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Have a Big Conversation – finding ways to collaborate, coproduce and hear quieter voices

25 November 2022 · Categories: Innovators Learn

Here at Community Catalysts, we often get approached by local authorities or other large organisations who are trying to address an issue or challenge or who want to try new ways of doing things.

Our natural instinct in these situations is to start to talk about coproduction – working with people impacted by the issue, learning from them and taking a partnership approach to any change. A journey, based on collaboration and mutual respect.

We talk about coproduction but we know it’s hard to do in practice, not least because different people can come from very different, and often conflicting perspectives…and managing a process that works with this diversity can be tricky and time consuming.

Our Big Conversation approach

To try and come up with a practical and replicable response we recently developed a new approach called the Big Conversation. The approach takes account of the wonderfully messy nature of communities and makes it possible to engage and work with large numbers of people who come from very different perspectives…

From all our work across the UK, we know that people and communities are strong and have skills, experiences, ideas and creativity to share.

There are quieter voices of course, or even people with no voice at all – but getting creative and finding ways to really listen and partner is always possible – if you want it enough!

We know that coproduction is not just consultation – it is about listening and then creating space for people to develop a vision and then work together to create a different way of doing things.

Finally, we believe strongly that engagement needs to lead to action – there is no point in asking people to help create something better if they can’t see how their contributions will have impact.

The Big Conversation approach can flex to account for all these principles…and more! Our recent work in Merton, highlighted below, focused on daytime support, but the Big Conversation approach would work for any organisation wanting to engage and consult with a wide range of diverse people on a specific issue with the aim of taking action based on the results.

An example of the process and impact of our Big Conversation in Merton

Community Catalysts used the Big Conversation approach in our recent work with the London Borough of Merton Council. The project lasted for 6 months and was part of a wider piece of work to review what people with a learning disability and/or autism do during the day. We established a Reference Group, developed a webpage and an accessible information video to tell people about the Big Conversation and invite them to contribute. We set up lots of different surveys – each aimed at one group of people affected by the issues.

We used lots of different ways to engage and to include as many people as possible – hearing quiet voices as well as louder ones. With excellent support from local people and organisations, we held face to face, online and phone meetings, worked with council staff to send paper survey forms to families, promoted the online surveys and invited people to complete them. Day centre, education and other staff supported people with a learning disability and/or autism to complete surveys and completed surveys online themselves. Members of the Reference Group shared information through their networks

In total 381 people contributed to the Big Conversation. Almost 70% of these were people with lived experience of learning disability and/or autism.

In Merton, the focus was on daytime support, but we know this type of approach would work for any public sector organisation wanting to engage and consult with a wide range of diverse people on a specific issue with the aim of taking action based on the results.

Have a Big Conversation of your own

So what have we learned on this Big Conversation development journey? We’ve learned that coproduction is not anywhere near as difficult as it is made out to be; that most people have great ideas for better and a willingness to help make things happen and that the first step is usually the hardest one to take. We’ve also learned that conversations are fun and that learning from quiet voices is well worth the effort it takes to hear them. If you’re interested in having a Big (or little) Conversation with us we’d love to hear from you

By Angela Catley – Director of Development 

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