A reflection from Susanne Burns and Tamsin Cox, the evaluators of the Co-Creating Change project.
When proposing an approach to evaluating the Co-Creating Change Network, we had to consider carefully what was going to be deliverable given the major logistical challenges of an extensive network across the UK. So we had to be clear about what we couldn’t do! It is not possible to provide a comprehensive, objective, summary evaluation of all activities or to tell the detailed story of everything which happens as part of the programme of work given the breadth of activity, the range of partners and locations and the different types of activity being undertaken by those partners. Further, it is arguable that this is not what needs to be evaluated.
The key aspired for outcomes from this network seem to be:
- a nuanced and rigorous shared understanding of what co-creation is – and isn’t;
- a degree of confidence in knowing what is required – circumstances, ingredients, qualities, characteristics, processes, factors, behaviours to really enact co-creation – and what the outcomes of it might be.
It seemed to us that what we needed to do was to support the network as it embarks on a programme of enquiry and learning that seeks to generate that understanding.
At the recent network meeting in Leeds it was clear that people want to reflect and learn. You want to share your own knowledge and experiences and celebrate the work as well as learning from others. This suggests a healthy two- way street. There is an appetite to interrogate the challenges and the difficulties of co-creation as well as its strengths. Some of the things that people want to learn are practical – such as, what approaches work – but many more were about the interrogation of the practice itself – what is it, what are the risks of it, how do we do it authentically and what is the goal of it as a process? Lots of questions emerged.
So what is needed is a deliverable and realistic framework for meaningful self evaluation and collective reflection that will support sector learning and move the practice forward.
We tested some of our proposed approaches with the network and they were welcomed – creating a space for reflection and learning, building opportunities for consultation, testing, evaluation, learning and reflection in to existing and planned activities, supporting local learning with tools and templates that can be used to support self evaluation and reflection, CPD and helping to tell stories through the development of focused case studies that will illuminate key emergent themes and learning.
This approach requires commitment and buy-in from partners. We recognize that not all partners will want to be involved. We must work from the micro – the projects – to the macro level learning which can be extrapolated from them. Practically, this requires an approach to evaluation that is open, honest and brave. There was a clear quest for improvement running throughout the Network meeting that supports this approach and reassured us that our approach would be welcomed.
It is clear that people want change. You want to move beyond the rhetoric to a place where the practice is understood and supported. You want to learn and clarify, probe and interrogate, share and support. Key themes emerged in Leeds around the need to examine:
- The language we use and its relationship to power:
- How we get voices heard outside the sector and how we advocate for the work to raise its status and profile, generates awareness with funders, validate the practice and ensure it is understood by everyone;
- How we create a truly inclusive network where community producers feel comfortable at the network meetings;
- The need to generate system change – new business models, new funding models and structures;
- How we amass a collective voice that goes beyond organisational egos.
Whilst people appear to be at different starting points in terms of experience of the work, understanding of what co-creation means, what it requires and what it can achieve, there is considerable consensus on the need for it and what it can do for the sector.
The network is an incredible gathering of people from different parts of the sector who are there for a purpose and we are looking forward to supporting that purpose.
Susanne Burns and Tamsin Cox