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Co-creating our strategy: get involved!

Lizzie22 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

Rory21 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!

ucjunhu21 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

Rory20 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.


Bringing in the big bucks: do we need to play the system to break the system?

ucjunhu11 June 2020

This blog comes from Laura Crane – UCL Centre for Co-production Allies Group member, Centre co-producer and someone who plays a key part in the UCL Centre for Research in Autism and Education. Thank you Laura!

I love my job, and one of the things I love the most is being part of the development of the Centre for Co-production in Health Research. I’ve been fortunate to be involved in the Centre since its inception – sitting on the Allies Group (a small group of the Centre’s ‘critical friends’), and also attending lots of co-productions sessions to support the development of the Centre (with a wide and diverse range of people). It’s been wonderful to see how the Centre has developed – a real testament to the team, and everyone who has been involved along the way.

Room of co-producers with Lizzie standing by a whiteboard at the front

One of our co-creation sessions

In an earlier blog about the Centre, just over two years ago, I reflected on how the Allies Group seemed slightly at odds with the general ethos of the Centre and the many co-production sessions they were hosting. Specifically, the Allies Group comprised a bunch of really senior UCL academics who, on the surface, seemed to hold all the ‘power’ and could make all the big decisions. The co-production sessions included a range of awesome people with amazing ideas, but I worried whether they would really have their voices heard.

At the first few Allies Group meetings, I sounded like a broken record – sheepishly raising my hand at the end of every meeting and along with others stressing the importance of breaking out from traditional university ways of doing things and diversifying the Allies group. After all, how can we be a beacon of excellence in co-production, shouting about the importance of levelling the power balance, when we don’t practice what we preach? Therefore, I was delighted when new members (external to the ivory towers of academia) were recruited to the Allies Group earlier this year. We were finally levelling the playing field…or were we?

The Centre’s funding from Wellcome Trust is coming to an end in 2021 and as such, we are looking for ways for the Centre to be sustainable so that it can continue to influence and inform research. One of the possibilities is getting in on large programme grants led by senior academics (the bids that bring in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to UCL) – taking a ‘slice of the pie’ in exchange for helping them meaningfully embed co-production into their projects. Of course, this is not the only way the Centre plans on bringing money in, but the big bucks (the kind of money that could keep the work of the Centre going for many years) seem to be hinging on the success of these bids.

It struck me that we need to hear more from these senior academics, who don’t seem to be in the room at the Centre’s co-production sessions: How do we encourage them that the Centre has an important role in their work? How can we really convince them of the necessity of co-production? And, really importantly, how can we encourage them to engage in initiatives that level the power balance when it will undoubtedly mean that they lose their power?

Yet this raised a question that I could see concerned the Centre team – by capitalising on the power of these senior academics, are we compromising ‘Our principles to live by’ as a Centre? Are we actually reinforcing the power structures that hinder successful co-production, rather than working hard to break them down?

a plant growing out of a pile of coins

c. Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

I wondered if we have to play the system to break the system. Aware of the fact that systems won’t change overnight, can we start by capitalising off the senior academics who are bringing in the big bucks? If the Centre can bring in money via this route, can it then be re-directed to community organisations that could – in future – be at the forefront of co-production, helping them build much-needed capacity to be future research leaders?

Or perhaps this isn’t good enough. Maybe the changes that this kind of approach brings about are too slow and keep the power firmly fixed in academia for far too long. Instead, perhaps the Centre needs to take the initiative on bidding for a major grant about co-production and how it can be used to radically shake up the academic system to better redistribute the power in health research – kicking off some real, systemic change.

Is there even a funding route for this to happen?! I don’t know. Maybe this is something the Centre needs to campaign major funding organisations for. Either way, the general consensus from the Centre’s co-production sessions that I attended was that we do need change and we need it fast. I sincerely hope that the Centre is the catalyst for this change…

If you would like to find out more about the Centre and our work please visit our website and or drop us an email on coproduction@ucl.ac.uk


Your chance to dissect health research! When is co-production not co-production?

ucjunhu16 May 2020

This blog it brought to you by Niccola from UCL Centre for Co-production. Read on to find out more about this opportunity to get involved in exploring co-production in depth

Hi everyone,

Hope you are doing ok during these different times? It was lovely to see, and chat to, so many of you online for our first virtual Co-production Network session on 12 May – 91 people joined the session in total, amazing! So so much learning emerged and a lot of connections were made! This brings me to another connection made recently…

First though…

I have some questions for you:

  • Are you someone who has, because you have lived experience, been part of patient public involvement work, co-produced health research or a co-produced project? (If you’ve been involved in the Centre co-creation work or Pilot projects then the answer is yes!)
  • Would you be up for reading a few short academic health research papers and a comic strip about co-production?
  • Are you up for sharing your thoughts openly and honestly?
  • Did you answer yes to all these things? Great! Then you might be interested in this opportunity…

Meet Oli Williams, a researcher funded by THIS Institute. THIS Institute is based at Cambridge University and works directly with NHS patients and staff, as well as academics and the public, to produce evidence to support work to improve healthcare, and health systems in England.

Photo shows Oli holding a painting, making a funny face and surrounded by books and wine glasses!

What is this opportunity all about?

Oli has been funded to conduct a study of different definitions used to define co-production and the different practices used to co-produce. He’s trying to find out what works well, and in what situations, when co-producing. Oli approached the Centre as he is keen to learn from us and what we are trying to achieve. He’s particularly interested in what we think helps bring the theory of co-production to life and what hinders it. And, crucially, Oli is committed to our Principles to live by.

Oli wants you to be involved in his research study, starting by dissecting a paper he has written with lots of other people interested in and doing co-production. By dissecting we mean read, ask questions about, and share what you do and don’t agree with. The paper, Lost in the Shadows, explores what co-production is, and what is needed if we want more health research to be co-produced. There is a comic strip that illustrates the findings really well or if you use Twitter you can also read more about his work in this story thread. Lost in the Shadows is a response to an article written last year (that you may have seen/heard about) called The Dark side of Co-production.

Personally I really struggle with reading academic papers (so many words and so much jargon!) if you feel the same, that is totally fine. These papers are shorter than usual academic papers (which is nice!) and one of the points of this opportunity is to think about how to make ‘open access’ papers more accessible, e.g. by changing the way they tend to be written and communicated!

This is a paid opportunity (in line with INVOLVE guidelines of £150 for a whole day and £75 for half) and not just a one off. The idea is to form a small group (of 4 people) to do this work with Oli. Depending upon the group and how much you want to be involved, there is scope to increase your involvement over the 2 year period within which he has to complete this project. One of the things Oli would like to do in this time is to co-produce resources to help organisations and individuals do more and better co-production. If that is something you would like to do, then do not miss this opportunity!

What do I need to commit to?

The current ask is outlined below, although this is flexible, should the group wish to change the amount of involvement they have:

For the first meeting:

  • To meet up (most likely via Zoom to allow for social distancing) on Tuesday 16 June, 11:00 – 15:00 (with a proper lunch break!) to discuss the two short journal articles and the comic strip (mentioned above) about co-producing health research. You will be paid for two half days work because this will involve spending time before the get together to read the articles/comic and make notes (if you would like any of the documents shared in a different format please just ask). I don’t know what you think but this sounds like loads of fun to me! A chance to get your red pen out and activate your inner teacher! 🙂
  • To be part of writing a team blog for the Centre about the team thoughts on the article/comic and the plans for this work with Oli

Longer term commitment

  • The plan is for this to be the first of up to 4 get-togethers with Oli over the next two years. He wants to work with you at key points of his project. This could be to discuss things like his research findings, what he should do with them, or to design resources to help other people co-produce health research. The important thing is that he wants to collaborate with you and make decisions together.

Please note: due to the current lockdown as a result of coronavirus it is unclear whether face to face sessions will be possible, or if people will want to meet up in person. If the group decides (once lockdown has been lifted) that they would like to meet face to face, and are all able to, then the sessions will take place in a location suitable for the group.

A photo from our last co-creation session – a table covered in Lego, and a Play-Doh Lego sculpture of a question mark and squiggly lines pointing outwards that says – “Radiating Questions”.

Photo shows a table covered in Lego, and a Play-Doh Lego sculpture of a question mark and squiggly lines pointing outwards that says – “Radiating Questions”.

What is in it for me?

  • Up to 4 days paid work
  • Travel costs paid for (if it is a face to face meeting)
  • Lunch! (if it is a face to face meeting)
  • A chance to dissect work on co-production and share your open and honest thoughts – Oli wants to hear it all!
  • A chance to work closely with Oli and the other people in the group, and get to know people who share your passion for co-production
  • A chance to co-create resources that will help to promote more and better co-produced research

How do I get involved?

If you are keen to get involved please email the following to Rory on coproduction@ucl.ac.uk by the end of the day on Friday 29 May 2020 at the latest:

  • Your name
  • The best way to contact you (email, phone, or something else)
  • Any co-production you have been involved in to date and why you want to be involved in this project (a paragraph or 2 is fine)
  • Whether you can make Tuesday 16 June 11:00 – 15:00 (with a lunch break)
  • Any dietary requirements

Please also let us know:

  • If there is anything we can help you with in relation to accessibility (for example you can submit your interest via phone, video or Whatsapp voice message if it is easier for you, or we can send you all of this info in the mail. Just let us know what would help)

If there are a lot of people who want to get involved then we will draw the 4 people who will make up the group out of a hat (with measures taken to ensure diversity) on Monday 1 June 2020.

Looking forward to hearing from you!


(Blog content edited – 20/05/20)

Co-production and Compassion in the time of COVID-19

Rory15 May 2020

This blog was written by the Maternity Voices Matter team – Aygul, Emily, Abuk, Vita, and Anna, an independent group of maternity service users creating change through peer-led research, Participatory Appraisal and  co-production. They were also one of our Phase 2 Pilot projects, and have been helping us learn about what works and what doesn’t when co-producing. 

Hit by a global pandemic, and with life still under lockdown, it feels surreal to think that it was only a couple of months ago that we held our first co-produced event as Maternity Voices Matter. For those of you who don’t know who we are, Maternity Voices Matter is a group of trained service users using a peer-led approach to community research to include the voices of families in co-producing and improving maternity services. Our aims are to listen to service users, give feedback to health professionals and ensure that service users’ experiences are at the heart of service provision. We believe that this is absolutely vital to delivering improvements for all.

We have already listened to the maternity experiences of over 200 women from diverse backgrounds. Every story we have heard has been moving, interesting and valuable. Most, if not all the women we spoke to were disappointed that they had not had the opportunity to talk about their experiences. Many wanted to find answers to questions about their maternity journey in a place that felt safe, open and neutral.

Twitter screenshot showing the Maternity Voices Matter team and groups of women. The tweet says how do we ensure the voices of seldom heard groups are included in maternity research? Through our co-produced work led by maternity service users, we reach seldom heard groups, with almost all of the participants sharing that they had never been asked about their views before.

Maternity Voices Matter share their work on Twitter

Our Pilot Project

We were thrilled when our team received funding from UCL Centre for Co-Production to continue this invaluable work and further our research. We decided to focus on BAME women and their experiences in maternity care. Rather than just integrating co-production methods into our work, we decided to be brave and ambitious, and co-designed and co-produced the entire project. Of course, as excited as we were to embark on this co-production journey, we also had our fears about things that could go wrong. Would we be able to achieve all our aims? Were we too ambitious? How well would we work with our co-production partners? Would the project fizzle out towards the end?

We soon discovered that co-production not only helped us address all these fears, but provided a strong platform to grow and succeed in ways that we had never anticipated. Without our partners from NEL CSU, UCL Maternity Services, UCL Maternity Voice Partnerships and Manor Gardens Welfare Trust, we would not have been able to reach some of the most seldom heard groups. Having a ‘horizontal’ set-up where all partners were hierarchically equal proved to offer a much more relaxed and stress-free way of working whilst delivering better results. Some of the elements provided by each partner were:

  • contacts
  • access to community group
  • financial support
  • services in kind
  • access to venues for meetings or sessions
  • languages and interpretation services
  • knowledge of various cultural customs
  • inside knowledge of the care system
  • access to maternity departments.

It was truly eye-opening to see how different organisations could pull together and utilise their various strengths and influences to collaborate in productive ways and create meaningful change. Above all, we would not have been able to bring together such a diverse group of people, in such a powerful way.  Co-production enabled a supportive environment, where no one felt judged. Every contribution mattered. We looked forward to every meeting and never fixated on how much each person contributed. Instead, what mattered was acknowledging the different strengths and skills that each person brought. Often, team members volunteered to do things they felt confident to take on, we never felt that things were imposed on us.  We discovered the value of trusting each other, and the possibilities that open up when you are brave enough to let go of control.

Pre-Covid-19 and with no social distancing measures in place, we were honoured to hold our very first BAME Maternity Voices event at Islington Town Hall, attended by more than a hundred people. Families, frontline health workers, midwives and representatives from a wide range of specialist services came together to share our co-production journey. We watched and listened to the maternal experiences of some of the most seldom heard groups, re-enacted powerfully through the performances of Playback Theatre. Together, we explored the potential of co-production in amplifying the voices of seldom heard and marginalised groups. There were moments when there was scarcely a dry eye in the Council Chamber. Mothers of various ages and many different backgrounds came forward spontaneously and freely to tell their stories and then sat and watched as the actors brought these stories to life.

Maternity Voices Matter

This picture was taken at the BAME Maternity Voices Event in March 2020 at Islington Town Hall. It shows a very touching moment as London Playback Theatre interprets one of the maternity stories told live at the event. Photo credit to Maternity Voices Matter Facebook Group.

Compassion: the heart of co-production

There is another element at the heart of co-production that is so often overlooked and side-lined – compassion.  Compassion fuels co-production, and without it, co-production is meaningless. We drew strength from being compassionate towards each other. The continuous support, and the feeling of a strong and unwavering safety net, released us from the pressure of sole responsibility and gave us a strong feeling of duty and a willingness to work hard. Today, in the midst of the devastating reality of the coronavirus pandemic, the heart-breaking losses and the extraordinary challenges it poses, we feel the value of compassion even more strongly.

When the pandemic hit, and as we became confined by lockdown, we had to reassess our Maternity Voices Matter work.  It was challenging and disorientating. All of our team are mothers and carers, and like many others we faced the challenges of adjusting to life in lockdown. We really wanted to find creative ways to continue working together as a team, to reach people remotely where possible and continue our work as Maternity Voices Matter. However, the lockdown meant that we were not able to co-produce work as we did before. We held a Zoom meeting to discuss the way forward, but quickly realised that right now we needed to be compassionate towards each other. We realised that Covid-19 had drastically changed our availability, and imposing targets and deadlines on each other in these extraordinary times would go against the very core principles of co-production.

Although we have been unable to carry out our community research sessions, we have continued working in different capacities. We communicate almost daily and keep up to date with news regarding maternity services. We have accepted that we need to slow down as our efforts and energies are needed in our homes. Initially we found it hard to accept that we had to step back from our active role, but slowly we are finding a new balance and restarting the process of regrouping and planning for the future.

In the meantime we are keeping our ears to the ground. Several Covid-19 headlines have caught our attention- especially ones which report on the inequality of outcomes for black people and other ethnic minorities with Covid-19. These horrific headlines mirror those associated with our recent project where we were speaking to women and their families amid the MBRRACE report. This found that black women were 5 times more likely to die in childbirth, and other ethnic minorities had poorer outcomes than white women. These issues need urgently looking into. We hope to play our part in facilitating discussions and pushing for improvements once the lockdown has been eased. We will be there again, to listen to these voices and to carry them as far as they need to go. Co-production will certainly be at the heart of everything we do.

Maternity Voices Matter logo - a silhouette of a pregnant woman in front of a sun

Maternity Voices Matter logo

Follow us on Twitter @MaternityVoice
We are also on Facebook as Maternity Voices Matter



Locked down but not out of co-production

Rory15 May 2020

This blog has three co-authors: Sarah, Clare, and Helen. They were some of the 91 people who attended our Co-production Network Session (‘Virtual Co-production: Is it actually possible?’) on the 12th of May 2020

Last week, the UCL Centre for Co-production hosted its first virtual event in the shape of a Co-production Network session on Zoom, we were excited to see 91 of you participate, share ideas and make connections. The topic was virtual co-production and whether or not it can actually be done. We asked our attendees to share their reflections after the session through a survey, as well as write blogs for us if they felt inspired to do so. It is really enlightening to see the event through the eyes of others – we attended the same event but noticed different things, so having it written down in one blog really outlines why sharing and reflecting collaboratively is so crucial when co-producing. We hope that this blog gives you some ideas to use when developing your own virtual co-production, it has certainly helped develop the Centre approach, we learnt masses!


As someone who has been in the co-production scene for several years in a variety of different roles including ‘expert by experience’, leading projects and embedding this way of working with others, joining the Co-production Network was something that just made sense for me. Seeing the opportunity to hear how others have started approaching digital co-production and engagement I jumped (virtually) at the chance to learn, as my whole world has become digital co-production as of late. For us at Ambitious about Autism we started digitising our interaction with young people before lockdown, we scoped out options by determining our groups access needs and began hosting peer support groups which resulted in shifting our usual face to face groups online. There’s been a continuous learning curve of assessing what is going right or what needs to change. We co-created our code of conduct and how we run sessions, ensuring that safeguarding and engaging the widest range of people is at the centre of what we do. We’ve even chatted to youth workers alongside our young people in a webinar about the impact of moving everything online in a time distinctly lacking stability. Here is a whizz-through of two hours of co-production fun and learning…

When I joined the Network Session it was exciting to see so many others join and made me realise that we’re not alone in this. I was encouraged seeing the experiences, diversity and challenges that are faced by others when a part of digital co-production. Seeing so many new and familiar faces reminded me of just how vast this network is, we were all on a level playing field, bringing only our knowledge of ourselves and recognised faces from the weird and wonderful ways connections form. A new kind of icebreaker in the shape of a Zoom poll helped us to understand the mood of the room; 31% were feeling the positivity or ‘sunny’, 62% of us felt cloudy with bright spells, and a minority felt a storm brewing.

A screenshot from Zoom of 25 of the participants in the Co-production Network session – each picture appears a tile with the person’s face or name on it

Faces from across the country and the world (Hong Kong, Australia and Canada) joined the session as Nicc gave a quick run-through of the plan for the afternoon and where the Centre is on its development journey. With the stage set, Nicc handed over to Lucy and Jane from Involve4Impact to share how they’ve developed from their typical face to face meetings to an online equivalent that holds onto the best of face to face but with the practical needs of digitally engaging those they co-produce with.

For Involve4Impact the current pandemic brought a ‘wave’ that could either overwhelm them or they could ‘surf’ to new methods of working with people. Together Lucy and Jane chose to surf and navigate with their group on how the current situation was impacting them and the positives that could be found. What they shared was reflected by the wider chatter amongst participants in the session, there were difficulties arising to which many were finding creative answers but there were also positives in these new challenges. From their experience, Involve4Impact were now making many changes to their session lengths, agenda, methods, how to implement breaks, managing talking tangents and the fatigue we all feel from such high-intensity interactions.

As part of their work, Lucy and Jane build upon common interests to build relationships. To showcase the impact of building group cohesion and commonality, we were split off into breakout rooms with 3 people each to find the specifics – not generics – that we had in common. They also discussed that whilst the feature of a breakout room is terrific it’s not a universally positive experience, especially if you can’t get in! After 5 minutes we came back together as a whole and reflected that whilst we could find some commonality it can be difficult or awkward to do so in a short space of time with strangers, as you navigate conversations through the tangents of what we share.

As we began to grasp more of the pitfalls of digital engagements inclusive and exclusionary aspects, Lucy and Jane shared their highlights:

  • Using just your first name on video labels can break down the power imbalance of roles and is how we normally work in real-life engagement.
  • The chat box can have some positives, but some may find it distracting as multiple conversations move on at once and at different paces.
  • Don’t let digital software dictate the rules of engagement, set your own that suits the needs of your group.
  • We all need information in slightly different ways to support us to understand, and bringing these creative engagement methods from face to face sessions can empower people to take part.

By this point I think we were getting it, digital engagement is hard, it’s usually not immediately right but the important part is trying and finding a way that meets the needs of those co-producing together. Taking these points and aiming to create practical solutions through talking to others, we split off into networking breakout rooms which were randomly assigned and started sharing what we’ve learnt from pandemic reactive working.

Having that space to be authentic about wins and losses is important, it’s not something you can share with everyone as some just don’t get it. In my group, we became problem-solvers who spoke with honesty about how difficulties do arise when everything changes at once and your functional-but-imperfect systems must now change for a whole new world.

To wrap up, in traditional UCL Centre for Co-production style, we reflected on what had been said today and how we can move forward together, this isn’t a journey to be had alone but one to be had bringing together all the people we can.


I’m working on a project to improve participation in perinatal mental health in Scotland. I found out about the session through social media. I’m fairly new to the theory of co-production, but I’ve been around the mental health “expert by experience” movement for 6 years, and it’s good to have a name to describe what we’ve been doing.

First off, I was mightily impressed by the smooth running of the technology. Zoom has been getting a bad press of late, but I felt like it was used very creatively by the session organisers. I loved the “breakout rooms”, and felt a bit bereft when we were called back to the main room, and lost the (albeit brief) connections we had made. Hopefully I can follow up on the chats I had.

Screenshot of a breakout room

A screenshot from Zoom of one of the many breakout rooms we had during our event. Two members of this group are using video and audio to connect to the discussion but one person is only using audio. It is nevertheless still possible to have a lively discussion.

In my own work, I know I’ll use the techniques to help the group understand who is in the room – so important when the usual tried and tested methods are absent i.e. small talk, coffee breaks etc.

I’m a member of another group that uses Zoom and we’ve been talking about the idea of hand signals to indicate feeling, or consensus. We use a tweaked version of the Occupy Movement’s Hand Signals. If you would like to you can read more about the movement and the signals and there is also a handy infographic describing the hand signals, which is very powerful.

Thanks to the UCL Centre for Co-production for arranging this event, I look forward to hearing more from the centre, and participating in future events.


Twitter is often the academic’s silent networking friend, and it’s how I found out about the UCL Centre for Co-production Network Session. For the past two months, this has been a question I’ve repeatedly asked myself, so upon discovering it, I registered for this event immediately. And I’m glad I did. The two-hour session was a wealth of knowledge and experience from ‘doing’. The facilitators spoke first-hand about their experiences in online co-production, including what works. But perhaps more importantly, they also gave concrete examples of things that need to be approached differently when working online.

Network Session

A screenshot of the Zoom meeting room while a poll is being shared by the host. The question was about what type of learners are we, Visual, Auditory, Kinaesthetic, or a mixture of three. It is important to consider these difference when presenting information online.

My day-job is research. I am a fellowship holder, funded by the National Institute for Heath Research to understand the barriers people with hearing loss face when using amplification (e.g. hearing aids), and develop tools to help overcome them. My work is grounded in the lived experiences of adults with hearing loss and those with whom they regularly communicate. The work I had planned to complete with this group in person must now be moved online for the foreseeable future. This is a substantial change and unsurprisingly this felt daunting. Having attended the co-production networking event, this change no longer feels daunting. I’m excited by the exciting opportunities that the ‘new normal’ way of working will afford me, and the research.

I also got to network with some fascinating individuals during the breakout sessions. It was inspiring to hear about the different applications and focuses of co-production taking place, and share tips and tricks with others.

What did I learn? There are some simple rules for successful co-production online:

  1. Do not try to mirror in-person methods, they simply won’t translate.
  2. Do consider your platform carefully. Be mindful of the accessibility and preferences of those you are working with.
  3. Do be succinct. Online, talking less is more. Consider sharing materials to digest beforehand so that online information sharing is ‘light’. Regular breaks can help maintain engagement.
  4. Do think about how information can be shared in different ways (verbal, written, pictorial). This will provide variation and appeal to individual preferences.
  5. Do think of practical activities that can bring people together. Effective co-production relies on group cohesion and trust. The sharing of information, ideas or common interests can help break down barriers.
  6. Do plan how information arising from discussions and activities will be captured and recorded. For example, typing notes in real-time whilst screen-sharing could act as a reflection tool, aiding the conversation as well as allowing for immediate clarification and edits to be made.
  7. Do think about the practical, technical and personal support attendees may need to fully engage with these online methods, and provide this well in advance.

In terms of my own co-production journey, here are some things I’ll implement straight away:

  • Pilot sessions with my colleagues to ensure smooth running and avoid technical stumbling blocks.
  • Create clear guidance and offer support for attendees to: 1. access and use the chosen online platform (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams etc.) and 2. understand the session format, e.g. information provision, interactive activities such as polls, breakout room discussions and breaks.
  • Explore how working online might help reach individuals that face-to-face co-production may previously have missed.
  • Keep online spoken information short and fluent.
  • Be aware of online exhaustion during virtual co-production, a universal issue, but one that might be particularly pertinent for those with hearing loss.

Thank you from Rory

Thank you so much to all our contributors for sharing their experience about the Co-production Network Session on 12 May in their own original style and giving us much to think about. Also a huge thank you to everyone who participated and made the event such a lively space to discuss co-production practices and challenges. For me personally, the most interesting part was the splitting up into individual groups through the breakout rooms feature. Although it was a bit daunting in theory, it was actually very exciting in practice! It was a thrill to find out who I was grouped with and I was very glad to learn so much in such a relatively short period of time. I was struggling a bit to maintain a stable WiFi connection, so I had to resort to using audio only but the group in my breakout room had no problems adjusting to this slight problem. I also loved the use of the live transcribing tool Otter.ai which meant that those who were deaf or hard of hearing could still take part in the session.

If you would like to join us for our next Virtual Co-production Network Session on 14 July at 14:00, please email us at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk to sign up!

Get involved in the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research

We’d love to hear from you if you are interested in the work the Centre is doing!

Also, feel free to let us know you’d like to join in collaborating on our blog! You could share a bit about yourself, share learning from co-production projects, share an event or resources that you have, or let us know if you have any other ideas.

If you’d like to keep hearing about what we’re up to and what we’re learning please sign up for our newsletter, email Rory coproduction@ucl.ac.uk or tweet @UCL_CoPro.

Feel free to email Rory at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you’d like a PDF or Word copy of this or any of our other blogs.

Carry on co-producing: handy hints and tips to help you out

Rory6 May 2020

This blog shares ways you can co-produce from home and keep the momentum going while the COVID-19 pandemic forces us to stay indoors.

In our previous blog, we shared quick tips to help you stay in touch with family and friends during lockdown. Today, we dive deeper into the nitty-gritty of virtual co-production, listing handbooks we have found useful, some training courses to try out, info on accessibility and some online events you might be interested in. Hopefully it will be helpful whether you are starting out co-producing virtually or if you want to polish up on your existing skills and knowledge!


Image of a pair of bright blue and white headphones on a yellow background (Image credit: Alex Gruber, Unsplash)


All courses are free unless otherwise stated.

Video calls / digital technology

Marketing / advertising

Community organising and wellbeing

  • Find out how to support others through lockdown with the Thrive in Trying Times free course, covering a range of tips for community organising and maintaining well-being during COVID-19.
  • Discussing healthcare can be intimidating with all the complex structures and jargon flying around during meetings. This free course from The Kings Fund gives you a detailed understanding of the NHS – it’s definitely worth checking out!

Getting creative

  • If you are feeling especially creative, learn how to create a Zine! It’s not just art, it’s an informative and creative piece of marketing that you can distribute, which is useful for reaching people who are not able to connect with you digitally.


  • Understanding each other is essential for sharing power within teams and a vital part of any meaningful co-production. However, online communication is not second nature to us all. It can be draining and even counter-productive, so before starting a marathon of video calls, the first step is to learn how to say what we mean and hear what others are saying. The basics of emotional intelligence at work and the power of active listening will no doubt come handy.
  • If we want to make lasting social and political change, we must understand power dynamics, systems and what can influence these things and therefore shift the status quo. Make Change Happen is a free online course from Open University and Oxfam.
  • Speaking of power… this is one of the most frequently discussed concepts related to co-production, and thankfully there’s a free online course from Open University exploring growing concerns about wealth and income inequality, including potential actions that individuals, communities and wider society can take to reduce inequality.


Just as when you are meeting in person or holding face to face events accessibility is of vital importance.

  • Zoom offers a closed captioning tool – this allows people who might be deaf or hard of hearing to have access to the online calls that you run. And also gives your audience the ability to enjoy your content, regardless of the environment they are in.
  • There are also useful live note-taking tools such as Otter.ai that you can use to transcribe your conversations or video calls, it works on several different platforms.
  • If you are working with people who have a visual impairment it is important that you are using accessible documents that screen readers can interpret. When on video calls making sure that you share documents being used in advance, that you are describing what is on screen, and that you don’t make assumptions about what people know or can see.

Online Events

Image shows man working from home joined by a co-worker: a small dog in his lap. A major upside of online events is that all of them are pet friendly! (Image credit:  Allie from unsplash.com/@acreativegangster)

  • Here at the Centre we are running various virtual sessions starting from May 2020! Sign up for our events by sending us an email at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk
  • Conversations on Co-production is an ongoing event series organised by Expert Link
  • Co-production Network for Wales have several virtual events coming up
  • LockdownLives is a documentary series broadcast on Tuesdays and Fridays at 15:00, to help the broader public understand how lockdown affects those who don’t have their own homes through creative expression, conversation, and advocacy.

Get involved in the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research

Email Rory at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you’re curious about any of the following opportunities.

  • Let us know if you’d like to join in collaborating on our blog! You could share a bit about yourself, share learnings from co-production projects, or let us know if you have any other ideas.
  • Send us resources to feature here next month, or tag us on Twitter @UCLCoPro

If you’d like to keep hearing about what we’re up to and what we’re learning at the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research, sign up for our newsletter, email Rory coproduction@ucl.ac.uk or tweet @UCL_CoPro.

Feel free to email Rory at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you’d like a PDF or Word copy of this blog.

(Cover image. Description: a hand holding a set of bright blue and white headphones against a yellow background. Image credit: Alex Gruber)

Keep calm and co-produce: we’re going virtual!

ucjunhu17 April 2020

So… times have changed a little haven’t they? We are still here though, and very much still working on co-producing the Centre. We hope that getting involved in co-production activities will provide you with a welcome distraction from the day to day. On the other hand, we totally understand if getting involved at the moment isn’t really for you. These are exceptional times in relation to coronavirus and we all have to deal with it however best works for us. You can read a little more about our thoughts on the situation, and where co-production fits, in our recent blog – “Reflections on a changing world: the importance of co-production”.

We are still on track to launch the Centre officially in October, either virtually or in person (although this does depend on how things develop in coming months in relation to the coronavirus lockdown). The plan is that we will run virtual co-creation and networking sessions in during the summer (and by this we mean online but also using other methods as we are aware not everyone has nor wants to use a computer or phone). Outlined lower down in this blog is info on how to get involved in these upcoming sessions. We’d love to have you join, and will be on hand to help with any tech questions or irritations!

Thanks and see you soon I hope!

A group of people sat around a table of orange post-it notes (with writing on them) having a discussion – our old reality!

So what next for the Centre?

Well… there is lots to do. We’re at a really important point of development for the Centre, where we need to focus on our future – get specific about what we’re working towards, how we’re going to do it, and how we’re going to make sure we’re sustainable financially. There’s some big decisions to be made about our strategy, our approach to partnerships and fundraising, and our identity and profile.

And that means one thing – we want to work with you! As you know, we’re not just interested in encouraging others to co-produce, but we’re walking the talk and co-producing the Centre itself, as a community. We usually do this through face-to-face sessions (as seen in the photo above), but obviously that’s not possible at the moment, so we’re getting creative and are going to do things a little differently. But that also means that we can get even more of our community involved than we’ve been able to before, and hopefully continue using this variety of methods after lockdown is over.

We’re starting by setting up some virtual co-creation and co-production network sessions. By ‘virtual’, we mean using both online platforms where we can get lots of people together, and also using other methods. One of our ‘Principles we live by‘ is ‘being accessible and inclusive of all’, and we know that not everyone is able to meet online, or may not feel comfortable doing so, so we’re going to make sure we have multiple ways to co-produce with us. Whether you’re a researcher, a commissioner, a medical professional, a patient, a carer, a service user, or simply keen to get involved in something a bit different and inform how research is carried out, then you are more than welcome to be part of our community (this blog explains what our co-creation sessions are like, if you’d like to get an idea of what to expect: “What’s a co-creation session like?”).

We’re also really keen to keep offering the chance for anyone interested in or doing co-production to come together and learn from each other, so will be continuing to run virtual Co-production Network sessions too. These will focus less on the development of the Centre itself and more on meeting others, sharing co-production experiences and getting ideas.

Come and join us!

Opportunities to get involved

As a community we are working on lots of things at the moment and so have a variety of opportunities coming up. Have a read of the document below, see what interests you and find out how to get involved. We’re looking forward to working with you!

We ran a poll on Twitter and called or emailed as many people as we could to find out how you would prefer to join these virtual sessions. The winners were Zoom for online, and conference calls for offline. However, we are aware that these methods will not work for everyone so we are also planning to share what we are working on as a community in other ways, so you can input that way too. At the moment we’re thinking Google docs, or printed and posted papers, but we’re open to using other methods as we get used to working this way.

If Zoom or conference calls don’t work for you, but you’re still keen to get involved, then we still want to hear from you – please get in touch for a chat so we can work out the best way to get you involved.

Part of graphic illustration of the work and discussions to date about the visualising the Centre (Photo and design credit: Debbie Roberts, Engage Visually)

Photo and design credit: Debbie Roberts, Engage Visually

Payment for taking part in co-creation sessions

Another of our ‘Principles we live by’ includes ‘commitment to addressing power imbalances’ and so we have been paying for the time of our co-producers who do not attend our co-creation sessions in a paid capacity (i.e. as part of their job or who are employed in a full-time role). We do this in line with INVOLVE guidelines, as this was the decision made in our early co-creation sessions, back in 2017/18, to ensure fairness in who is paid, what for, and how much.

However, as the Centre has developed, our activities diversified and our community grown, we know we need to co-produce our own payment guidelines in time for the Centre launch – that’s on our list for this summer.

In the meantime, if you are joining one of our co-creation sessions (not the network sessions, as these are more informal) as a member of the public and would like to receive payment for your time and contribution, please get in touch and we will get you set up on our payment system.  We can also offer support with paying for phone minutes, landline call charges or phone data in order to take part in conference or video calls – let us know what you need.

Security and accessibility

We know this can be a worry with online meetings, but we’ve checked with those in the know to ensure that that our Zoom login settings are safe and secure. We’ve also made sure that we can enable closed captioning for those that would like them to support their participation. In addition, Zoom has several other accessibility features in place as standard.

However, if you have any questions or concerns please just ask. We hope to see you at a session soon!

Get involved in the UCL Centre for Co-production in Health Research

Info on signing up to the specific sessions is in the document above.

Email Rory coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you’re curious about the Centre. Or:

  • Let us know if you’d like to join in collaborating on our blog! You could tell us a bit about yourself, share learnings from co-production projects, or let us know if you have any other ideas.
  • Send us resources to feature here next month, or tag us on Twitter @UCLCoPro

If you’d like to keep hearing about what we’re up to and what we’re learning at the Centre, feel free to sign up for our newsletter.

Please email Rory at coproduction@ucl.ac.uk if you’d like a PDF or Word copy of this blog.

(Cover image description: A picture of a laptop, phone, plant, coffee cup . Image credit: Ben Kolde, Unsplash )