we adopt effective approaches to work with these communities.

Prinjha et al’s (2020) research highlighted four important lessons to help us work with and engage people who are seldom heard. They speak of the significance of co-working with community partners, and knowing and having experience of the various languages and cultures of the people who are seldom heard. Many of these points were facilitated by South Asian researchers working with South Asian communities. The fact that these researchers came from some of the communities they were working with helped them be aware of how they were seen and positioned by these people from seldom heard communities. This familiarity also enabled them to sense who they were hearing from and whose experiences they may not be hearing.

Although both examples we’ve included here refer to Asian communities, we know that these obstacles and lessons are applicable in different ways across some other BAME communities. As such, we are planning a part 2 for this blog where we will be focusing specifically on the lack of Black voices in research, exploring why this is and what we can do about it. None of this is to say that anyone should “feel bad” or start apologising. Shame has no place in the equality dialog. There’s absolutely no point in feeling shame when we discover our shortcomings says Dr Ibram X. Kendi explaining how racism and exclusion hurts all of us. The point is that many of us have a choice to let the exclusion go on and accept it as a norm. Which is why the initiative to overcome barriers has to come from those enjoying the comforts of the current system, not from those who are very rarely invited to contribute. Whether in a senior or junior positions, responsibilities have to be acknowledged and steps taken towards inclusive research designs. But how?

Some steps forward

Having our goofy space explorers in mind, their adventures are usually riddled with mistakes and misunderstandings. And yet, the characters are endearing, but not because they are politically correct or even particularly compassionate. In fact, most of the time they are wrong, and the crucial moment comes when they admit this openly. They started the journey because they were curious, but to find anything valuable they had to learn to share power and responsibility as a collective. The moral of all ten Star Wars movies and several hundred Star Trek episodes is that the solution is outside of you and beyond your home turf. Not that Hans Solo was particularly fond of socialising, but he made sure to set up shop in local hubs to get the connections he needed. Savvy research design should prioritise approaching existing groups and networks that attract regular participation from the specific group that will need the end product of the research the most. Inevitably, new insights will likely come from communities whose language is totally different to yours, but if you work together as ‘one team’ and put in place the relevant support for everyone, you can learn to understand. Nothing remotely interesting would happen in these stories if the team was made up of six identical white middle-aged men and one white middle-aged woman, looking out their offices and occasionally throwing out pamphlets that read “Talk to us!”.

Sending out calls for communities to come to the researcher’s base and asking them to describe things in academic terms is not collaboration. Being surprised that the same crowd shows up and blaming the absent for being tricky to track down is similarly unhelpful. But, by taking a leaf from Hans Solo’s book, a new option appears, outlining action that everyone can take:

  • Recruit a team from across the universe (mixed group of people with lived experience, carers, students, patients, healthcare practitioners, and researchers of various disciplines or lobby for these people to be part of your group
  • Navigate with local guidance (talk to organisations already working with these groups and go to them, don’t expect them to come to you)
  • Establish strong alliances along the way and be sure to keep those relationships going (invest time and resources into building trust, maintaining connections and developing opportunities)
  • Keep exploring new spaces that are not at all far, far away

Interested in co-production? We would love to have you join us as we take on the task of developing the UCL Centre for Co-production. The Centre is due to officially launch in Oct 2020 but before that happens we are working to co-produce all elements of that set up, and ensuring that diverse groups of people continue to be involved is a key part of this work. Please drop Rory an email at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you would like to get involved.

 

Star wars lego figurine

Training to do better is a choice – As Yoda said: If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil. (Photo by Kelly Sikkema)

Reflections and recommendations on co-producing with young people with past mental health difficulties

By ucjunhu, on 9 July 2020

UCL Centre for Co-production co-producers Lindsay Dewa and Anna Lawrence-Jones share their recently launched co-produced research paper and tell us about how the team worked together and all the things that they learnt.

Back in 2018, we were lucky enough to be one of the first pilot projects funded by the UCL Centre for Co-production. We held a sandpit innovation workshop which was all about bringing different people together for a two-day interactive workshop to come up with innovative ideas for projects around hearing loss. Please read a previous blog we wrote about our co-produced project to find out more. Since then we’ve come along to lots of the Centre’s sessions, always learning, sharing and making new connections.

During the same time, Lindsay was leading a qualitative project exploring young people’s perceptions of using technology to detect deteriorating mental health (you can read the research paper, if you’d like to). From the start, we wanted to ensure we had meaningful patient and public involvement throughout. Young people worked with us to come up with the research question building on the McPin Foundation Priority Setting Partnership on children and young people’s mental health, in partnership with James Lind Alliance. Young people were involved in the design, ethics, management, decision-making, data collection, analysis and dissemination stages. The longer we worked with the UCL Centre for Co-production, the more we realised we were actually doing co-production!

In Co-production Week (6-10 July 2020), we wanted to share with you our recently published co-production paper. This is separate to the research paper and reports against the principles of co-production and co-authored with three young people! We hope it’s useful for all the co-producers out there! We wanted to write something practical and this blog summarises our key recommendations.

Who did we co-produce with?

Group of young people in a restaurant

Our co-production group enjoying some deserved R&R time together

We recruited seven young people with past experience of mental health difficulties to a Young People’s Advisory Group (YPAG). Three became co-researchers and were involved in every stage of the project, including conducting interviews with young people with current mental health difficulties and coding the interview transcripts. To up-skill the co-researchers, they underwent two full days of face-to-face training focused on theory and hands-on practice. We acted out different interview scenarios and the co-researchers fed back how Lindsay, as the interviewer, handled different situations. Then the young people took turns as an interviewer and interviewee. They also observed each other to debrief on how it went. After the training, they were given homework to familiarise themselves with the interview questions and topic guide, and to practice interviews with friends.

During the data collection stage, they first shadowed the researcher carrying out an interview, then were shadowed doing an interview and then did an interview alone. After each interview we reflected, gave personalised feedback, including what went well and what improvements could be made, and discussed any safeguarding issues. The debrief was usually in a local cafe over a coffee! We had a clinician on call during the interviews, in case the co-researchers or participants needed support.

Two young people, one person is interviewing the other with 2 other people observing

Co-researchers carrying out role play in the interview training

What was the impact?

We found it really valuable to self-reflect, using a programme called Evernote throughout the project. We also gathered feedback from the young people (either through feedback forms or discussions) about their experience at each research stage; their views on how they thought they impacted the research; and, what we could have done differently to support them. The co-researchers gained new skills, grew in confidence and co-presented with us at an international conference.

“It also really impacted me; knowing you’ve played a part in something that will likely affect others going through what you’ve been through is a really rewarding experience. And off the back of this project, I’ve actually started computer coding and will be starting a master’s in computer science.” Quote from co-researcher, Caroline.

The co-researchers came up with novel ways of recruiting research participants, such as a lunch meet and greet in a mental health setting, as they said if it had been them, they would have been encouraged to sign up if they had an opportunity to meet the researchers and ask questions before the interview. Research impact was demonstrated by the co-researchers’ ability to rapidly develop a rapport with interviewees, appropriately probe deeper during the interviews and understand terminology that surfaced, due to their personal experiences. During the data analysis stage, when we develop codes (a word or phrase to summarise or tag a section of the interview data) and co-produced the thematic map, there were many new codes that the young people added, removed or edited from the researchers’ ideas.

A whiteboard with writing in both black and green (from the young people involved) writing on it

Our thematic map (a map showing themes) – the green text represents the changes from the young people

What did we learn?

This process taught us a lot. Some of the main things we learned were:

  1. It is important to build an environment that is safe and open. Offering support, taking time to build relationships and sharing things about yourself, allows others to open up.
  2. Regular communication is key. A WhatsApp group works well to not only build relationships, but puts all communication in one searchable thread, and allows everyone to be involved in decisions.
  3. There is a need to involve several service users, healthcare professionals and researchers, as co-production can be time-intensive. This also ensures key stakeholder voices are represented if anyone has competing commitments.
  4. The same co-researchers should be involved in the overall management and dissemination of the project, as well as doing the research, as they develop key knowledge of the project delivery.
  5. It is useful to have a sounding board to discuss challenges as they arise; this can be done between the lead researcher and patient involvement lead or a mentor external to the project. All projects might have different challenges due to co-production being about people and relationships.
  6. Get all team members to reflect throughout the process and feedback, so that issues are surfaced, any issues are addressed and impact of the co-production is captured.
  7. Ensure safeguarding for the co-researchers and participants, by having mental health first aiders and clinicians as part of your team.
  8. For interviews, co-researchers could be paired to participants with similar experiential knowledge, as they may be able to understand specific language in interviews more deeply and can therefore probe more. Co-researchers should code the interviews that they did.
  9. Recognise that it’s ok for some roles to fall to specific people due to their skills and capacity. For example, the lead researcher managed the budget and logistics, as well as the training so as not to burden the young people.
  10. It’s useful to have someone to help with all the logistics of organising meetings and paying the young people for their time. We felt that each task should be paid according to the INVOLVE guidelines.
  11. Have a flexible budget, as co-production often takes longer than you expect. The young people came up with new ideas as we went along.

This project was a brilliant opportunity for us to use learnings from our UCL Centre for Co-production Pilot project. We are already applying what we’ve learnt to our current project, the CCopeY study, which is exploring young people’s mental health and coping styles during and after the COVID-19 lockdown. Watch this space!

The study was run at the NIHR Imperial Patient Safety Translational Research Centre (funded by the National Institute for Health Research). Contact the research lead Lindsay at l.dewa@imperial.ac.uk if you would like to hear more.

New Ways of Seeing: Printmaking as an Introduction to University

By Caroline Francis, on 8 July 2020

This post is the sixth in a series about the Printmaking Project, which is part of a programme for secondary schools in east London. It is written by Nia Fekri, a final year BA student at the Slade School of Fine Art. Read the rest of this entry »

A workshop surrounded by bones: Inspiring the next generation

By Caroline Francis, on 1 July 2020

This post is the second in a series on the Bio-robotics and Animal Movement Project, which is part of an outreach programme for secondary schools and colleges in east London.

Bio-Inspired Robotics Workshop at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 28th, June. 2018.

“What is a baculum? And which animals have one?” Carolyn Thompson gives the answer and shares her experience of leading the Animal Movement Workshop in her blog.

“Wow!” exclaim a huddle of school students looking around in awe as they bundle into University College London’s (UCL) Grant Museum of Zoology.

The Grant Museum houses more than 68,000 zoological specimens covering every wall. There are bones of the flightless dodo, jars filled with preserved moles, and an intact quagga skeleton (an extinct sub-species of zebra).

The Animal Movement workshop, part of the cross-curricular Bio-robotics project, is delivered by an interdisciplinary team. My name is Carolyn Thompson and I am a PhD student in the School of Life and Medical Science in The Faculty of Life Sciences studying the world’s rarest apes in Asia and I lead the workshop.

Bio-Inspired Robotics Workshop at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 28th, June. 2018.

As Maisha says in her blog, the students learn the biology and physics behind animal locomotion before building and programming a bio-inspired robot back at their schools. As well as exploring how different animals, such as the Japanese spider crab, a Portuguese man of war and seal move, the workshop enriches the school curriculum, gives a taste of life at university and, most importantly, is fun!

I was in my first year of my PhD when I was saw this inspiring position advertised. Passionate about learning and education, as well as working across departments, I jumped at the opportunity. My main role is delivering the workshop, ensuring everything runs smoothly and the learning goals are met.

I have experience working with young people, so I knew roughly what to expect: energy, excitement and enthusiasm. Luckily, I also harbour all three of these in abundance. I tailor my delivery based on the size, age and knowledge of the group; younger and larger groups require more structure and energy to ensure the 2-hour session flows smoothly and efficiently. Smaller and older groups appear to have more questions requiring detailed answers.

I always love the unexpected questions to keep me on my toes, requiring me to rack the far corners of my brain to dig up material I have not earthed in years.

“What is a baculum? And which animals have one?” A Year 9 student once asked me quizzically.

The baculum, also referred to as the ‘penis bone’, is found in certain mammals. Answering this question was a fun challenge and had all the students giggling by the end.

Other questions such as, “is a chicken a mammal?”, are much easier to answer and gives the group the opportunity to discuss what constitutes a mammal and remind themselves of previous biology lessons.

Bio-Inspired Robotics Workshop at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London.

I am a huge advocate of object-based learning. There are no shortages of objects in the GMZ for the students to feast their eyes upon. The workshop is made up of two discussion sessions, a treasure hunt, and four activity sessions involving real specimens.

Who does not love a treasure hunt? Even the teachers join in! The museum fills with the bustling energy of 20-30 students as they bound around the museum to find all the clues before their time limit is up.

One clue states, “brachiation means arm swinging and is a type of locomotion used by some primates for travelling between trees” and asks the students to find the primate. As a primatologist (a scientist who studies apes and monkeys), I am obviously biased when I say this is my favourite clue.

Skeleton of a gibbon, UCL Grant Museum.

The students eventually stumble across the correct specimen, a gibbon and the smallest of the apes. I adopted one of the gibbon skeletons in the Grant Museum and called it Buddy, so named as it always assists me with my teaching whether that be for school or university groups. In return, my financial contribution goes towards the maintenance and preservation of the museums specimens.

I love seeing the students’ eyes widen as I tell them that gibbons are the fastest of all the apes, able to build up speeds of 55 km/h (34 mph) and clear distances of 12 m with one swing!

After the workshop, the students are taken on a guided tour of UCL. Overhearing them say, “I want to come to university!” feels like a pat on the back. The whole experience is supposed to present them with options, showing them what can be achieved with hard work, determination and passion.

Whatever path they choose, I hope they will remember the unique experience they had in the Grant Museum delivered by me and my teaching Buddy.

Delivering this workshop to a diverse mix of students has made me a better deliverer, communicator and organiser; skills which I now take on to my next role as Animal Conservation lecturer at a well-known zoological institution.

Black Lives Matter: listening, hearing, planning for change.

By ucyllcr, on 28 June 2020

This post is by Director of Engagement (UCL Culture), Laura Cream.


Like many others across the world, we as the Engagement team have begun to look at ourselves and the university we work in afresh in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement – and we know that our self-scrutiny is well overdue.

I joined UCL in 2012, moving from a tiny voluntary sector organisation focused on challenging discrimination against disabled people in society to join UCL: a vast and complex institution more than 13,000 staff and 42,000 students from 150 countries. Eight years on I now lead the team that has evolved from the one I joined in 2012 and, when asked, I still describe my role as I did then: principally one of culture change around what it means to be an academic and what role a university can and should play in society.  I remember being told by my boss that one of the reasons why I was appointed is because I told the interview panel that I planned to concentrate on opening up the university to voices that just weren’t being heard – within research, teaching and more. So what progress have we really made? And where do I and my team need to do so much more, particularly when it comes to hearing and acting on the voices of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals and communities?

Much of my recent energy has been ploughed into the development of a new UCL strategy for Public and Community Engagement. The current draft includes a commitment to being a university which is responsive and relevant to diverse communities, particularly those whose voices are heard less often. It also explicitly highlights communities and the agencies which support them as one of the partners who will help UCL coproduce its engagement blueprint of the future . It calls for action to expand our practice as a respectful and ethical partner.

This was informed both by my reading of the 2018 Common Cause report and recommendations stemming from two years of looking in depth at the landscape of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) community-university partnerships, and my perception of the systemic issues which are perpetuating inequalities across UCL and Higher Education in general. If you haven’t read the Common Cause report yet then you definitely should. As David Lammy, Shadow Justice Secretary, so eloquently put it on 15 June in relation to the Government’s plan for a government commission to examine racial inequalities:

“There have been countless reports and the data exists exposing all the issues. Now is the time for urgent action.”

So the very least I can do is to continue pushing for UCL to prioritise acting on the Common Cause data and to put it even more front and centre within that work.

In 2014 I attended what was, for me, a seminal UCL event entitled “Why isn’t my professor black?” at which the experiences of black students and staff, from UCL and other universities, were shared and palpable anger expressed at the intractable pace of change. Perhaps understandably the conversation then – and at the more recent 2019 “Is Racial Equality Real @UCL” event – focused on systemic racism as it applies to research, teaching and admissions. Which academics’ careers do and don’t progress and what type of activity is rewarded. In teaching: whose lives and whose perspective are studied. Which students gain entry to UCL and what is the nature of their experience when they get here. I think mine was a lone voice that day raising the point of race and racism in relation to the university’s engagement work and its responsibilities to ensure equality of access to Black and Ethnic Minority communities but there are of course many UCL colleagues who are also committed and active in this area.

Beyond the strategic work, however, I’m newly asking myself how we can increase the capacity of our own team, and of the whole institution to hear what is being asked of us; whether in relation to Black Lives Matter and how we take action to combat systemic racism or by BAME communities who have told the Higher Education Sector time and time again that the current system is shutting them out and needs to change.

I’ve found myself thinking a lot about listening and hearing and the difference between them. With our friends in the Students’ Union UCL Volunteering Service we have set up the Listen and Respond initiative to increase awareness of the priority needs of London communities impacted by COVID19, particularly those closest to our campuses in Camden and east London, and to mobilise the UCL community activity in response. But recent weeks, and the actions and voices of many other people, are making me realise that I have a hearing problem I need to address.

I’m conscious that my own hearing is becoming more acute thanks to the voices and actions of Black Lives Matters protesters, and of members of my own team (for whose contribution I am very grateful). I’m also aware of the outstanding work of many UCL colleagues whose commitment to race equality and action to highlight and dismantle institutional and systemic racism should inspire us all to do more ourselves. I attended the first UCL Inclusion Awards in February 2020 and was blown away by the work of Nick Anim and Kamna Patel from the Bartlett and of all their fellow award winners. Just this week I have been further sharpening my hearing by delving into the ‘Race and Space’ new curriculum resource produced by Bartlett and Institute of Education academics.

The irony and inequity of the Engagement Team – who are predominantly permanent staff, all of whom are white – being tasked with championing engagement with communities as diverse as those in London – is at the forefront of my mind. I am committed to working with my colleagues to think long and hard about what else we could and should be doing – not least to welcome into our own team people who can continue to help us improve our hearing over the long term.

So, as a team we are taking the next two weeks to collate ideas on what action we can take and then we’ll come together to review what can be done now and what we focus on for the future. I’ll also be keeping a close eye on how I strengthen the draft institutional strategy to embedding equalities work as a core principle within it.

As always, we commit to sharing our thoughts and the actions which will result with you and we will welcome your comment and, more importantly, your challenge. If you have thoughts, opinions or suggestions for actions we could take or further resources we should review please email the team. These will be incorporated into our ongoing reflections, actions and understanding.

Schools, students and UCL East: Bio-Robotics Project

By Caroline Francis, on 26 June 2020

Photo of Maisha and student examining specimen at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 28th, June. 2018.

Hi everyone, my name is Maisha and I am currently a final year student at UCL, studying BASc Arts and Sciences. I have been a part of the Bio-Robotics project for nearly 3 years now and I have really enjoyed being involved, particularly as I have got to be part of the evolution of the project and also because I have seen the real benefit the project has been to school children across London.

The Bio-Robotics project is a collaborative widening participation project between UCL Culture and the UCL Computer Science department. Its main aim is to inspire school children to transform their understanding of what Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects look like at university level. The project has two parts. First, the students attend a workshop at the UCL Grant Museum of Zoology and second, they are provided with kits to build a robotic caterpillar at school. Putting both parts together, school children should come away from the project having an interdisciplinary understanding of what can be done when we merge different STEM subjects together such as computer science and biology.

Photo of Maisha helping student locate specimens around the museum during the Bio-Inspired Robotics Workshop at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 28th, June. 2018.

The workshop at the Grant Museum is my favourite part of the project as it is what I help run and teach. Around 30 children come to the Grant Museum in each session and as soon as they enter, they are amazed and intrigued by all the wonderful specimens on display all around the museum. The museum was founded by Robert Grant in 1829 and is home to 68,000 specimens, preserved and exhibited in the museum. The workshop we lead allows children to think about how different animals move and how these movements might be useful to consider when building their own bio-inspired robots. We also challenge their conventional ideas of what a robot is, and also who can be a scientist.

One of the first activities is a museum trail in which the children are given clues and have to locate specimens all around the museum, such as a jar of moles, a Japanese spider crab and a gibbon. The next activities in the museum are designed to help children understand how different aspects of biology and anatomy help individuals move, such as bone strength, skeleton anatomy, pentadactyl limbs and vertebrae. I have found that most students are really engaged with the discussions and inspired by the quirky and intriguing nature of the museum. All the activities are very practical and there is limited time spent just listening to a presentation, which I find is the reason for high levels of engagement. The students are really interested and involved with the activities because they are the right balance of fun and stimulating. Our most common questions about the specimens are “Are they real?” and they definitely are!

Photo of Maisha helping student with an activity during the Bio-Inspired Robotics Workshop at UCL’s Grant Museum of Zoology, London, 28th, June. 2018.

My interests for being involved in this project are primarily because of my degree, Arts and Sciences, which is all about the intersection of academic disciplines to create solutions to global issues and this project uses multiple disciplines to explore robots and animals. I love that the students get to see this unconventional side of university and how a lot of research is based on the culmination of different subjects coming together. I also really enjoy working with school-aged children and promoting university to students who may have the wrong image of what university is actually like. I love that the project has allowed me to develop my skills and step out of my comfort zone, as I initially started as someone who was supporting the workshop and then developed the confidence to co-teach the workshop. The experience has made me consider a career in public engagement in museums. Last summer, I was also given the chance to co-organise a Science Festival at Petchey Academy, a school that took part in the project and wanted to do more to promote STEM at their school in collaboration with our project. This was an amazing and valuable experience to be given the responsibility to organise and it was great for my own personal development.

In my opinion, it is incredibly important to create projects that challenge students’ conventional ideas about what studying science looks like, especially within a museum and university setting. It is important to promote university as a potential future option for all, especially children from disadvantaged areas that may not have the confidence or support networks to consider attending university in the future. It is important for a child to interact with a university student like myself, a female and a person of colour, and understand that university is accessible for all and an enriching experience. This is the most valuable part of the project for me and I am very proud and pleased to be a part of such a wonderful project.

The Bio-Robotics Project is part of the UCL East School’s programme run by UCL Culture and supported by the Access and Widening Participation programme.

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/projects/bio-robotics

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/culture/schools/special-projects

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/widening-participation/ 

Co-creating our strategy: get involved!

By Lizzie, on 22 June 2020

As a community, we’ve been co-producing the development of the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research since 2017. Most of this has been through our co-creation sessions, but we’re now ready to try some different methods alongside these, starting with the process of co-creating our strategy.

Whether you’re brand new to co-production, have been part of the Centre since the start, or are somewhere in between, please get involved! Read on to find out more. 

Hold on there – what is a strategy and why do we need one?

Good question! A strategy is a statement of who we are, why we exist, and what we’re working towards. It covers our core purpose, what makes us distinctive and where we fit in the wider world. The process of developing the strategy is as important as the strategy itself; we’re taking time to stop and ask ourselves some big questions – What are we trying to achieve? How will we get there? – and co-create the answers. It’s the right time to do this as we’re planning to launch the Centre in October, so having our strategy ready to go will help us set a clear direction. Our Wellcome Trust funding also comes to an end in 2021, so we are planning a two year strategy (2020-2022) to cover this period as we work towards becoming financially sustainable. A strategy will help us make decisions, communicate our strengths, and secure funding.

Our strategy will help set our direction (c. Javier Allegue Barros, Unsplash)

Haven’t there already been some co-creation sessions?

Yep – since 2017 we’ve had loads of them! And everything we’ve co-created so far has informed our activity up to now (e.g. funding pilot projects), and will continue to do so as we move forward. All this co-creation work is also contributing to the strategy process, along with two strategy-specific co-creation sessions which took place earlier this month.

In those sessions, we worked through different aspects which will be included in the final strategy, including thinking far ahead into the future (2035), then a little closer (2022), then to the present day, and starting to join the dots in between those scenarios.

In the first session, we used different activities to start answering the following questions:

  • Our vision – how do we want the world to be? – what will the world be like in 2035 if our work has been successful?
  • Our mission – how will we get there? – what progress do we want to make by 2022?

Then in the second session, we worked through these questions in order:

  • What are we already doing well?
  • What more needs to happen?
  • How can we make this happen?

You can read more reflections on the sessions here. We have lots of ideas and are definitely making progress, but we want to open up the process so that more of you can share your thoughts and build on the work so far.

Interesting… how can I get involved now then?

We used a platform called Miro, which is like a giant virtual whiteboard, to put our ideas together.  We have opened up the board so that anyone with the link can go in and read what’s there, and add their own comments. You can access the board here (although it will be easier if you read the HOW TO guide before you dive in!).

The board is split into two sections. Section 1 shows you all the other relevant work that’s taken place since 2017 and will be feeding into the strategy development process. As you’ll see, there’s a lot! It’s for you to read, if you’re interested and in case it’s useful to inform your co-creation, but don’t worry if you don’t have time.

Overview of our Miro board

An overview of all the information on our Miro board

Section 2 displays the outputs from the two strategy-specific co-creation sessions and three ‘actions’ where you can build on that work and co-create with us.

  1. Which vision statements stand out to you?
    Which TWO statements do you think are most important for the Centre to work towards in the longer term? We’re limiting it to two because (as much as we’d like to!) we can’t include everything and need to prioritise. The other information won’t be lost though, it will feed into the wider strategy.
  2. What do you want to see by 2022?
    Tell us which of the ideas you think are most important for us to work towards in the shorter term.
  3. How are we going to get there?
    Add your thoughts, reflections and ideas, responding to the questions:

    1. What are we already doing well?
    2. What more needs to happen?
    3. How can we make this happen?

There are more detailed instructions about how to get into Miro, how to move around, and how to co-create in this HOW TO guide. Please read this first!

We’re asking everyone to contribute by Monday 6th July at the latest, so we can start working on the next phase of the strategy based on your co-creation.

The co-creation section on our Miro board

What if I don’t want to contribute online, or I can’t?

That’s not a problem at all. You can just look at the Miro board and then email us or we can arrange a call to share your thoughts, instead of commenting on the page. If Miro isn’t for you, then please drop us an email (coproduction@ucl.ac.uk), message us on Twitter, or give us a call, and we can arrange to either email or post documents for you to read however you’d prefer.

What will happen next?

There will be another co-creation session later this summer, where we’ll present a draft version of the strategy based on everyone’s contributions. We’ll refine that together, before sharing another version in the same way we’re doing here, for those not in the session. Finally, we’ll put some finishing touches on it and get it ready for the big launch in October!

This work is part of a bigger package of Centre activity in the run-up to the launch, so there will be more co-creation opportunities coming soon too. In the meantime, if you fancy it please join us for a Co-pro Cuppa session (info on how to join is enclosed) to mark #CoProductionWeekEngland2020 – we look forward to a natter with you!

Ok, I’m ready!

Great! Here is the HOW TO guide again – please read this first!

Here is the link to Miro where you can read and comment to your heart’s content!

Please do get in touch if you want to access the content differently, need help, or would prefer to talk through your reflections with us.

Finally, don’t forget – we need your responses by Monday 6th July at the latest. Thank you!

Ooh, one last thing – what if I have another question?

You know where we are! Email coproduction@ucl.ac.uk and Rory, Niccola or Lizzie will get back you as soon as possible.

Learning from our virtual co-creation: accessibility and adaptability

By Rory, on 21 June 2020

This blog was written by Scott, one of our co-producers, and Rory, the project co-ordinator for the Centre. We share the learning from the two ‘Co-creating Our Strategy’ virtual sessions held in early June 2020. 

Thoughts from Scott

For those of you that don’t know me I’m Scott. I’m a father, a husband and an all around easy going individual. I am also passionate about the co-production of services and in particular how we can increase the accessibility or inclusivity of co-production to as many people as possible. This passion was really spurred in me after 2007 when I suffered a major Stroke which caused me to lose my vision overnight and suffer serious physical impairments, aspects of which are still present almost 14 years on. I went from being a very privileged white middle class male who was very physically active, where no door was ever not open to me to being in a position (still white, very privileged and middle class) of finding that some doors were beginning to close on me due to my impairments. It is for this reason that I have made it one of my missions to improve accessibility and inclusivity wherever possible and in particular in co-production.

Scott and his daughter at home.

The picture shows Scott at home with his daughter who is wearing a lovely floral dress.

I was lucky enough to be part of the UCL Centre for Co-production’s virtual co-creation sessions of their new strategy on the 3 and 8 June (when we say ‘strategy’ we mean a statement of who we are, why we exist, and what we’re working towards. It covers our core purpose, what makes us distinctive and where we fit in the wider world). These were fantastic sessions that happened over Zoom that brought together a group of individuals from different backgrounds to discuss the aims and strategy of the centre going forward. These sessions were a showcase in technical wizardry utilising features such as break-out rooms and virtual white boards to replicate the main stay of any co-creation session… the sticky note. Since these sessions I have been reflecting on their accessibility and inclusivity and here are my thoughts:

The use of Zoom

The reasons for using a virtual meeting platform in a pandemic are pretty apparent and as platforms go Zoom is just about the best from an accessibility point of view. Zoom is great at offering fantastically accessible apps on just about any platform going and as a participant all of this is completely free. The Centre team also did some really great things to further increase the accessibility of the platform, including running a live transcription plug-in for anybody that was hard of hearing which allowed them to read what the presenters were saying in real time. Another great thing that the Centre team offered was to help fund the cost of internet connectivity for anybody for whom this might be an issue. I am lucky in that I have a high level of technical literacy to be able to use a platform such as this, but my concern is that we could be excluding a large sector of the population whose voices we need to hear by moving completely online for our co-production needs. Please have a read of the Co-creating our Strategy blog (once it is live) which outlines some ways that the Centre are working to address this.

Virtual whiteboards

Another great feature of these sessions was the use of a virtual whiteboard to replicate the ubiquitous sticky note. Although a fantastic resource for the sighted individuals in the group unfortunately this platform was completely inaccessible to my screenreader. This was not the fault of the organisers, I have been on a quest to try every virtual whiteboard product and unfortunately they all seem to be lacking in accessibility. I have been doing lots of thinking about viable alternatives to this and the thing I keep coming back to is the good old fashioned spreadsheet. Each cell could represent one sticky note, cells can be different colours and we are now at the stage technologically where we can have multiple people editing a spreadsheet at the same time so that we do not lose the collaborative aspect of the virtual whiteboard. Sure it may not look as aesthetically pleasing but nothing is stopping us from exporting the spreadsheet into virtual sticky notes for presentation purposes.

Is virtual co-production the answer to increasing our reach?

One of the things I have read about a lot online recently is how virtual co-production is the silver bullet and although I think it offers us immense gains we need to urge immense amounts of caution. I am part of the team organising the next Co-production Network session on 14th July (email coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you would like to attend) and one of the questions I am really keen for us to discuss is ‘how do we ensure that virtual co-production is as inclusive as possible?’ We need to be very careful that we don’t go down the rabbit hole of it being a homogeneous group of individuals who have the equipment, finances and know-how to attend an online get-together. I am also really keen to state that, done well, virtual co-production could be the best opportunity we have of drawing on the experiences of people who are not able to attend face-to-face meetings. This could be for a range of reasons – geography, social isolation, health needs – but either way, they do not take a seat at the table and their voices are not heard.

Ten of our 25 attendees consider some difficult questions during the Co-creation Session of 8th of June 2020.

A screenshot from our Zoom call on the 8 June, showing eight participants with their video turned on and two who are joining through audio only. The screen also shows a big virtual white board with coloured sticky notes.

Over to Rory 

To close off this post, I wanted to add a few words about what I’ve learned from attending these sessions. Ahead of the Co-creating Our Strategy Session on the 3 June, we shared a timeline of our development called The Story So Far (if the content on the page is too small please zoom in using the plus symbol in the bottom right of your screen). We also asked our members before the event to imagine a future scenario and share feedback, so we could discuss them further on the 3 June. The scenario was this:

It is 2022 and the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research is going from strength to strength. You are delighted by where we’ve got to! What excites you the most?

It was great to see so many people email us before the session to share initial thoughts about this scenario, which provided an excellent starting point for a structured debate with more targeted questions. In addition, to the signature informal atmosphere of our co-production sessions, I’ve found these thought-provoking questions to be most helpful when collaborating to write a strategy as we are. For our second Co-creating Our Strategy session on the 8 June, we did not have a future scenario to consider beforehand. The aim was to take what the first session had produced and think about the practical steps we need to take to get to those goals. So, it was instrumental that the first session had already laid the groundwork for the second. My favourite question was about an imaginary headline in the future about the Centre. It gave us a lot of creative liberty to work with without making the mighty task of coming up with a vision statement too jargon-heavy.

Attendees from the Blue Room take turn to answer the questions from Jane, who is first typing them into an Excel spreadsheet and then copying them onto the MIRO board, where they become post-it notes!

A screenshot from one of the breakout rooms on the 3rd of June. We can see four people’s videos as they take turn answering the questions asked by a facilitator. The comments are typed into a spreadsheet and then transported to the virtual whiteboard. Then the facilitator moves on to the next room and shows the comments and asks the same question.

Delivery of the sessions

Unlike our previous virtual sessions, the strategy co-creation events have been delivered using Miro boards to instantly capture the discussion and map out our thoughts. This was done with the help of Jane and Lucy from Involve4Impact, and Chris and Danny from Co:Create. They each had different questions to ask the attendees, who were split into random groups. As before, we used the Zoom feature of breakout rooms to arrange these groups but with the added bonus of having a facilitator join each team to help tease out important information. I was in the Blue Room on the 3 June and was thoroughly impressed by this rotation act. Of course, as with any Zoom call, there were some tiny glitches but we were all patient, and sure enough the technical hiccups like spontaneously frozen screens were resolved quickly. I felt like I could really concentrate on answering the questions without having to worry about the logistics of how my comment will be captured and how it will be made part of something bigger. The facilitators typed up the comments as each member of our team shared their thoughts. Each comment then became a little blue sticky note on a giant virtual whiteboard. We saw this process because each facilitator was sharing their screen with us as they were working on the board. Crucially, we were asked if there’s anything else we’d like to add or change. I think this is particularly difficult to achieve in a virtual meeting, especially with the time limits that the facilitators had: once time was running out, a comment flashed on the screen telling us that they will be whisked way in a few seconds.

Planning adequate time for breaks is another key element of a successful virtual co-creation session. There is only so much time one can spend staring at a screen without losing focus. But, having even as “few” as twenty people on a call at the same time is extremely stimulating mentally. That’s twenty voices, twenty changing expressions, twenty backdrops giving a peek into homes that you most likely would never see otherwise. We are concentrating on very strategic questions but we are also taking in actual emotions and experiences. I felt like I was reading twenty books at the same time – it was exciting but the tea breaks came at just the right time to allow for everything I just heard to really sink in. It was also a great opportunity for those of us who wanted to just have a light chat with the other attendees and get to know each other more.

A view of the main room during a Co-reation Session in June, including a lively chat box.

Twenty-five attendees shown in one screenshot with the chat box visible to the left. The chat box discussion is momentarily hijacked by the delivery of Lego to Mandy’s home.

The two sessions have not only been an opportunity for active learning but were also greatly successful in formulating our vision and mission statements and highlighting priorities. Probably my favourite part of the whole experience was when we all, including the facilitators, had to take a vote on the two most important goals from a list of sticky notes complied from the first session. We were asked to do this early on during the session, almost like an introduction: just our name and the numbers of the two statements that speak to us the most. Niccola asked us to write down the numbers first and then show it to the camera or type it in the chat – I thought that was very quick, straightforward, wholesome, and democratic. These are not the words I would use to describe strategic meetings I have been involved in previously.

What’s next?

Through this creative process and with your help, we now have a draft strategy piece that is now open for for input from anyone who would like to co-produce with us – have a read of the Co-creating our Strategy blog (once it is live) to find out how you can get involved.

There will also be other co-creation opportunities coming up soon – watch this space! In the meantime, if you fancy it please join us for a Co-pro Cuppa session (info on how to join is enclosed) to mark #CoProductionWeekEngland2020 – we look forward to a natter with you!

If you also attended 3 and or 8 June, please be sure to comment below and share your thoughts.

Thank you!

Scott & Rory

 

It’s not enough to say black lives matter. Time for academia to show it!

By ucjunhu, on 21 June 2020

Cristina & Niccola from UCL Centre for Co-production have had numerous conversations over the past few weeks about the #BlackLivesMatter movement, about the need for the Centre to reflect and academia to change its behaviours and how we can all help make this happen.

Photo is of a t.shirt which says – Human Beings, colours may vary – with multi coloured writing (Image credit: Ohh Clothing)

“For me saying #BlackLivesMatter is like the equivalent to begging others to recognise me, to give me credence and to validate me for being me. I refuse to do that – when I already know that I more than matter. Who exactly am I asking for validation? A system that is built on what? Maintained by what? I am tired of hearing and feeling the pain of my brothers ‘n’ sisters worldwide”. Tracie McCollin

Tracie, goes on to say:

“Dear White people,
You need to act, you need to be proactive in reforming, transforming and changing your systems. The system as Bob (Marley) said – that holds one race superior over others. This battle isn’t ours, you all have to make that change, and you hold the power not us. We can make the noise. We can march. But it’s down to you. I challenge you and hold you accountable for the change”.

Thoughts from Niccola

I was horrified by the death of George Floyd, as were people around the world. But feelings aren’t enough; in order to bring about change we need to take action. I want to take action. What has been done to date is not enough, not enough people or organisations, particularly within universities and research, recognise or demonstrate that black lives matter in the way that they act and in the policies, and systems that they put in place.

The figures show that:

“Fewer than 1% of the professors employed at UK universities are black and few British universities employ more than one or two black professors”. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

The work of Nicola Rollock, Staying Power: The career experiences and strategies of UK Black female professors adds to this:

“A culture of explicit and passive bullying persists across higher education along with racial stereotyping and racial microaggressions”.

As a white woman living in the UK I’m sure I’ve gained from white privilege without even realising it. Whether this was conscious or unconscious bias on the part of the person favouring me it is wrong and extremely maddening. I consider myself to be in the transformational zone of the ‘Becoming anti-racist’ diagram (see image below); I always try to actively challenge the structural racism in the institutions and systems around us. I am conscious to check and challenge myself in everything I do to try ensure that I remain here. Racism in whatever form is not OK and should be challenged at every turn. As the wife of a Black Londoner and mother of our child, making sure that change happens and soon, this is deeply personal for me. It matters on so many levels.

Please challenge yourself to think about your community or the organisation you work for, as to where you sit on the image below and if it isn’t the growth or transformational zone, you need to question why.

Circular model of Becoming anti-racist, there are 4 zones that make up the model – Fear, Learning, Growth and Transformational zones. (Image credit: Dr. Andrew M. Ibrahim via Gita Ramdharry PhD @gitaramdharry)

At the Centre for Co-production, we are always striving for equality, diversity and inclusivity. We want to ensure that everyone, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, background, ability, or wealth, is able to get involved in the work that we do. We also recognise that people do not live “single issue lives” and may experience challenges to inclusion in more than one way. This intersectionality is something that we also need to reflect on. ‘Our principles to live by’ underpin everything we do and we work hard to live up to them by disrupting traditional power dynamics, breaking down barriers, and ensuring participation is an option for anyone (such as paying for internet data so people can join Zoom calls). However, one of our principles is to ‘check and challenge throughout’ recognising that we’re not always going to get it right, and we need to do this when it comes to the diversity of people who are actually joining us, especially in relation to race. We aren’t doing enough.

Outlined below in the ‘So, what about the UCL Centre for Co-production?’ section, is what we are going to do as a Centre to change this, to play our part in changing academia for the better.

Thoughts from Cristina

Over the years, I have had people directly insult me due to my Portuguese heritage, because of the slavery link. This has always given me a heavy heart knowing that our water irrigation system, the levadas, that many tourists visit, were built by black slaves with many dying in the process. Madeirans, the people from Madeira not mainland Portugal, have always been the ‘throw backs’ and seen as low status peasants. We used to be one of the poorest states of Portugal and the people were oppressed living under the dictator Salazar for 40 years. My parents left before the revolution of 1974, however I was brought up very much in the traditions of Madeira but right here in North London. Madeirans have attributes and mannerisms from colonised countries including Mozambique, Angola and Cape Verde. Food such as puff puffs from Ghana are so like our ‘sonhos’ meaning dreams. This dreamer attitude reflects the mass emigration from the island as so many were terribly poor and dreamt of better lives. An island just 500 km off the coast of North Africa and just up from the Gold Coast where much of the cuisine is similar to our own traditional dishes.

I have always been curious about my ancestry, being from an island which was only discovered 600 years ago. Both of my parents left their family homes by the time they were 9, they are from very different parts of the island yet both found themselves growing up in the city of Funchal. They were under 10 years old not even teenagers yet living and working in other people’s homes; my mother a maid, my father the ‘cow boy’ (literally a boy with cows as there are few horses in Madeira). My father’s earlier childhood was so unsettling he still rarely speaks about it and therefore beyond our grandparents’ names we know little else. The family who took him in are ‘our family’; maybe that’s where our love for people not related by blood comes from. The ability to bond with others, more than with some of my many blood relations (I have around 50 1st cousins scattered across the world).

There has always been a sense of not being sure of what our history is, maybe that’s why growing up I leant towards people that were similar in that sense, not in colour but in family experience – children of emigrants in search of a better life. When my father left Madeira in 1970 my sister was 1 month old. He left in search of work, first in Jersey then onto London with my mother joining him a year later with my sister. Our yearning to try and find out more led to Ancestry DNA tests and although 60% Portuguese from Madeira we discovered we have ancestors linked to Guyana and even a small percentage from Senegal and a non-specific percentage just referred to as North Africa.

Am I mixed race? No more than the next person and no less. But I am rich in diversity and my life experiences have been vast in terms of learning about cultures and the Caribbean islands of old friends from Grenada, Jamaica, Barbados and St Lucia to name a few as well as other countries like Egypt, Ghana and India. I spent many months over a period of 8 years in Goa, another old Portuguese colony, trying to connect with myself.

Do I see myself an ally? No, I’m much more. I see black people and the cultures that come with it as just part of my life, my loved ones, my closest friends and my beloved godsons who lost their mother Diane my best friend of 26 years last summer, they are ‘my family’. To call them just friends and ‘allies’ feels to me like an insult and disrespectful of our strong lifelong bond.

Unless you have grown and witnessed the unjust ways black people are treated first hand, you cannot begin to understand the journey some people have had to take. Not that I don’t see racism, I do, it cuts me deep. I will always call it out whatever way it comes. I am not scared for myself personally because I would put my life on the line for ‘my family’ – but I am scared for the future of my godsons. With no links to their blood relations (Diane didn’t keep in touch with any) and having only known life in England they are ‘Black British’ men in a time where racism is rife around us.

I have learnt from my ‘brother and sisters’ that I am different, something I never really considered as I was just being me. And I am comfortable with that. I have experienced the backlash for being connected so solidly with ‘my family’ but this I know is a drop in the ocean compared to what goes on worldwide to black people every day.

The protests feel different this time – like there has been a shift in humanity and it’s time to recognise that we all bleed when cut. If you find yourself lost and too scared to say you just don’t understand, then you are already heading for that learning phase, as you recognise the need to be open and aware. My door will always be open for those conversations, you just need to knock so we can deal with the inequalities we see in front of us. ‘My family’ stand strong together with open arms…

Tweet by Cristina which shows an image of – Me, my wife and godsons Kyle and Tyrell. The tweet says: Now Diane has gone RIP these are ‘our’ boys and we are their only family. Once again I repeat #BlackLivesMatter. I will put my life on the line for my family


Do we need white allies? Yes.
We need those with the power to help us challenge and change the status quo. The image below shares a few small things that YOU can do TODAY. Please use the resources shared at the end of this blog to help you act straight away.

Diagram of Authentic Allyship that shows things you need to know/do in order to be an authentic ally. (Image credit: @seerutkchawla via Instagram)


So, what about the UCL Centre for Co-production?

Historically, the people who have felt able to get involved in research has been particularly homogeneous – often White middle-class, men and women. This means that research (and healthcare more broadly) has been shaped towards their priorities and needs, and those from other groups have been neglected. Never has this been more obvious than now, with the disproportionate number of deaths from COVID-19 in the BAME community – worth a read are The Lancet ‘Stereotype Threat’ and ‘Beyond the data: Understanding the impact of COVID-19 on BAME groups’ from Public Health England.

Racial diversity was on our minds even before the #BlackLivesMatter protests erupted again around the world. Pre COVID-19 and lockdown our face-to-face sessions were relatively diverse (53% of our co-producers were White British – if we compare to the regional and national picture we find that over 80% of the population in England and Wales, and 44.9% of the population in London are White British). Despite this, our move to virtual sessions has led to a decrease in the diversity of the groups, specifically in relation to participation of those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. There may well be factors outside of our control that have influenced this, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to try and turn it around, and now.

Please have a read of our UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research Commitment to Change: Diversity & Inclusion.

How can you get involved?

We are holding our next Co-production Network session on 14 July where this will be one of the key topics for discussion and inform our next steps. Please join us if you can! Similarly, if you have any thoughts in relation to how we could make sure we are building a genuinely diverse community of co-producers, please do let us know. You can add a comment below or drop us an email at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk and we can set up a time to chat. Thank you!

We want to learn, make changes and continue to strive for change, together.

So, here are some useful resources to help you

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
The Guide to Allyship
Anti-racism Resources
Practical ways to support #BlackLivesMatter from the UK

We hope we have inspired you to act, thank you! Cristina and Niccola

Cristina Serrao, Lived Experience Ambassador, NHS England/Improvement and UCL Centre for Co-production Co-producer and Allies Group member. Find her on Twitter @acserrao76

Niccola Hutchinson-Pascal, UCL Centre for Co-production, Find her on Twitter @Niccola_CPD

Tracie McCollin
, Eudaimonist, Youthworker, Trauma Mindfulness and Embodiment Coach

With thanks to Mark Agathangelou, Freelance editor/writer for the proof reading help!

Please note: The Centre are aware that the UCL Buildings Naming and Renaming Committee have been asked to start the formal process of considering the current naming of UCL spaces and buildings after prominent eugenicists. As a Centre this is something we are very keen to see the outcome of – we will continue to campaign for all of the names to be changed.

Reflections from the Recovery College on online co-production during COVID-19

By Rory, on 20 June 2020

This blog was written by Ana and Ksenija from the Recovery College, an organisation aiming to break down barriers and reduce the stigma of mental health by emphasising hope, control and opportunity to all members of the Camden and Islington community through their free courses.

Thoughts from Ana

As a Peer Tutor I share my lived experience of mental health or long-term health challenges and/or experience of looking after a friend or a relative with a long term health or mental health condition (being a carer) when delivering training. Recovery Colleges are unique in recognising the value of both Peer and Professional experiences. We also recognise that someone may have both experiences. For example, within your role as a Peer you might identify that you also have the experience, skills, knowledge and qualifications of a professional tutor to teach a particular course, and vice versa.

The transition from face-to-face to online recovery and wellbeing course co-production and co-delivery at the Recovery College has been equally a challenge and a blessing for me.

Co-production via online platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams has enabled us to work together and co-deliver sessions despite working remotely and with minimal IT equipment and resources at times. This new way of working taught me that stepping out of my comfort zone can be an opportunity rather than a nerve-wracking process. Feeling slightly nervous, stressed and even anxious is normal when adjusting to new routines and significant life changes, but also a reassuring sign of our shared humanity to feel emotions of all kinds.

What helped me more than anything in co-production, especially with new tutors, was taking time to get to know each other on a personal level. We talked about our professional and lived experience, our strengths and resources before moving on to course content and structure. Building trust and learning to be patient, accepting, flexible, and kind to both oneself and others in stressful moments is crucial, especially when, for example, technology lets you down or when you need to respond wisely to last minute changes.

For me, a crisis brings not only stress, challenges and grief, but also opportunities for new discoveries, learning and creativity. Learning to let go of wanting things to be a certain way and adjusting to new habits of working, connection and communication requires a great deal of self-awareness, energy, effort, re-evaluation and reflection.

Obviously, our professional and personal lives have been severely disrupted and turned upside down by an unprecedented crisis in a very short time. We had to find new ground that was solid and safe enough to hold us when wobbly, doubting and vulnerable, and able to warn us when we pushed past our limits or resources. I was lucky enough to access this safe space most of the time, which I am very grateful for. Virtual co-production has come with an opportunity to develop new skills, shape new ways of working and meaning-making, and let go of unrealistic expectations and attachments.

My top 10 tips from my direct experience of online course co-production may be of help, especially for those in teaching or training roles:

  1. Discuss mutual expectations and be ready to adjust plans
  2. Get to know and play to each others’ strengths
  3. Remember that virtual communication is tiring for all, so keep it brief and focused
  4. Be patient, kind, and understanding to both yourself and each other at all times
  5. Run through the course content together at least once prior to course delivery
  6. Be ready to encounter unexpected technological glitches and have a back-up plan
  7. Keep co-production meetings and teaching sessions to a maximum of 45 minutes
  8. Plan for a debrief meeting with your co-hosts ASAP after session completion
  9. Resource yourself or focus on self-care both pre and post course delivery if possible
  10. Use your breath as an anchor to stay present and awake in the midst of difficulties, and remember that everything is impermanent, and you are not alone
Ana and Ksenija

The picture shows a screenshot of Ana and Ksenija during a Zoom call. The call was also joined by a cat!

Thoughts from Ksenija

I would like to echo a lot of what Ana has already shared, and add that for me co-production was at the heart of our response to this challenging situation we all share. I have been very much reminded of the time when I was fleeing war in my country of Ex-Yugoslavia in 1994 and how important it was then to be in touch with people and get support from one another. Of course, in those times we didn’t have the technology we do now, so I feel that this is an advantage for us if we learn how to use it wisely.

In April the Camden & Islington Recovery College co-created a Recovery Navigator service with the Trust’s Crisis team. I am very proud of the fact that in a short space of time we managed to co-create the whole service. Half of the College team has taking referrals and calling the most vulnerable people in our community to give them emotional and practical support, signposting them to resources and sharing wellbeing tools we teach at our courses.

As Ana has also said, working online and using the telephone to work with people has increased massively as we have been unable to meet face to face or host groups. Working online and over the phone has been challenging and rewarding at the same time. It has meant we can still be in touch as a team and with our collaborators and people in the community. Seeing people on video meetings made working together feel more joined up and personal, but at the same time it meant there was more preparation involved. It also meant I used self-care tools such as pausing to stretch, breath and have cup of tea to help stay focused for long periods of time.

My three top tips for virtual co-production are:

  1. Be natural in your communication with others
  2. Go for a short walk after a long online session
  3. Give yourself space to connect with your fears and what you find challenging.

To learn more about what we offer at Recovery College, please visit:

Our website – All our online courses are free and open to all.

Our Twitter page @CI_RecoveryColl  Or call the Recovery College main line at 020 3317 6904.