Today marks the launch of our new policy report In Focus: Experiences of older age in England. It sets out to debunk the generalisations that are made about older people and seeks to explore the specific challenges facing specific groups of older people. As part of this research we interviewed 45 older people in 2019 between the ages of 65 and 95, however, as part of this work we also sought to achieve purposeful co-production throughout the project.
What do we mean by co-production?
The term ‘co-production’ is used to describe how people can work in a collaborative way to create, improve and develop services and activities. The core of co-producing with others is to recognise that people have expertise through their lived experience.
By working alongside each other to make decisions and solve problems, the intention is that meaningful, relevant interactions and policy can be created to support others.
The Expert Advisory Group
We attempted to co-produce throughout the In Focus project by inviting a group of six older people throughout the country to help us shape and plan the project. These individuals became our Expert Advisory Group as we recognised that they could share their expertise with us through their lived experiences. Although the meetings with the group would take place over the phone it was really important to us that we met every member of the group face to face – at least initially – to get to know them and how they preferred to be involved in the coming months. It was also a wonderful chance to learn about their rich, varied backgrounds, skills, and what they wanted to get out of being involved.
Some members of the groups saw it as an opportunity to share their experience and help change things for the better for older people, whilst others also saw it as a chance to challenge misconceptions about older age.
Sharing views and providing feedback
Our expert group fed into the project on three main occasions;
- Sharing views on how the research could best hear the views and experiences of the 45 older people we interviewed
- Helping us make decisions about how we planned to reach out to older people and listen to their views
- Providing opinions on the findings of the interview based research and what they felt were the most important or interesting discoveries we should present in our report
In addition to this we invited the group to feedback to us on a participatory photography guide to be used by our research participants. In this task each participant was to be given a disposable camera to take a photo every day for a week with a different theme per day with the hope that they could be used a prompt in the face to face interviews.
The feedback from the group was invaluable and enabled us to make tweaks that ensured that the interview guides used throughout the project were fit for purpose and helped generate really detailed insights into the lives of our participants.
The emotive results of this photography task can be seen throughout our report.
A “you said, we did” approach
We encouraged our group to speak freely about their ideas and opinions but it was equally important that they were able to see tangible outcomes to their involvement as the project progressed.
One of the main challenges we faced was getting everyone together as we were only able to do the sessions over the telephone in groups. After each session we provided a breakdown of the feedback they had given us and the actions we had taken to implement their comments. This also ensured that everyone was able to see the overall outcome of each meeting and what their fellow group members contributed, even if they had not had the opportunity to speak to them directly.
For me, working with the expert group was one of the most valuable and insightful parts of the project process. I hope that it gave the members of the group the chance to try something new and share their valuable skills and experience.
We will continue to think about how we can involve people in meaningful ways in all aspects of our work at Independent Age in order to create relevant and quality services and policy that reflect the issues that are important to older people.