As an approach, co-production has increasingly come to the forefront, both in research and in design of services. This has led to greater attention and effort being made to draw on the knowledge of those with lived experience, whose voices count and, attempts to understand how they count. In September I had the great experience of assisting Beth Cross, David McGillivray, Jingyang Ai and Sandro Carnicelli to deliver a training course for PhD Students. This work discussed and explored how to co-design and co-produce research with stakeholders, groups and individuals. The workshop formed part of a series of workshops run as an element of the Scottish Graduate School for Social Sciences and the Scottish Graduate School for Arts and Humanities methods training series – Spring into Methods. This is the third that year members of CCSE have contributed to a Spring into Methods course.
There was a fantastic variety of PhDs, both in terms of discipline and design. Some were collaborative projects, others were practice led, some were utilising co-design at the research phase, others were interested in co-producing impact. A huge variety of topics were discussed. I had chats about ethics as way of thinking, how to leave and maintain a legacy to the research, how to open up dialogues with communities to find out what they want – amongst many others.
Discussions kept returning to how much of this work is relational and why, therefore, building good relationships is key. This lead us to talk about what defined a good relationship, how this varied by research design and what skills and knowledge PhD researchers needed to be good at relational work. While there are many PhD programmes teaching methodology and methods and thesis skills – such as writing and time management skills – there was felt to be a gap in the teaching of facilitation, relationship working and community development skills. I was relieved to find that I wasn’t the only one concerned about lacking the background (such as facilitation skills or experience in community work) to undertake relational work and – therefore – inadvertently causing harm or perpetuating power imbalances. The discussions did help me realise that my background in consultancy and people focused volunteering roles such as befriending have helped me gain useful experience in listening, maintaining boundaries, managing expectations and juggling competing priorities. A recurring theme was the tension between undertaking a thesis and the ideals of doing participatory work. Constraints included the ethics procedure, the time constraints of a PhD, the understanding of the institution regarding these methods. For several students, participatory research was an aspiration that would be pursued post PhD.
The week was concluded with a panel session with members who have worked with co-production as researchers, community activists, and service commissioners and could provide some advice about what they suggest helps make projects successful. I enjoyed reminiscing with Sharon McAulay, Project Manager at the STAR Project about the extreme rain during the UKRI research event run with CCSE! I learnt about buses and institutional ethics from Colin Clark, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of the West of Scotland. I was personally excited to hear from Kirsten McClean from Oor Mad History, a community history project based at CAPS, an independent advocacy organisation for people who use or have used mental health services. I volunteer with CAPS, but I hadn’t spoken to Kirsten before and hadn’t realised she has just completed a PhD. As well as giving insight into researching and analyzing with community members, she was also able to give useful insight into the challenges of integrating activism with a PhD. We also had Hartwig Pautz, Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences at UWS talking about the UWS-Oxfam Partnership and maintaining relationships in challenging circumstances. The diversity of experience of co-production meant that being online for a couple of hours on a Friday afternoon was actually a fun experience!