Brave Connections and Weird Weekends – The Louis Theroux approach to coproduction

I was recently having a gushing conversation with a friend about all-time favourite, own every book, seen every Youtube clip, poster on the bedroom wall, heroes of ours. We reeled off a load of fascinating and inspiring individuals who would probably make many people’s top five lists. However, the people that inspired the most gooeyness and admiration were professional people persons Jon Ronson, Louis Theroux and Daryl Davis.

I got thinking about why exactly these people managed to battle their way through the admiration royal rumble. The common factor was their skill for the brave connections we mentioned in our blog last month. The way they inspire open, friendly, and warm interactions. They do this with people in spite of that person’s background, beliefs, or circumstances. Often, the stories in their work are ones of brave connectedness from both sides, which leads to a much deeper understanding.

The most compelling example of this is probably from Daryl Davis, a talented musician who has made understanding the barrier of race relations part of his life long work. Daryl is also a black man who attends KKK rallies. His approach is to find out more about race as a barrier by connecting and listening to people who are traditionally seen as the instigators of racial barriers. Throughout this he seeks to understand adversaries and not convince them with his agenda. By doing this, he has inspired amazing change. Although this is admittedly an extreme and unusual example, according to Daryl, there are important messages that are pretty universal for connecting and understanding.

·         Finding common ground through openness, listening intently and respecting views.

·         Giving a platform to those with opposing views/motives and listening actively can lead to a deeper understanding.

·         Challenging views is not off the table, but do it “politely and intelligently, not rudely and violently”. 

·         The power in these connections is that you are seeking to understand and not to convince.

To a different extent, these skills and approaches can also been seen in the work of Jon Ronson and Louis Theroux. They have a way of talking about contentious topics in a way that inspires openness and lacks judgement. Both are fantastic listeners and do so with intent. Also, their conversations are generally motivated by a desire to understand rather than an agenda of change.

I can appreciate that some may argue people like Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson use these skills with intent to gather material rather than understand and create connections. However, it is hard to disagree with their effectiveness at doing so. After all surely the way to inspire honest change is through understanding others. 

It now feels time to wrangle this admiration session back on track and reflect on how useful these skills can be in coproduction. If it wasn’t already clear, connecting and understanding can help no end to deliver authentic coproduction.

If I was in Louis Theroux’s position, and the camera pointed my way at the end of the programme expecting an insightful and neat conclusion, I would probably say this.

“Having the bravery to make connections is a pretty good way to develop understanding. Through understanding you can hope to highlight common ground. That is why good coproduction should avoid polarising people based on superficial roles, remits, labels and strive to create deeper understandings on an equal, human level by daring to connect.”

So, coproducers, be more Daryl, Jon, or Louis!

Adam Batty 

Programme Co-ordinator

Emma Ward