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Co-creation, reflection and challenging the status quo! What’s next for the Centre for Co-pro?

By Niccola, on 20 December 2018

This blog is written by Niccola Hutchison Pascal, reflecting on the year since the Centre for Co-Production in Health Research starting on it’s journey.

Hey everyone 🙂 So I thought it was about time that I share some (of the many!) thoughts spinning around in my head! Sorry for those of you that have already been subjected to my reflective thinking!

Eight flamingos drinking from a lake, their image is reflected in the water they are standing in (Image credit: Scene360.com)

It’s been a little over a year since we started out on this journey to co-produce the set up of the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research… that went quick! As a Centre we want to champion genuine co-production of health research, services and policy development and build a case to support this way of working where there is genuine sharing of power and decision-making. What have we learnt so far? And, what specifically have I learnt? If I had to distil it down to one sentence, I’d say…

Co-production takes commitment but it is oh so worth it! If done in a genuine way the mutual benefit and the visible difference it makes to those involved (including you and me) is immense!

Group session with people discussing Centre development plans – posit notes and papers are all over the table

What are these visible differences am I talking about? As part of the Centre development work, we are working hard to build the ‘case’ for working in this way so that we can start to mobilise more support for the use of co-production in research. It’s early days but I would say it is becoming clear (from our work to date and previous work by others) that… co-production/co-creation improves the practical applicability of outcomes, it builds trust, it improves relationships between all groups involved, and it contributes to more cohesive communities. The communities that we are ALL a part of.

What are some of the challenges?

As with any project, there are always challenges. We are working hard to ensure we are embracing genuine, authentic co-production – we don’t get it right all the time but the key thing is that we are all learning from each other (plus some great projects that are already live) and developing as a team along the way. No judgement or target chasing here! One challenge in particular is ensuring the sharing of power and breaking down of hierarchies. Let’s be honest, UCL is a huge hierarchical institution, and the funding from Wellcome Trust for this project is sitting within it, which has resulted in challenges – people sometimes feel uncomfortable (perhaps due to preconceptions or past experience) to question the organisation and or the way public engagement and patient public involvement has previously been done. How do we break this down, level the playing field and ensure that shared decision-making can take place? Well, if you ask us we would say that we don’t always get it right but we are a team and are open and honest about the challenges, we work through each one as a team until we find a practical solution. We set up co-creation sessions (using facilitated group work) so that everyone in the team knows that their views are of equal importance and has equal chance to have their say. We each have a unique set of skills and experience that we bring to the team. Relationship building and us all feeling we can trust each other, is key to ensuring that we all feel comfortable in pushing the boundaries. In addition, we are regularly talking to people from across UCL and the local community of Somers Town (plus more widely) about the aims and objectives of this project in order to raise it’s profile (more work to do on this in 2019!). UCL are 100% committed to this work (and the large amount more that we need to do!) and as a team of collaborators, we are clear that we want to challenge the status quo within health research – full stop.

Illustration of the different roles in a co-production team (Credit: Beth Ingram, Common Room)

Back in August we assessed applications and chose (as a mixed group of Centre collaborators that included patients, carers, local residents, students, researchers, and healthcare professionals) to fund four pilot projects. As a Review Team we put our trust in each other and as a result came out with a cracking set of pilots that are helping us to address practical questions around how we go about setting up the Centre. The learning from all of these pilots will be fed back into the development of the Centre (you can read more about this in our last blog). I’m pleased to share that there is also one more pilot funded by partner organisation Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre (thanks Moorfields!) that is now part of the fold! Sorry it took me so long to share! I recently caught up with research nurse Jac (who is part of the pilot team) for the ‘We Ci2i – We Co-design interventions 2 improve’ project, for a chat. Here is what she had to say after she attended one of the Centre training programme development co-creation sessions…

It was so great to be in a room with like-minded people and being part of an innovative movement. It helped me understand more about the Centre, what it is all about and the direction it is heading. The session was fun and the facilitators were excellent at getting us all working together. We had really useful discussions on our tables about hurdles we may face trying to co-produce and thinking through what a successfully co-produced piece of work would look like.

It was really interesting hearing Common Room highlight how some people work in this way (i.e. utilising co-production) naturally, without even thinking about it; these types of people wouldn’t approach a project in any other way. I identify with this approach and perhaps naively assumed everyone would be on board with a project developed in this way. However, it is not until you start trying, that you realise some constraints in the bureaucracy of research, act as difficult barriers to navigate.

Co-creating a learning programme and supporting resources

Around the same time that we funded the pilot projects, we also took the same collective approach to deciding which organisation to appoint to help us in co-creating a training programme and supporting materials to help us learn. As a mixed group of Centre collaborators the organisation that we took on is…. Common Room!

Common Room logo

Meet the team at Common Room

Hi. I’m Kate. I run Common Room, an organisation which seeks to bring together people who have lived experience of disabilities and health conditions, researchers and healthcare providers to improve services and ensure that people have more choice and control in their lives.

Hi there, I’m Beth. Because of my own experiences of serious mental health issues and being a carer, I now run a peer support charity called Hearts & Minds. I am also a young advisor for Common Room and have a YouTube channel called Community Conversations (make sure you check it out!) about all things to do with youth work, mental health, disability & lived experience. I am passionate about improving the situations that marginalised or ‘vulnerable’ people often face and believe that the best solutions come from community, collaboration & honesty.

So… what’s next for the Centre?

The holiday break! Yes! 🙂 And, after this… well, we will be getting back on it of course! There is plenty to do. We are going to be doing some big picture thinking, we have plans to bring together a group of funding bodies, from health research and wider, to start to tackle the ‘bureaucracy of research’ as Jac put it. We want to kick start a conversation (and action!) about the constraints current funding application methods and processes put on groups who want to co-produce and how we might change these. In addition, we will be starting work on a website for the Centre and exploring names, logo’s etc. Exciting times!

One other thing…. have you heard about the UCL Provost’s Public Engagement Awards? As you may be aware, the Centre development is part of a wider culture change piece of work to bring UCL together as an institution and to ensure it is more outward looking. To work towards embedding public engagement, patient public involvement and co-production as a standard part of research/way of doing things within the university. Therefore, the awards are a perfect opportunity to amplify our message by highlighting some of the great co-production/co-creation work going on! They are open for applications from both community partners and UCL staff and students – go for it! If you have any questions feel free to contact me, Niccola.

The Centre is very much open to all who want to be involved, please feel free to get in touch if you want to join us.

Thanks for an amazing 2018 everyone, happy holidays! Looking forward to 2019!!

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