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Co-production by design: the power of small grants

22 Nov 2021 | Cat Tabbner

What can we learn about the power of small scale funding initiatives to support co-production? We hope that this blog offers helpful reflections for anyone with a role in commissioning or managing projects and small-scale funding schemes.

Our small grants scheme supports creative co-production to communicate what young people think about climate change and its impacts on health and wellbeing. Round one of our scheme ran in 2020 during the first wave of Covid restrictions and funded eight projects.

The role of our team was to design and manage the scheme. Our team completed individual learning logs which we collated and analysed at a group level. What emerged from our learning is that while our team were not directly involved in co-production on the ground, we appeared to have created a funding environment that enabled these kind of projects to flourish in the very challenging circumstances of the pandemic.

Six funding qualities to support co-production

Overall, it struck us that what had made our funding scheme supportive of co-production was that we seemed to have created a small Human Learning System (HLS). As we understand it, Human Learning Systems is an approach to public management and public service that aims to support people to flourish.

To create an HLS, trusted relationships need to be built with people to understand what it means to flourish in their lives. A public management system or public service is then designed to be able to respond in the diverse, complex range of ways that people may require rather than creating a one-size-fits-all system.

We did not aim to create an HLS, but on reflection, we think that our small grants scheme is an example of a mini-HLS for two main reasons. Firstly, we designed and adapted funding processes in ways that supported complex, emerging requirements of project delivery during Covid. Secondly, we noticed that our practices echoed some key co-production values, principles and practices used by the projects.

Six qualities of our HLS stand out as ones we think helped create a supportive funding environment for co-production projects:

  1. Trusted and respected: we trusted the projects’ interpretations of the funding brief, respecting the diverse knowledge they brought. We trusted the projects to deliver. We provided support when requested and flexibility too, but we trusted them first and foremost.
  2. Facilitative and supportive leadership: we had regular team meetings and our programme manager took a facilitative and supportive approach to leadership. As a result, team members were able to choose tasks and roles that made best use of their knowledge and skills. The team felt a strong sense of collaboration.
  3. Flexible: when the Covid-19 restrictions began, we responded by extending the application and project completion deadlines, and we amended the process. Changes included welcoming new ways of working (virtually) together. We also allowed the grants to be used flexibly so that digitally excluded young people could take part remotely (e.g., by covering the cost of internet access) or participate in other ways within current Covid guidelines.
  4. Responsive connectivity: each project was assigned a GCPH team member who kept in touch during the scheme. This arrangement helped us to build a personal and trusted relationship with those projects who wished this closeness. Some team members reflected that this personal connection helped to overcome the distance and isolation of remote working. Conversely, groups that were keen to 'get on with it' were given the space to do so.
  5. Healthy: throughout the scheme our team considered how to create funding processes that supported the young people and their groups, which is one of the reasons why flexibility was an important quality. The openness of the funding brief enabled young people to explore what mattered most about climate change, which for many meant voicing their views on climate anxiety. The trusting, personal and connected qualities of the funding scheme also buoyed GCPH staff wellbeing.
  6. Focussed yet open: although the purpose of the Small Grant Scheme was on co-producing projects about young people’s views on climate change, the funding brief criteria, remained fairly open to interpretation by projects. This approach resulted in a variety of interpretations that usefully contrasted and challenged some of the current public health ways of understanding climate change.

Creative co-production

Children and young people in eight groups in Glasgow completed unique, creative projects to explore climate change. The groups used a wide range of creative methods to explore and express their views on climate change, including virtual workshops and interviews, films and animation, storytelling, creative writing, mask making, crafts and recycling, art, a digital magazine, crafting and the collection of air quality data on bikes. Their projects took a variety of stances, from interviewing local councillors on actions being taken today to tackle climate change to imagining a more hopeful future.

We were very impressed by the projects’ creative innovation and we were inspired by their powerful messages. We also found that these co-produced projects contributed views, understandings and knowledge, which helped us to re-think climate change from young people’s perspectives. Round two projects are nearing completion at time of writing and we look forward to sharing our learning.

We are not experts on co-production and we did not get everything right but we are committed to learning and continuous improvement. We hope that our learning is helpful to anyone wishing to support co-production through small funding, project management or public services.

Blog written collaboratively with the GCPH small grants team.

Access more info on the eight projects and see their outputs.

With thanks to Susan Paxton at SCDC for introducing us to Human Learning Systems approach.

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