Co-production in a digital world

At Expert Link we passionately champion co-production; working to ensure that people with lived experience of multiple disadvantages are treated as equal partners in decisions make that affect our lives.

Most of our work has been face-to-face, offering training to empower people to harness their skills, bringing organisations and people with lived experience together to design and evaluate policy and service delivery, and working with others to conduct peer research around the issues that affect our lives.

Requirements around social distancing have meant we have had to re-evaluate the ways that we will do things in the future. Can people still come together to make a difference? If decision making increasingly or solely becomes online, what happens to those who cannot access the internet or have the experience to do so? And if we do have to embrace the online world, how can we make this most effective and accessible?

These were some of the questions discussed at our latest ‘Conversation on Co-production.’ We were lucky to be joined by many great people and organisations with many ideas to share. They will all have much more to say on this, but here’s some of our initial takeaway thoughts we hope can be used to support further conversations in your work.

It’s not all about computers and phones

Many people who must be involved in coproduction will not have access to phones, tablets and computers. This problem has become more acute with the closing of spaces such as Day centres and libraries, which were previously used by many to go online.

Work is therefore clearly needed to get hardware to people, but the capability of devices to be able to run appropriate apps and software, and to have data plans to participate in meetings, is perhaps an even bigger hurdle. Replicating previous efforts to supply people with data dongles could perhaps become more mainstream - and on a wider scale crucial campaigning (#OperationWiFi) to remove data caps and open up access to free Wi-Fi hotspots is more and more relevant.

And beyond hardware and software, digital literacy is a steep climb for many of us, as well as overcoming the stigma we may experience for not having the requisite skills. We must invest in supporting people so that the move to digital does not exasperate this difference. As peers who have made this journey, we can use our experience to support others to develop the skills that we have developed.

Learn My Way offers, amongst others, a course in basic computer skills which could be beneficial to many. Homeless Link have run a project with findings that has looked at increasing digital literacy. And as we found out, Zoom is a challenge for many - so a big shout out to Migrant Voice for their guide on this!

Online support is happening!

Some face-to-face meetings, for example relating to recovery and mental health support, are moving online, and have reported some success such as increased access for many to wider support networks.

Whatsapp and Facebook groups have also increasingly been used to help keep people connected, supported and informed, and could be a source of online decision making in the future.

Lightful have produced some resources to support charities at this time, as well as Campaign Boot Camp.

There's an increased urgency to improve digital access

Now is a time where digital access is widely acknowledged to be a requirement rather than a luxury, particularly given requirements around claiming benefits and maintaining connectivity for health.

Many of us can play a role in increasing access. Where charities and organisations are in receipt of grant funding, it's recommended to open up discussions with funders around increasing flexibility on how grants are spent; for example re-profiling budgets previously spent on transport, catering, etc and using this resource to equip more people in the community with IT. And as mentioned, we can all individually support campaigning (#OperationWiFi) to remove data caps and open up access to free Wi-Fi hotspots.

See below for list of information sources relating to funding mentioned during the Conversation.

This could be an opportunity to increase coproduction

Although we are worried about the barriers that a move to digital will bring, there are some opportunities if we look to harness the assets and the skills that we all have.

For example, organisations often cite travel costs as a barrier to increasing engagement and the number of people 'in the room' - a hurdle potentially overcome for those with access to technology.

Further, if organisations, services and local government move their decision making processes to become more digital, there is increased scope to increase access to all parts of these processes, from start to finish to start to ...

Including the excluded

We recognise that holding an online meeting to discuss digital inaccessibility and co-production is clearly paradoxical.

It is critical that we work to ensure that any practices in this area are co-produced with those who cannot or do not access online. There will be more focus and resources on increasing digital access, but we must not throw all our efforts here at the expense of truly enabling all to make a difference. In a time of social distancing, we must decrease the gap between those digitally enabled and those who aren't.

A big thank you to everyone who joined us - we hope that through co-production we can make a real difference to our world.

Links to funding information