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July’s Co-production Network: young people’s insights on virtual co-production

By Rory, on 17 July 2020

Our second virtual Co-production Network Session featured Louca-Mai, Jacq, Elena and Orla from eyeYPAG) a Young People’s Advisory Group for those with eye or vision problems as well as lots of thought-provoking discussions around breaking down barriers to virtual co-production. Thank you to everyone who attended and we hope to see you at our future events soon!

We formed an organising team to co-produce July’s network session, from the topic to the format using the learning from our May network event. Big thanks to Scott, Katherine and Carol who put lots of work in behind the scenes, and in facilitating discussion during the session itself. Katherine shares her reflections:

“It was great being part of the team who developed the Network session. In the first meeting we had, we brainstormed ideas on what the content of the Network session should be. Then the UCL co-production team developed a workplan. We met again to see if we were happy with our involvement, and anything else we wanted to add to the plan. The session was co-produced from the beginning and we all had ideas on what the content should be. I was really involved on the day of the event and took notes from the 2 breakout sessions to feedback to the team. All of the participants engaged with the topics and we had a rich discussion in our smaller team. The development team had a discussion after the event and I said that the event had gone well. A lot to learn about Virtual meetings and what the successes and pitfalls are. I would recommend being part of the Co-production team at UCL.”

The theme for July’s Co-production Network was ‘Breaking Down Barriers to Virtual Co-production’, with an initial focus on young people, thanks to our special guests. Orla and Elena are part of the eyeYPAG group at Moorfields Eye Hospital. They joined us with Louca-Mai and Jacq to share their open and honest account of moving their work online during COVID-19, and what they’re learning about making virtual co-production inclusive and accessible.

Until 2019, there was no young people’s advisory group (YPAG) in the UK for children with eye or vision problems, so Louca-Mai and Jacq (whose work was also one of our first Co-production Pilots!), along with Annegret, set one up. This year, the group won the Moorfields Biomedical Research Centre’s Public Involvement and Engagement Award.

Image of a slide with reasons why eyeYPAG members get involved - to learn about science, help research, meet people

An introduction to eyeYPAG – Louca-Mai shows us a few slides about the project with some lovely pictures taken before social distancing rules.

We can see why! Elena and Orla were a real highlight, and their thoughtful contributions around the pros and cons of virtual co-production were just as relevant for the ‘grown-ups’. The main concerns were around who is left behind during these sessions, whether through lack of access to technology or online platforms not being accessible to everyone, e.g. those with vision problems. Positives included money and time saved due to less travelling and connecting to people who would be unlikely to join due to distance or other commitments. You can read more about their thoughts in a blog on the GenerationR website, ‘Exploring co-production in a virtual world – what we’re learning’ by Elena, Orla, Louca-Mai and Jacq.

Breakout conversations

The real networking began afterwards, with all of us breaking into smaller groups to continue the discussion. Travel and time saving was a theme which came up in the discussion I was in, as was the benefits of the chat box for disrupting the power balance.

Kevin: The chat box is good because you don’t have to make a separate note for your questions, it’s a good process, it’s a good feeling, you feel like you had your say, as long as the facilitator picks it up. You could be at the mercy of the person who is running the face-to-face meeting but here you have more control.

Kirsty: Virtual co-production offers a space for valuing lots of different expertise, and at its best it can be non-hierarchical. The potential for reducing the travel time, I can definitely see the advantages of that. It allows us to involve different people without having to ask too much from them in terms of time, even from other countries.

However, ensuring everyone feels comfortable and gets to know each other feels harder in an online space.

Scott: Taking the time to meet on a one-on-one basis before an online meeting is important to develop rapport. Building this trust can be more difficult online but having a one-to-one chat to find out what they would like to bring to the project will help identify strengths and weaknesses within the group. And they will have a friendly face appearing when they join the larger group.

Kevin: Yes, going into a meeting having no one to talk to is no good for anyone. I think we are starting to consider things, because of Zoom, that should have thought about before.

Breaking the ice?

Scott (who was also part of the organising team) thought ice-breakers were a good idea to help ease people’s anxieties, and get everyone on an equal footing At all Centre events we try to start each session with a different question and avoid the traditional introductions using job titles, which can put people into boxes. This time, the task was:

Tell us your name and ONE word that springs to mind when you hear virtual co-production!

A word cloud - larger words (those said more often) are innovation, collaboration, challenges, curiosity, equal

Virtual co-production in one word – The word cloud contains many interesting takes on this concept that we are all getting familiar with in 2020. Collaboration and challenges are some of the main issues highlighted.

On the one hand, this was a good way to jump straight in, wake us up from the mid-afternoon meeting coma and get talking. We were also able to continue this conversation on Twitter afterwards, with words like ‘lonely’, ‘expensive’, ‘equal’, and ‘necessary’ being contributed.

However, we had so many people in the session (over 55) that we didn’t have a chance to get around everyone. It’s also not possible to move seamlessly from one person to the next on Zoom, as everyone sees the other participants in a different order (and those on the phone can’t see anyone else at all). This means someone has to pick on people to speak, and that doesn’t work for everyone. We’re going to work on how we can make this a bit better next time – if you have any ideas, please send them our way!

Diversity and inclusion

In our second breakout session we discussed how we can support diversity and inclusion in a virtual space. This is something the Centre community is very aware of, and that we’re committed to improving in our work – we know we can do better.

In my group, Kumud wondered about how to help a group of older people, who are less technology savvy to feel comfortable online, but Scott had a different suggestion.

Scott: Or can it be the case of taking the co-production to them? Not all co-production has to be done the same way in a project and all ways can contribute equally. So, this includes, mail, email, phone calls. Would it be better to ask what method they would be more comfortable with instead of training them up to use Zoom?

Kumud: So, trying to work with them rather them getting them to use what others are using.

Not expecting people to come to us, but us making the effort to reach out and go to them came up in lots of conversations, and is something we’ve also written about recently. Other groups also discussed the importance of using a mixed approach, supporting those with language barriers and, above all, investing in trust. Isaac highlighted that having facilitators with prior knowledge and understanding of participants’ needs and experiences (such as racism or exclusion) can make a big difference to how they handle certain topics. Kassandra rightly pointed out that our organising team was all white. While we may be diverse in many ways – from age (there was an age gap of 80 years between our youngest and oldest participants!) to those identifying as having a disability – we still need to improve on our diversity, especially when it comes to race.

On that note, if you’re interested in co-producing our next Network session (date TBC), then please do get in touch: coproduction@ucl.ac.uk We need you!

Concluding thoughts

And with that, our 6th virtual event of 2020 came to a close. The Centre had a fairly eventful summer season so far, despite having zero face-to-face events, and July isn’t even over yet. Now halfway towards our grand launch event in October, my own one word on virtual co-production is this: surprising. Nobody is safe from random bandwidth cut-outs and other technical mishaps during a virtual meeting. So, in a way, the now well-known awkward moments of Zoom have been the great equalizers during lockdown, bringing us a bit closer in a different sense of the word. They might be annoying but these little things are in themselves excellent ice-breakers, when handled by facilitators and the wider group in a compassionate and kind way. It might be something to consider for the “real” world, remembering to smile and laugh while being open about the personal challenges going on behind the scenes of our lives.

Stay in touch with us!

Sign up to our newsletter, or visit our webpage to find out more about the Centre for Co-production. Email us at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you have any questions or would like to sign up to one of our upcoming events.

Say hi over on Twitter @UCL_CoPro!

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