By Tom Skinner, Director GMPA
Last month Greater Manchester Poverty Action and the GM Health & Social Care Partnership organised a webinar, looking at positive examples of co-production during the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim in highlighting these examples was to explore how other authorities and agencies may be able to co-produce more of their existing activities and their recovery plans. We heard from GM Homelessness Action Network (GMHAN), the Manchester Poverty Truth Commission and 10GM, and explored how to overcome some common challenges.
GMHAN have been involving homeless people in regular conference calls with the GM Combined Authority and with their whole network. They are speaking to those on the frontline and feeding their thoughts in and acting on their ideas. They are reaching people through fliers going into hotels where homeless people are staying, with options for people to respond through text messages, phone calls or writing. The value of local community organising and personal relationships has been clear as the people who have been most engaged were generally already connected in some way e.g. through another charity or a Housing First key worker.
GMHAN have been maintaining a collaborative through Convergent Facilitation which makes sure no one needs to compromise on the things that matter most to them, and Ulab – a process which gives space and permission to collectively process and sense make with depth. They have been encouraging similar ways of working in other homelessness programmes across GM.They are also supporting Lockdown Lives, in which people share their experiences through videos, pictures or poems. You can follow these each week online.
The Manchester Poverty Truth Commission, though disrupted by the pandemic, has been linking Commissioners who have experience of poverty into various local authority teams. In this way they are helping the city to co-produce its Covid-19 response. They have also co-produced a community-led shopping scheme for sick and disabled people.
They said there should be a wider shared understanding of poverty and inequality as a frame for experiencing covid-19, sharing this article about framing but added that it takes changes in behaviour and structure to make the changes in language effective. Meaningful conversations with people experiencing poverty draw on all the assets and resources available in a locality – there is huge capacity, skills, insight and willingness in our communities. Sometimes agencies need to “get out of the way” and amplify the voices of those speaking their truth to power.
They concluded with a similar point to that where co-production is currently working well, it is based on relationships built up over time.
Finally we heard from 10GM, who talked about the importance of grassroots VCSE and VCSE infrastructure organisations in supporting and facilitating co-production, but they need to be valued and properly resourced. They also spoke about the communications and decision-making/facilitation methods that create the space for co-production.
They also made the offer that if any authorities or agencies want to speak with VCSE sector organisations who do have relationships with people experiencing poverty, to explore co-productive partnerships, 10GM could help make these connections.
The speakers joined a panel and discussed challenges that we may face in co-producing GM’s Covid-19 response, including:
- Digital exclusion/technology – IT equipment can be provided for people who have experience of poverty to participate digitally, however we should not assume that video conference calls are accessible even if the equipment is there, and should explore creative ways around this challenge and GMHAN have
- The need to understand and respect that Covid-19 may have affected people’s lives in complex ways and they may not feel able to contribute at this time. However this should not stop us from creating the opportunities for participation
- Building relationships – VCSE sector organisations who have relationships with people in poverty are often needed to make introductions, but their ongoing support may also be needed to ensure participants feel secure and able to be vulnerable
Over all it was a very positive workshop with over 60 participants, and we were very grateful to our speakers and all participants. I would encourage people and organisations across GM to keep working at this – look out for regular meetings of the GM Co-Production Network by subscribing to the fortnightly Health and Social Care eBulletin.