’Collaboration breaks down barriers, builds hope, and inspires‘

Published: 10 November 2020

Some thoughts on co-production. 

Social Finance’s Impact Incubator team are looking at the issue of violence impacting young people, to try and understand the root causes of the problem and where there are opportunities to drive systemic change.

When we started this research we worked with Alika, a consultant with lived experience of both the pressures that young people face, and of working to affect change in this area. He worked within our project team to conduct research and interpret our findings. His contributions have been key in shaping some of our thinking. At the end of his consultancy, we asked him for feedback on his experience of working with us and his broader thoughts on co-production. This interview focused on the experience of co-production with Social Finance rather than the issue of violence itself.

We are really grateful to Alika for his feedback and huge contribution to the project. The feedback provided will help us achieve our ambition to meaningfully share power with children, young people, and those with lived experience as we proceed with this research and take action.

Many working on this issue, including ourselves, are keen to meaningfully engage with the voices of young people in our work, and there’s a growing interest amongst different stakeholders in co-production. Are there any good examples of co-production you have seen that we should explore more?

The main one that really stood out was [youth marketing agency] Livity with Live Magazine. It was an amazing sight, walking into an office and seeing an almost 50/50 split of young people and grown adults all working side by side to produce top quality, informative content. I think what really stood out there was the mutual interest and appreciation: the young people truly valued the help and time of the adults in putting the publication together; and the adults equally valued the talent and never-ending potential of the young people that they were working with. The office environment really encouraged mutual understanding and appreciation. The number of young people they inspired can be seen far and wide. Magazines like gal-dem, GUAP and others have been inspired in one way or the other by Live Magazine.

Intergenerational collaboration breaks down barriers, builds hope, and goes on to inspire. Although the adults technically held more control over the operations, young people and adults alike treated each other as equals with an equal say. Adults managed the legalities, internal rules, finishing touches on each media piece, and providing constructive criticism, whilst young people were given full control when it came to content creation. Artist to cover, topics to discuss, songs to review, community projects to include, and events to advertise — these were all more or less the young people’s choosing and doing.

What are the most frequent things people get wrong when trying to work on co-production models?

They come in with the rules already set. Instead of bringing in a person to something pre-established and hoping they’ll keep the wheels turning the way they have always been, it’s better to start an open conversation with questions to find out what and how the person wants to contribute. Come with an open mind to give yourself and the people you are co-producing with space to grow and learn.

In our team sessions, you mentioned that a sense of control over their own lives and their environment is important to young people. How do you help young people feel like they have control over what happens in their community?

You can never involve every single person in co-production. Some people will not want to co-produce, which is fine, because it is within their control to say no. The way to give back control” is to ask them — what would they like to see? What would they want to do? Then do as much as you can to work towards that. If they tell you five things, try and provide at least two.

The Princes Trust Team Programme does this extremely well. At the end, it asks the young people to choose a community project they want to do — giving them the power to choose — and helps them complete it. Also, make sure you have at least one person representing each member of the community in your co-production group. Ensure true diversity and equality in background and gender, so that you have a balanced and wide view.

How do you ensure that people feel they are being compensated for their time, and that they are seeing progress?

Time is money, and therefore pay at least for their travel expenses plus food, so in total between £11–15 per person, or travel expenses with refreshments provided. The exchange needs to be mutual, or else the relationship is already unequal. There is no alternative for this: value is value.

Regular updates are how they get to see progress, so agree a timeframe — maybe once a month or at the end of year — when you will be giving them an update on what happened with their contributions.

How do you ensure a diverse range of people participate, and not just those who are already involved in community leadership positions?

This one is simple but not easy. You go to the less typical places. You go into the estates, into the parks where the unusual suspects are. You speak to operating youth centres in the area so that you can come and speak to their attendants. When you go to overly commercialised establishments, you meet a lot of people who are already participating in different positions, such as prefects in schools, head boy/​girl, scouts, apprentices, etc. The problem is that the average young person may not relate to them, and may be afraid to say what they really think because of the responsibility of representing a group when speaking at those meetings. You simply have to go on the ground and gather the people at a grassroots level. Alternatively, appoint someone you know in the community who has links to all the people (not just the few in the leadership positions) and pay them to establish the connections for you so that you get a truly diverse range of people.

We’re conscious that Social Finance’s work with you wasn’t co-production, and are wary of calling it that. Rather, it’s the beginning of our ongoing efforts to continually learn and more proactively incorporate youth voices into our work. We would love to hear your thoughts on what we did well, and what we could do better.

The thing that I really appreciate about Social Finance is how you are being very thorough to get the entire picture and not a one-size-fits-all” view — or a partial view, then rushing ahead into action. I have seen this exercised too many times by other companies who had good intentions but hadn’t thought it through, and it really backfires. You haven’t done this — like I said in one of the team sessions, a lot of people look at this solely as a knife crime issue, or solely as a county lines issue, but you look at their environment more broadly and how young people are feeling. As you compound all the findings it’s quite refreshing to see that you still leave space for another voice to chime in — be it mine or another young person or youth organisation — it shows you are always ready to keep learning instead of becoming closed off.

Seeing you truly listening to the young people and the consultant, and incorporating that into your work with urgency where possible is very refreshing and will take your work far. It means each of your point is founded on reasonable grounds. The statistics, the statements, the view of your consultants and yourselves. When it is presented in this way, as you are doing, there is little to no room for anyone to deny or contest what is being said.

Were there any challenges that you faced whilst working with us?

The main challenge has been the invoicing system. For example, it wasn’t clear at the outset that you needed a full week to process my invoice, which had implications for how I organised my own personal finances. The communication on this could have been smoother and easier had I spoken to the Finance Team in the early stages. My IT account not being fully set up — again, it would have been very helpful to speak with someone in the team. Not being able to receive the documents I needed to work on because my company email address wasn’t working slowed things down initially. Likewise, communication could have been better on understanding the details of my contract for expectation management purposes. For example, my contract had built in some leeway in the consultancy dates, but communication on this wasn’t clear, so it was hard to understand just from the contract that the end of my consultancy was at the end of February. I imagine you will work with other consultants going forwards, and when that happens, it is vital to meet in person / via phone call to run through the terms of the contract in detail. Leave no space for misinterpretation.

Lastly, not having an access card didn’t help when trying to park my bike in the office bike shed or trying to get in the office. In that respect, I didn’t feel fully included into the office environment. These things can be missed because they seem really obvious or trivial, but they have big implications for how things work out practically, or how the consultant and/​or young person is feeling.

What was it like for you in general, working with a team like Social Finance?

I have really enjoyed being part of a dynamic team. I love the fact that the office is in Vauxhall, a nice central location. I love the amazing scale and scope to each project you take on and the great ambitions behind it. There’s a real sense of purpose and motivation. I really love the open mindedness of the workplace. Every colleague I have interacted with has been pleasant and genuine, easy to get on with and understanding — non-judgemental with a sincerely curious mind. I love that!

The office space having break out areas, so you’re not tied to your desk for 8 hours, is sweet too. The lunch time meet-ups added such a great feeling of inclusion. Inclusion is important, especially when you’re looking at an issue like this, where a big part of the problem is that young people aren’t being properly included in the discussions and decisions being made. Obviously just having lunch with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve included them — real inclusion is not tokenism — but even small things like the kitchen having food for all staff (including me) to share did add to the feeling of inclusion I felt at Social Finance — all for one and one for all.

You can follow Alika’s other activities via Instagram.

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