This is the case in the sport and physical activity sector, just as it is within health services and research. We feel, as many others have expressed over the years (this journal article Lost in the Shadows is just one example), that co-production provides a real opportunity to make significant changes in this area. It could help move us to a model (as a society) whereby Disabled people are included as standard rather than as an afterthought.
If this culture change is to happen, though, we all need to buy into this approach as a sector. We need to commit to the social model of disability rather than the medical model. And make significant changes in the way that we work and what we consider valuable input into the development of services.
Why use co-production as an approach to this challenge?
Co-production is an approach to working together in equal partnership for the equal benefit and provides a way to address these many inequalities evident in our society.
It involves people with different forms of lived or living and learnt (personal and professional) knowledge, understanding, and experience working together. It’s not about frameworks or models! What is essential is genuinely embracing this way of working and the values that underpin it.
Everyone is on an equal footing, no one type of experience is more important than another. The result is better outcomes and mutual benefit for all involved.
“I’m Scott. Sport has always been a huge part of my life and following a major stroke in 2007, which left me without my vision and unable to stand I was looking for a sport that would allow me to continue, that I could essentially do sitting down and didn’t need to see where I was going. I decided on rowing, I contacted my local club to ask if they had an adaptive rowing section, which they didn’t, but they were very keen for me to come along and give it a go. Thus began a beautiful relationship between myself, my coach, my physio, my occupational therapist, my regional British Rowing rep, and so many members within the club, including veterans and juniors, to solve our way around any number of issues. A lot of these issues were physical ones such as how can we make adaptations to the boat or oar to enable me to know which is the correct way up in my hand. Or much larger structural ones like how we can get access to the water when the water level rises and falls depending on the amount of rain.
This was all fantastic co-production at work, but it could have achieved so much more. Ideally, we would have liked to replicate what we had done at other clubs regionally and nationally. Producing a network of adaptive rowing clubs to allow for shared learning, inter-club competition and to improve access to a sport that is not typically thought of by people with a disability. Unfortunately, I had to leave the club as I had to move away from the area due to work and I’m sad to say that I don’t think their adaptive rowing efforts have been continued.”
So what can we learn from this experience?
As outlined, using co-production as an approach to designing accessible sports equipment for the masses, or accessible venues may take longer initially but means that you are using resources more effectively and efficiently and creating better outcomes in the long term.
The resultant equipment, venue or service is much more likely to be fit for purpose and inclusive of all as, multiple viewpoints have been part of the development. The potential is massive. Taking this approach would provide significant visibility to Disabled sport (as this is the approach that Disabled people themselves are asking for – the work done by Get Yourself Active is a great example). Helping to break the misconception nationwide that Disabled people can’t play sport, thus attracting more participants.
It is equitable access to inclusive facilities that provide a significant barrier to participation, not Disabled people themselves. In a recent blog for Co-Production Collective – ‘Sport and co-production: Just do it!’ Lydia from the Disability Rights UK team outlines just how vital co-production is to help people get active in their local area in a way that suits them.
How can we unlock the potential of co-production to help us as a sector?
Leadership is key to progressing the sector where co-production is a standard way of working. We require leaders to advocate for this way of doing things and practice what they preach and get stuck in themselves.
Co-production relies on the person who is traditionally the leader within a situation, allowing themselves to be vulnerable and accept that leadership will ebb and flow depending upon what you are working on as a group. You need to move at the slowest person’s pace and set up a nurturing environment whereby leaders emerge in different areas because of different skills and experiences.
Co-producing with Disabled people will result in different approaches to challenges that may have not previously been thought of. For example, adaptations for Disabled people could be a multi-sport collaboration rather than sport-specific. Of course, this would rely on other parts of the system working towards rather than against this aim, requiring changes in policies and funding streams. However, this way of working could see sports sharing learning and resources and so ease the financial burden on the sector when it comes to developing an inclusive sport system nationally.
We know that if culture change is genuinely embedded and sustainable, it takes time, and there is a long way to go.
However, times are already changing. Co-production is on the up across different sectors and settings. People with lived or living experience working alongside policymakers or those running services are becoming much more widespread. These multi-disciplinary and diverse groups work as one team, improving lives together.
Are you interested in getting started yourself?