Gillian Samuel, Peer Researcher for the Public Mental Health Programme shares her experience of co-producing work with researchers, practitioners and the public.
Co-production. It’s a word we are all familiar with. We’ve participated in discussions, read the guidance notes and are somewhere on the journey ‘co-producing’ our work.
We acknowledge the approach that when researchers, practitioners and the public work together, share power and responsibility from the start to the end of a project, including the generation of knowledge, then the outcome will be equal, balanced and more meaningful.
Perhaps this can sometimes feel like a big ask in research programmes where methods are complex, deadlines are looming, and pressure to evidence findings are high?
Eighteen months into my role as a Peer Researcher with the McPin Foundation, I have journeyed down the co-production path, sometimes quietly kicking and screaming, frequently jogging then stumbling, occasionally hurdling and winning, yet always with passion and a sense of purpose.
I believe that the key to truly effective co-produced work has its roots in building strong, positive, relationships with those involved. If a sense of mutual connection and ease is established, then everything else falls into place. Whereas, some relationships between people take time to grow, others may be instant. We all know that feeling when occasionally we ‘click’ straight away.
Preparing for and presenting at the PMH Virtual Symposium
How fortunate I was to meet Caroline Lee, Senior Research Associate, Cambridge University.
Despite being thrown together towards the end of the scoping review for older adults, with a deadline approaching, our rapport was almost instant.
Caroline invited me to join her in the design of an academic poster, which was to illustrate early findings of the review. What seemed like an uninspiring task turned rapidly into a racy piece of co-production work like no other I have experienced.
To make the poster appealing and more meaningful, it needed to be brought to life. I introduced the COVID Life Project at #IamPublicMentalHealth and the possibility of using a colourful photograph of garden sculptures and accompanying text, which had been submitted to COVID Life, by an older member of the public.
This illustrated clearly how creative input had elevated mental health during lockdown and how it spilled over into engaging with the local community in a positive way. An SPHR consent form was swiftly devised and offered to M, which allowed his work to be used in research.
In addition, the suggestion of making a three minute audio presented an opportunity to include a unique edge to the poster presentation and co-production process. Since I had already established a rapport with M, I undertook a face to face interview. Once the audio was collated, it presented a trio of voices equally: academic, peer re-searcher and older member of the public.
For me, the co-production process had formed seamlessly; it felt like this time we were all winners, maybe because we had come together through the challenging times of a pandemic. Or perhaps because we had a shared enthusiasm. Or could it be that we all just happened to gel?
Whatever the reason, let us celebrate this method and mark it as ‘the new normal’.
‘For me, working with Gillian has been a real highlight, adding tremendous value, meaning and context to the research process, through her creativity, grass roots links and a ‘can do’ approach. It has been an absolute pleasure, and in truth also a real emotional boost for me during these difficult and frazzled times!’
Caroline Lee, Researcher
Linking the work we’ve done together and with M this summer, with the review findings, we would be interested to gather some feedback. Please complete the Padlet to offer your thoughts on three questions:
The scoping review found a variety of forms and functions of community interventions targeting older adults’ mental health, only some of which involved older adults’ participating in any aspect of design and delivery.
How well do you think that these community interventions address the dimensions and determinants of public mental health discussed during the symposium?
Do you think that co-production should be the ‘new normal’ in: a/research; b/ developing community interventions/support?
Based on your answers above, what might be the implications for future research on, and development of, interventions supportive of older adults’ mental health?