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How co-production can be used as a tool for systems change

5 July 2022

The cost-of-living crisis is affecting so many people. This includes the hundreds of thousands of people using Turn2us’ and the Trussell Trust’s services and shows we are living in a broken system. So, for this year’s National Co-production Week we are coming together to call for co-production as a tool for systems change.  

From the Stonewall riots to the American Civil Rights movement, history teaches us that people with lived experience are the people who will drive forward long-lasting system change. Charities must learn to step aside and better share their power if we want to see an end to poverty in the UK.  

Here are some things to think about: 

Continue to develop different ways of co-producing work

At Turn2us, we have always looked for different ways of co-producing our work. We have run tens of sessions across all teams, from monthly meetings redesigning our Grants Search tool with twelve co-production partners, to recruiting five people to be Peer Evaluators, who work with our insight team to evaluate our services. What we have seen from co-produced research (such as our Model of Thriving) is that it can be more successful to have someone with lived experience interview someone who has used our service, rather than a staff member.   

Currently, we’re expanding our grant giving programmes, and we are exploring different models of practice (such as participatory grant making to lived experience led community groups as well as individuals) that will enable us to shift power meaningfully.  

Be ambitious about your co-production 

Based on our learnings from the past few years working in this way, Turn2us’ ambition is for co-production to be safe, expert, targeted/diverse and valuable across the sector: 

Safe – In the sense that we know that all doing co-production work need to follow a Model of Care (McKercher’s Model of Care is great). Co-production partners need professional support when they work with us. 

For example, staff need training in facilitation and payments to feel equipped and safe in their work. We have learnt that co-production partners need conversations around their development when they work with us, such as understanding what everyone wants to get out of the experience (what skills they want to develop, what areas of Turn2us they want to contribute to).  

Expert – Because we know it takes skill to co-produce: to design and facilitate sessions, and to listen to information and transform it into insights that can affect change. Training staff and co-production partners to do this well is crucial. For staff and co-production partners alike, this is a new practice, so ensuring the training is regular, plain English and meets people where they are at is key. 

Targeted/diverse – We all know that people’s lived experiences of financial hardship are incredibly varied. As a sector, we need to target people with specific experiences so that the insights they give us are always relevant. This will mean we can use the insights well.  

Valuable – By which we mean that we should gain value for the services we provide, and co-production partners should gain value for themselves. This also means that we need to have a strong learning culture. For us at Turn2us, we are still relatively new to our co-production approach, and it takes time to learn about what insights we are gaining from the work, and what we are learning about the process of co-producing itself.  

“I’ve been a peer evaluator for a couple of months but it only occurred to me yesterday that when you’re asked to fill in a form, you’re asked facts like your date of birth or how many ppl you live with. But if you were describing your life to someone, you wouldn’t say those things. Facts are just slices of bread. The meat that actually make up peoples lives and experiences are the bits in between the facts. People with lived experience get this because we’ve been there.”

Brian, Turn2us Co-Production Partner

Foster an ambition for change and collaboration  

It’s always refreshing to be in an organisation that has an appetite for change AND a genuine desire to collaborate with partners. 

At the Trussell Trust, these two factors give staff optimism in the face of the challenges before them. This is particularly true when it comes to bringing lived experience to the centre of the organisation and the food bank network by involving people who have been forced to use food banks into the charity’s work as true collaborators in development, decision-making and delivery. 

We set ourselves three major aims when it came to co-production last year: 

  1. Connect with more people  
  2. Build expertise and grow in confidence across the organisation 
  3. Develop a contextualised approach to participation 

For me, it’s been an exciting ride, not without missteps and mistakes along the way. Sometimes attempts to develop relationships have been clumsy, some have been short-lived and some have felt like false starts. But one year on, the Trussell Trust team have become more convinced than ever before that the messy, slow, experimental work of participation is vital to the success of any movement for change. 

Develop the skills, expertise and confidence to keep going 

Reflecting on the last year of co-production, the Trussell Trust are proud to have laid a strong foundation for culture change, but we know we must keep challenging ourselves and this is something that as a sector we should all strive towards to.  

One of the key ways we want to do this is to show teams across the organisation that participation is not just for experts. The next frontier for us all is to develop the confidence of staff and volunteers at every level and across our networks to build meaningful relationships with the people most affected by hunger and poverty, and to create opportunities for co-leadership of our movement.  

For example, one of the new approaches we took was setting up a Together for Change panel to train members of staff to ‘buddy up’ with participants, adding another layer of trust and connection. It is an approach we will be building on to grow a network of Participation champions across the organisation. It is also something that will come alongside brokering relationships between the most senior leaders and the lived experience leaders on the agenda panel to increase the influence of participants over our strategic development. 

Why we should all get involved in co-production 

As two charities working collaboratively to ensure lived experience remains at the heart of our work, both Turn2us and the Trussell Trust believe that there’s a unique opportunity for the whole anti-poverty sector to stand in solidarity with people who face financial insecurity.  

The challenge now is to work across organisational boundaries to increase the impact of the co-design, participation and dialogue that we’ve all started to embed in our individual spheres of influence.  

Let’s ask ourselves how can we bring participants together to build critical mass; how can we share and amplify what we’re learning and developing? And then use this to work together to create real change.   


Find out more about the theme for Co-production Week – the impact of co-production.

Visit our Social issues hub for more blogs on how great comms are helping tackle some of the biggest issues in society today.

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Abby Meadows

senior co-production officer, Turn2us

Abby Meadows is the Senior Co-production Officer at Turn2us. She is passionate about using participatory methods to deliver services and wants to see a sector wide shift towards this.

Jeanette Bain-Burnett

director of participation, Trussell Trust

Jeanette leads the Trussell Trust’s work to involve people who have faced financial hardship in shaping the organisation’s strategic direction. She’s an advocate for inclusive leadership rooted in lived experience and believes that co-design is one of the most powerful tools we have as a sector to bring lasting change.