Access Ambassador-ed Co-production

One thing that our volunteers have in common is that they are all very different. Everyone has their own life experiences, skills, and personalities that make our group meetings much more varied than any office space I've ever worked in. We've had anglers, musicians, doctors, army sergeants, bus drivers, dancers, and everything in between (slight exaggeration but you get the point!) involved with the project. Everyone is at a different place in their life, and we have people from varied backgrounds and age groups. It's like a real-life Guess Who but without so many eccentric hats.

The interaction I have with these people is through my day job as a Project Coordinator on Access Ambassadors. This is a volunteer befriending project which matches volunteers with people who are looking for a bit of company when getting out and about in Sheffield. I work closely with Co:Create during my work on this project, which naturally means I am a fully paid up member of the co-production club too. It is clear to see the merits of this ethos, even outside of the health and social care world.

One of the great things about this project is that a pretty decent chunk of it is co-produced. We co-designed the service, co-design all major changes to delivery, we co-deliver one to one support, we are always co-evaluating different elements, and we co-govern through regular project meetings. There are quite a few reasons for doing this, but three major ones spring to mind. To ensure the format of the project suits the needs of the people who will be using it. To save time in the long run by hopefully getting rid of guesswork and getting things right the first time. Also, we hope to empower participants and volunteers and make their opinion valued.

Now time for a traditional benefit versus challenges breakdown.

Throughout my experience of co-production with a varied group, there have been a few benefits that have cropped up. The variety of occupational backgrounds in the room means co-production can potentially draw from a massive pool of skills and experience. A group with a variety of life experiences means there will often be multiple and varying perspectives on one issue. Finally, co-production with varied groups inevitably increases the likelihood of hearing unheard voices. These unheard voices could have the info that you are really looking for.

On the other hand, there have been quite a number of challenges. I feel like these are inherent to varied groups. For example, confidence levels vary from person to person. Some people find sharing thoughts with a group easy and some find it terrifying! Different levels of understanding of certain topics mean that not everyone is entering the discussion on equal footing. It can be challenging to make sure everyone feels they are up to speed with such a variety of people. Also, the variety of opinions and experiences means it can sometimes be difficult to find consensus or common ground.

There are quite a few challenges that pop up when co-producing with varied groups. These challenges are... challenging. However, the benefits far outweigh them. You might be able to see where I’m going with this but I’ll try to tie it up in a couple of neat sentences anyway. Co-production with a variety of co-producers can be tough but is infinitely amazing if you put the effort in. As they say in AA, my project’s abbreviation namesake, “it works if you work it”.

Adam Batty, Age Better in Sheffield Project Coordinator

Emma Ward