In December 2020, five very different projects were selected by the panel to be supported by the Co-Creating Change Network to explore the possibility of growing and/or replicating their methodology and approach to co-creation. These notions of growth and replication are intertwined yet different. For some it is about scaling up and for others about spreading out to new locations. The emphasis is on approaches and methodologies and the intention is to find ways for each approach to be marketed and adopted by others.
The five projects selected were:
A Place for Co-Creation with Restoke
Cultural Spaces Responses to Homelessness with Arts & Homeless International
Our Space with Theatre Royal Plymouth
Making Together with We Can Make
Our Culture with Rising Arts Agency
Full project descriptions can be found here.
In early 2021 the members of the cohort were mentored by The Young Foundation, a charity committed to developing better connected and stronger communities across the UK, which supported them to implement their growth and replication processes and maximise social impact. As the consultant providing learning support to the cohort I met with them after the series of workshops to check in on progress.
The workshops provided the opportunity for the group to develop as a cohort, to share ideas, provide peer to peer support and bounce off one another. Someone described it as ‘looking in the cracks’ and someone else spoke about the provocation of peer critique and the opportunity this provided to rethink and reflect. All five programmes of work were refined as a result of the workshops highlighting the benefit of shared exploration and learning at the beginning of a complex project. This is simply one of the key learning points already emerging from the programme.
The importance of what one project leader termed ‘upfront time’ enabled adaptation and adjustment so, rather than simply rushing in to a programme of work that was already fixed, the cohort were encouraged to rethink and refine their propositions and this has benefitted all five projects bringing greater clarity of purpose and a slower pace.
“This was an unusual grant. The overall framing of it was unusual and refreshing. There is no pressure to deliver a pre- defined output but rather an ongoing dialogue and exploration of what we mean by co-creation and growth and replication.”
This is important learning for funders and was shared in a conversation with them in May 2021. There is a significant commitment to co-creation across several key funders including those funding the network and a genuine will to fund the work better. The network has provided an unexpected pilot of a different way to fund work. Battersea Arts Centre has had to become a funder channelling funding to the network through the different commissioning programmes. It has shown how effective peer to peer funding disbursement can be in supporting co-creation. It has challenged notions of accountability by stating that the recipients of commissions are accountable through the learning and it has challenged the traditional funder/ funded relationship by being more hands off and less restrictive, more relationship focussed than transactional and more open ended and responsive to change. It has encouraged risk taking and failure and encouraged outcomes as opposed to outputs.
It is also apparent that learning is emerging across the projects about the processes of co-creation and it is worth highlighting some crucial lessons that are emerging around the need to balance having something that grounds a programme of work or project with the need to remain open to what might emerge. Being outcome focussed does not necessarily require a totally unstructured or open approach – some structure is needed to both support the co-creators and create a safe space for experimentation.
These five programmes of work are very different and are highlighting aspects of the process of co-creation that will generate significant learning for the sector. They are adopting different approaches and using different methodologies, working with different co-creators in very different contexts and seeking to generate deep and embedded change within these contexts whether it be through putting new digital design and construction tools in the hands of people and communities, enabling them to lead change through co-designing, fabricating and building the homes and shared spaces their neighbourhood needs, empowering young people to mobilising others for radical social, political and cultural change or supporting venues to deepen their access and work with homeless people.
What they share is a commitment to collaborating, to peer to peer learning and improvement and to the wider sector and society within which they work. Now more than ever, we need to be harnessing this commitment.
Image: Our Space, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Dom Moore Photography