Gathering a group


By the end of this unit you will have completed exercises exploring:

  • Power dynamics - in terms of your project focus, who tends to be impacted by decisions that are made, and who tends to make those decisions?
  • Who is who? - who will be involved in the project.
  • Addressing power imbalance - identify barriers to inclusion and ideas for overcoming them.
  • Trust builder - effective group working is about relationships and trust. This is even more crucial if you will be working remotely.

Building collaboration

Collaboration begins with a group. This group will be made up of professionals and individuals who have lived experience of the area that is being explored. This group defines the research question. Usually this question already has some direction from initial project ideas, funding directives or recognised need, but ideally everyone in the group has a chance to contribute. When the focus has been agreed, the group can embark on the project.

This is a collection of people that represent all the stakeholders in the project. It could include staff from relevant organisations, people with lived experience, managers, key decision makers, family members, carers – the mix will be different for each project. We usually say that co-production can only work if you have all the right people in the room, but in current circumstances, we will be looking to gather this group in a more virtual form. This will present challenges, but will also remove barriers, so it is an ideal opportunity to learn how to make a project process accessible to people who may otherwise struggle to join a physical group.

Done well, group work can support organisations and individuals to become agents for change.

Co-production relies on shifting power towards people who use services and carers, and they must be included in a production team. However, in order for successful implementation of change it is equally important that the team includes relevant frontline workers, practitioners, managers, and has buy-in from decision-makers.

There is currently a sense of urgency in terms of service improvement and delivery. However, we have to be realistic about time required for improvement. It takes time to gather together the right people to make good group work happen, so make sure you manage your expectations and leave plenty of time for recruitment. We need to get this first aspect right as it is the foundation of everything that will come next. There must be flexibility in the process for the team members, a certain amount of ‘give’ in the solutions that are sought. An element of commitment to the project is required from professionals and people bringing lived experience – without this the project will fail, or simply recreate similar power dynamics that would have arisen from other methodologies. Inherent in this commitment is the need for incentives for everyone in the team to continue the project through to fruition. People involved in the co-production process must get something back for having done something for others.

Finding people

Finding people to join your group can be an exciting and daunting task. Aim for equal numbers of professionals and individuals with lived experience (including carers, family members etc).

Finding people with lived experience can be difficult if they face barriers to inclusion. By identifying these barriers before you begin recruiting, you will be more likely to overcome them. Recruiting people who have influence over the implementation and funding of ideas can take a long time and involve winning trust. You may be looking to answer a question that people have very different opinions about. Taking time to make sure you have representatives from all camps is essential to your project’s success. Think about the size of the group – beyond twenty is too many, less than six is too small.

One of the questions we are often asked when we talk about finding the right people for a group, is where to find them. This will be unique to your project. In the context of working together apart, it may be that you are best placed to begin your search online. Forums, Facebook groups, Twitter and other digital networks can be good places to link up with people. Just because you can’t be in the same physical space doesn’t mean that the social networks around these spaces are not still active. Contacting churches, schools, youth groups and social centres to tell them about your project can be a great place to start.

Set the following questions when thinking about how to recruit people for your project:

  • What are the characteristics of the people you need on your production team? Be specific.
  • Where do they congregate? Is there a group that physically meets in the same place? Is it geographically linked? Does it have a community of practice or online presence? Are there advocacy groups that link people up? Do you have personal or professional connections to people who fit the bill?
  • How are you communicating your project? Do you have an online presence, a point of contact or a supporting organisation?
  • Are you ready to discuss the ethics of your project and your considerations of how you will avoid exploiting people?

The recruitment process will differ from project to project. The most important thing is to be proactive and ensure your recruitment process is accessible.

Barriers to inclusion

Socioeconomic status and class

Being inclusive across class means prioritising the needs of people who have been consistently told by society that they matter less. It is also about recognising the financial pressures of precarious work (poorly paid, unprotected, and insecure) and unemployment. Some people may not be able to get time off work, so accommodate them by being flexible with the times of your meetings. If you are working with people who have children, then consider whether they need support with childcare, or make it clear that children are welcome in the background of any meetings. Cover expenses for your participants – it is best practice to provide these up front. If you can, pay your non-salaried participants a day rate. If the professionals in your group are being paid to take part then everybody should be. Be aware of the impact that payments and volunteering can have on people’s benefits, and find creative ways to navigate these systems.

Language and literacy

Language and literacy levels are an important consideration in recruitment and throughout the project, so avoid jargon and use plain English. Not only is this inclusive, but it supports and builds understanding between professions from different sectors and across boundaries between professionals and non-professional. If the group has varied literacy skills, try alternative forms of media such as radio or video. Providing a phone number is always helpful, and there are also tele-interpretation services available. There is more to making a project accessible to people without English as a first language than just translating the call-out. You will need to be able to respond to questions and provide interpretation if your participants don’t speak the same language as you. Also think about using local dialect or languages like Scots or Gaelic.

In the community you are recruiting from, is decision-making done as a family, a community or individually? You may need to reach out to key community members to help. Are their significant cultural events you could recruit at? Are there particular dates you should avoid for holding workshops?

It is everyone’s responsibility to make sure the voices of BME communities are heard and acted upon. In the 2011 census in Glasgow City, 12% of the population were from a minority ethnic group, in the City of Edinburgh and Aberdeen City it was 8%, and in Dundee City it was 6%. Your co-production team should reflect this and include BME people. Prioritise the needs of your BME participants over others. This will help to counteract the inherent barriers to inclusion that they face in society.

Communicating with young people, adults or older adults requires different approaches. For example, you wouldn’t rely on social media to recruit older people with dementia. Think about where these communities are and consider the best ways to engage them.

Think about specific commitments people may have based on their geography. For example, in very rural areas, don’t recruit during lambing. Internet access may also be more difficult in some areas of the Highlands.

Be sure to make your recruitment process LGBTQI friendly. Use the inclusion form to ask people to include their pronoun (he / she / they) with their name so that you don’t misgender participants. Do not let other members of the group misgender participants and have a zero tolerance approach to sexist and homophobic comments. Create a women-only co-production team for groups who need a safe space, but never exclude trans women from these spaces. When discussing support networks, ask questions like ‘who are the significant people in your life?’. Don’t focus on people’s partners or children.

Living well pathways from Iriss Pilotlight project Living well themes from Iriss Pilotlight project Is there stigma associated with the project subject? For example, substance misuse, dementia, mental health and HIV issues can be stigmatised in families and in the community. People with particular conditions may be less willing to participate for fear of others finding out. One option is to keep the name of the project neutral. The Iriss Pilotlight project that explored self-directed support (SDS) and early onset dementia was named ‘Living well’. This meant that participants could choose whether to disclose their diagnosis or not. Ensure that you have people’s explicit consent before sharing photos or identifiable information.

You may have to try lots of different avenues to recruit people. Don’t give up! If recruitment is challenging, you might want to adjust elements – group sizes, timing, commitment levels etc. If this doesn’t work, you might need to consider an alternative approach to co-production.

If you are working with people who are cautious of authority then work may be required to build trust. Reassure people that their details will not be shared. In some situations people may prefer not to give their personal information at all.

Practical exercises

  • Power dynamics - in terms of your project focus, who tends to be impacted by decisions that are made, and who tends to make those decisions?
  • Who is who? - who will be involved in the project
  • Addressing power imbalance - Identify barriers to inclusion & ideas for overcoming them
  • Trust builder - Effective group working is about relationships and trust. This is even more crucial if you will be working remotely.

Read, listen, watch

  • ‘Hard to reach’ or ‘easy to ignore’? Groups that have been known in the past as ‘hard to reach’ are now more appropriately recognised as ‘easy to ignore’. Those facing inequalities, sometimes multiple inequalities, are often easy to ignore due to the complexity of their situation, the difficulty of forming a solution, and a lack of understanding from governments, organisations and programmes. No one is hard to reach, just more expensive to reach. It is important to put more effort and creativity in reaching these groups ( Lightbody , 2017).
  • IGLYO intersectionality toolkit. A practical guide for both individual activists and organisations to learn more about intersectionality and its principles, and to provide a selection of activities to explore practice around inclusiveness.
  • The People-led Policy Panel is a group of people who work together to reform adult social care support in Scotland. The initiative is supported by Scottish Government. Iriss had a conversation with Deirdre Henderson, People-led Policy Officer at Inclusion Scotland about the set up, aims and ambitions of the panel. Denis Shovlin, a member of the panel, also spoke about how he got involved and his experiences of the panel.

How to turn a group of strangers into a team

Business school professor Amy Edmondson studies ‘teaming‘, where people come together quickly (and often temporarily) to solve new, urgent or unusual problems. Recalling stories of teamwork on the fly, such as the incredible rescue of 33 miners trapped half a mile underground in Chile in 2010, Edmondson shares the elements needed to turn a group of strangers into a quick-thinking team that can nimbly respond to challenges.

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