07 Dec Peer Power pilots online co-production training: a Q&A
Meet Joshua Okunlola, design lead on the training we piloted this month to deepen understanding of what true co-production looks and feels like.
Q: When did you join Peer Power and why?
A: I joined in March 2020 – just before the lockdown started! – as the Training Design and Development Lead for the Act for Change project*, which was all about me working with our young partners to create training and content for different professionals in social care, mental health and youth justice – all to create system change.
I had two interviews. In the second, which they said was ‘informal’ I was surrounded by a panel of six young Peer Power partners! I hope they saw that I was calm, passionate about working with them, and interested in being as creative as possible with creating this training.
I wanted to be able to do work which would be potent and actually cause change in systems – which would have a positive impact for young people – and also learn about co-production myself. I’ve worked collaboratively in my work before but I’ve never had the chance to work using the co-production framework, so that really excited me.
Q: What were the first steps in setting up your project?
A: Number one was just to start some dialogues. I talked to five or six of the young partners, to get to know them, let them get to know me and ask any questions they had. Then we started to think about what we each needed in order to work together in the most effective way. Second was then designing a way for everyone to have equal input into the training in terms of ideas, strategies, objectives and vision – all using the online setting.
Q: Why co-production as a training subject first above all else?
A: For one, for Peer Power, co-production is really central to the work we do. It’s something the young partners felt was important for different professionals to really get some insight into. We had a strong belief that being exposed to real co-production would have a transformational effect on some settings and hopefully on young people [in those settings]. Secondly, we’d been asked already by one organisation to deliver some co-production training!
Q: Where are you at now and what are the next steps?
A: We’ve now completed pilot delivery to two groups of delegates – one group including three secure settings – and we’re going through all the feedback and making some tweaks. We’re going to follow up with some coaching sessions to really help embed some of the concepts from the training. Because we’re making a commitment to support them – there’s no assumption that after one bit of training you’re going to go away and change your whole setting and structures – it’s about working together to really make these changes.
We plan to get up and running in January, and then we’re going to start on the Empathy training too, which we’d created already but now need to adapt to the online setting.
Q: What have the best bits and challenges been during the process?
A: A big challenge was definitely creating an environment of collaboration using an online format. All of the training I’d done before was face-to-face and when I took the job I had the initial mindset that we would be doing much of the work face-to-face. Then obviously Covid hit and it all switched. I took some time to design a process that I thought would help each person’s voice to be valued, so all the young partners knew that what they said would have an influence and impact on the training.
Working with scripts and sort of learning lines didn’t seem right for the online space – in person we’d all be standing up and doing activities together. So I recorded myself doing all of the activities on zoom, outlining the key bits for us each to remember, and that was received much much better [that written running orders]. That’s an example of what the process has drawn out of me – not treating the online space like the material space.
Best bits? There’ve been so many… there was a moment in the first session when we were thinking about ideas. I was about to get into the work and one of the partners interrupted and said it’d be good to take some time to spend some time getting to know each other. For me that was pivotal because, firstly that person felt comfortable to voice what was important to them – and what would be important for the work; it was the first sign of that power of co-production in action. Secondly it helped me to remove an assumption I had going into the project, which was that everyone knew each other really well and this was an established group. That helped me to think about relationship building as being a core theme throughout the co-production journey.
As well as sessions to gather ideas, we included some personal development sessions, covering learning styles, public speaking and communication. For the public speaking I wanted everyone to have their cameras on. Our engagement worker, Ria, gave me a heads-up that some of the partners would be a bit nervous about that, but just to be encouraging. In one exercise on eye contact – this was all on zoom – I invited someone to look at the camera, and then the other person to look at their eyes and just hold that contact for about a minute and just breathe through it. One young partner in a group of three with me wasn’t too keen but wanted to watch. Then, having watched, all of a sudden they said they really wanted to do it. That was a highlight for me, just seeing in that moment that vulnerability and then their courage. During feedback, when that person started to talk about what eye contact meant to them, because of their experiences, and the group got to really see that person because they allowed us to see them – that moment is dear to me.
Finally, working with the co-facilitators, seeing where they started, questioning their potency and abilities, and then going through the process and looking at them as they delivered the activities and seeing the reactions of the professionals and hearing some of the feedback… hearing what that sparked for some of the professionals was a massive, massive highlight for me.
Q: What are your hopes for the project?
A: One of my hopes is to get as many of the young partners as possible involved in delivering the training. Second is to get them trained in coaching too so that after the training they can keep talking to those organisations about how to really implement some of the concepts.
Next year – we don’t have an official goal number – but I’d like to be delivering training to at least 10 different settings, that would be awesome.
One of my biggest hopes and wishes is just for our young partners to keep feeling as supported as they are now, and for there to be always more opportunities for personal development for them. With the co-production training there was always the end goal – what we create, the product – but for me, now, I’m seeing the journey as where the value is. I’m looking forward to that journey with the partners, seeing their growth, and my growth as well, and what they pull out of me, because I’m a different person and a different professional now to when I started this journey. As much as there’s been development for them there’s been major development for me – so I’m excited about how that will grow over the next year.
If you’d like to find out more about training sessions we offer, please drop us a line on firstname.lastname@example.org
*Thanks to funding from Act for Change, as part of the Step Up to Serve campaign, we’ve been able to pay young people to co-develop and co-deliver this training. The Step Up to Serve initiative has enabled many organisations to support young people to be leaders in social action.