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Co-Production: the Courageous Way

June 1 2017

One of Livability’s core values that shapes our work is to be courageous. In this article, Charlotte Overton-Hart shares what it means to be courageous in working for dementia inclusive churches, and how taking a co-production approach can really help.

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. (Brené Brown, Daring Greatly)

We choose to be courageous, working together and with people, because that is how we learn and grow. (Livability values )

One strand of our work at Livability team supports churches that are taking their next steps to becoming dementia inclusive. Whatever point a church is at in their journey towards dementia inclusion, no two churches are the same, and for this reason, we seek to support them by starting with their individual strengths and gifts, as well as what they might be finding challenging.
We run one day workshops for groups of churches, and before each workshop we send questions to gauge levels of interest and knowledge. People often tell us that they lack the confidence and they would like to have help in supporting people who are living with dementia and their carers, yet they are doing it anyway. It strikes me that ‘doing it anyway’ is a hallmark of courage, that individuals and churches would be brave enough to keep showing up, to continue walking alongside members of the church family and beyond, even while feeling ill-equipped or under resourced.
Besides workshops, another way we support churches in the journey towards dementia inclusion is by developing resources. We believe that everyone has value, and has something to contribute. This is why the approach we take when developing resources is co-production. We’ve believe it to be a great way to build community with those we work with and find the process is as important as the outcome.

In Livability’s previous paper, Building Kingdom Communities, we explored a number of ways of doing community work which majored on consultation and participation. We advocated both ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) and co-production as approaches which sit well with the biblical vision of church and community.

Together with a group of contributors, we are currently developing My Faith Matters, a new spiritual wellbeing resource for people living with dementia. The goal of the resource is to support churches, families and friends to help someone who is living with dementia to maintain, reconnect with, or explore what brings meaning to their life. We are delighted that the resource will be the result of the work of dozens of individuals along the way. Livability can highly recommend this approach for any area of work or ministry which involves people as the principles work equally well for a youth club, a lunch club or local work with homeless people.

Co-production is a process that creates change. It is a way of working with, rather than doing to, people and communities to achieve better outcomes. (Josie Vallely, Iriss Co-Production Project Planner)

While co-production will look different from one project to the next, it can be helpful to think about using a model with distinct stages. The Design Council suggests the following four stages: Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. Each stage could take hours, weeks, or years, depending on the project, and the stages may blend into one another. With My Faith Matters, the journey has emerged this way:

  • Discover: Rather than just launching into creating a resource that may or may not be a help to churches, the idea emerged from workshop feedback, with participants asking for a practical resource they could use with individuals. At the end of a workshop in Norwich, a participant asked, “What next? We’d love to have a resource to support individuals, at whatever point they are at in their dementia journey”. From that moment, we knew that it was important to co-produce the resource, and hear from people about their own lived experience of living with, or supporting someone who is living with dementia – which includes friends, family, and church family.
  • Define: Once we knew there was interest in a new resource, we sent a questionnaire to over 200 people we’ve have met at dementia events. We met with health and social care practitioners, and spent time with people who are living with, or caring for someone with dementia. One thing was clear. No two people experience dementia in the same way, so it was essential to design a resource that did not reduce or generalise a person’s experience. This came through as clearly from people living with dementia as carers. One carer articulated the concern around “introducing things without experience or really knowing what people need […] one size does not fit all.”
  • Develop: In November we gathered a group of people who are experts by experience: people living with dementia and carers, and people working in the field of dementia. Together we looked at the questionnaire responses, and further developed the content. Something that came through clearly at this stage was that the resource needs to honour the lived experience of people living with dementia.
  • Deliver: In May we will be launching My Faith Matters as a free, downloadable resource, and will be running a series of conversation-led workshops. Our hope is that the resource will be used to help people living with dementia keep on being the best they can be.

It turns out that Community Engagement and co-production is not simply a thing we do, so much as a way we are. It’s an approach, rather than an outcome by itself. Creating things alone might feel more time-efficient on the surface, but with fewer voices in the room, there is a risk of disengagement. By intentionally taking the time to listen to one another and to the people and communities we work with, rather than racing ahead with developing a resource that may or may not be a help to people, we have a far stronger chance of creating something that will make a positive difference in people’s lives. In promoting ways to grow participation, co-production can offer an authentic approach for churches, placing building community at their heart of life together.
If you would like to think about using co-production as an approach in your church, whether or not this relates to dementia inclusion, the guiding principles are the same.

We recommend this free Co-production Project Planner from Scottish charity Iriss to help get your co-production projects started: https://www.iriss.org.uk/resources/tools/co-production-project-planner
My Faith Matters will be available as a free, downloadable resource in Dementia Action Week, 21 to 27 May 2018.

Charlotte Overton-Hart
Part of Livability’s Community Engagement team, Charlotte Overton-Hart is a reminiscence facilitator and bibliotherapy practitioner, using words for wellbeing to support people who are living with dementia and their carers. Charlotte runs workshops and develops resources for churches to take the next steps to being dementia inclusive.

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