When faced with being in a room with experts and professionals, it can be hard for participants to realise their lived experience has real value, and is just as needed in the co-production process as anyone else’s contribution. How do we break down these barriers and remove any imposter syndrome?
Communicate clearly and enable people to participate fully in the discussion
Don’t make assumptions about how people prefer to communicate and work. Ask questions around accessibility, offer a range of communication methods and tools to work with. Being flexible about how people participate will show them that they are a valued member of the team. Create a glossary of terms that may need to be understood but may not be used widely by everyone in the room, and where possible avoid using jargon, complex concepts, complicated language and abbreviations. Making sure everyone understands and is on the same page, whether it comes to technology or language, conveys the importance of everyone being able to participate equally. Be aware of the needs of every person as an individual, because by ignoring the needs of anyone, we undermine the foundations upon which co-production depends. Are there people for whom written communication is difficult? Would people prefer minutes to be captured in the form of illustrations?
Regularly check in with people, and ask for and provide feedback
Taking the time to check in with people to see how they are finding the co-production experience, to ask for feedback, and to provide feedback on outcomes or progress, is all part of including people fully, in the same way as you would a professional colleague. Acknowledging contributions made can highlight how people have been listened to, noticed, and their thoughts taken into account.
Involve people from the very start
Set the ground rules around expectations together, and create the “terms of reference” as a collaborative process. Talk about what people hope to achieve and learn. Start as you mean to go on by including people from the off, before any work even begins.
Reflect on how you feel valued – and do you feel valued?
Spend some time thinking about what it means to be valued. How does it feel to be valued? Is there a time you felt valued? Why was that? What was it about the situation that made you feel valued? Or perhaps you don’t feel valued? Try exploring why that is. It could be that it’s hard to identify a specific moment or time we have felt valued. Perhaps this is a cultural thing. But if we don’t know what makes us feel valued, if we can’t quantify it, then how can we express to others their value? Is this indicative of how little space we have in our lives for reflection? Or are we just too modest, too reticent to show pride in our work, embarrassed by any attention shown to us to the point where we feel uncomfortable when people try to compliment us? Does it come naturally to say nice things to people? We need to give ourselves permission to feel good about the work we do, and possibly be less self deprecating, if we want to help others to see their own value.
Get to know the people you’re co-producing with
Don’t underestimate people with lived experience: that isn’t all they are. See people as whole beings, and enquire about their backgrounds. What did they study at school? What skills do they have? Do they work or volunteer? Do they care for people? What hobbies do they have? People are complex and multifaceted beings. Don’t treat them like a function, they aren’t a cog in a co-production machine. People bring so much into the room with them, and simply pigeon-holing them will send the message that their value is limited.
It sounds basic, but how often does it get forgotten? Think about how it feels to be thanked. It feels good, and isn’t something that gets diminished the more times it’s said. Thank people every time you interact with them, and watch the difference it makes. It’s simple but it can mean a lot, especially in a world where we don’t thank each other enough.
Doesn’t everyone feel like an imposter sometimes?
Most of us feel like an imposter at one time or another… or perhaps more often than not. But by recognising this, we can put ourselves in the shoes of someone with lived experience entering a room of people they don’t know, who they might feel intimidated by. It doesn’t feel good to have that voice in your head, telling you you’re not good enough. So tackle that elephant in the room by identifying it and calling it out for what it is. Assert that everyone in the room has something to contribute. Ask the question that you think might be stupid but everyone else is wondering about too. You don’t know what you don’t know, and that goes for everyone at one time or another. By taking away the ability of embarrassment to silence people, we open up a space for interesting conversations, and by placing ourselves in this position of vulnerability we show people with lived experiences that we aren’t faultless either. Give everyone in the room permission to think out loud and risk being wrong, because trying and being present is what matters. We have a tendency to overthink and perceive ourselves negatively, but we need to be kinder to ourselves, and allow ourselves and others to be unapologetically imperfect.
This post was informed by the discussion at the #CoproMondays members’ event held online on 31st January 2022. Our #CoproMondays sessions are fluid discussions with members, prompted by a series of questions or thoughts, where participants contribute their experience and knowledge, and learn from one another. Recordings are available if you’re a member or champion and you would like to catch up on the session content (email firstname.lastname@example.org). Our thanks to all those who participated.