Thinking about Co-production Week, and particularly the theme of power, got me thinking back and reflecting over the past few years.
The Corra Foundation People in Place team is now working with and alongside eight communities across Scotland; almost reaching across all the areas we found to have been in receipt of proportionately less grant funding from when we first embarked on this journey. We wanted to learn as a funder how we could support communities that we were not reaching, despite them facing multiple challenges, in a different way. At every step we have been, and continue to be, fortunate to have many amazing people and organisations working with us; challenging us, supporting us and effectively co-producing with us. But at all times the most important voices that we must listen to are those of each of the different communities, and it is those voices we are trying to support to drive change.
One of our co-investors in People in Place – Alice Evans of Lankelly Chase – talks so eloquently about the fact that we all speak the truth, but only part of the whole truth. This, we believe, is fundamental to address the power imbalance through co-production. If none of us know the whole truth it is clear we need many and multiple voices around the table, each bringing their own experiences and knowledge. All of those voices must be – and feel – equal in the relationship and safe to speak their truth. The solutions that emerge are stronger for every one of those truths, which combine to provide a far deeper understanding and one that is rooted in lived experience.
To understand what needs and assets exist within our rich tapestry of community life we believe we need to seek out people who aren’t being heard for a variety of reasons and create time, as well as providing the safe, authentic spaces to hear these voices. This is what we are striving to do while supporting the community to deliver on emerging ideas by widening networks and strengthening the web of support in each community; in this way addressing some of the barriers that exist. Ideas range from cooking classes through to film nights, all engaging increasing numbers across the community and creating time and space for relationships to build. Acumen recently ran a #SeePeople campaign, resulting in a message we believe in strongly. “Everyone wants the opportunity to make their own decisions, solve their own problems, and contribute to society”.
One of the barriers of power is the creation of the belief in people that they are unable to do things for themselves; a self-fulfilling prophecy based on subtle or overt messages received from external sources that say they can’t do things for themselves or shouldn’t. Remove the barrier, strengthen the relationships and therefore trust, and communities will drive change themselves. Most recently in Cumnock the community have come together to organise a Christmas festival for their town. In Blacklands a school uniform bank was created to address an identified need. Connecting with partners and facilitating the development of community-led ideas enables us to reach individuals who are part of the narrative of the community, helping us to shape our approach and gain an understanding of the positive and negative feedback loops which have been created over time. Co-produced idea development, like these ones, support groups and individuals who are willing to share their truth with us to have their voices amplified, to hear parts of the community narrative which have not been heard so clearly before, and build a bigger picture. We are getting alongside communities to hear those stories, creating new feedback loops with positive action. For instance, this has meant listening not only to adults, but also listening to children and young people by way of targeted activities in collaboration with local schools.
I love hearing the stories of change from across communities, but these are only possible if the conditions support them. They emerge where time and space is taken to develop trusting relationships in which the vision is created and owned by the communities, including people whose voices are often hidden, not by any one individual or organisation. That to me is the power of co-production.