Co-production during physical distancing – teach out

What does physical distancing and the COVID-19 ‘lockdown’ mean for participatory and co-produced research? 

There are a number of emerging resources for re-thinking research methods and projects (e.g. Virtual not ViralMethodsLab) and youth work (e.g. Youth Work Support) in light of the lockdown and physical distancing. This teach-out will further explore the challenges and potentials for doing participatory and co-produced research with young people and communities. The constraints of the lockdown and physical distancing pose considerable challenges to us as participatory researchers, as our work typically emerges through intensive investments in relationships with and between the people we work with. How can we do collaborative work through online tools?How can we seek to decentre academic power and knowledge relations while working from a distance? What types of research and knowledge co-production are foreclosed by the apparent necessity to record and document? What can we learn from communities with greater experience of doing collaborative research remotely?

On Wednesday 22nd April ESRI hosted an online teach out to discuss these issues.

The event was larger than expected. The original plan (@YouthLoneliness Thread) was to bring together 15 people but over 200 expressed an interest in participating. A decision was made to run a bigger event that allowed more people to participate. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in similar positions, wondering how they can continue or plan a research project during lockdown/physical distancing. We need to come together at this time to share knowledge and support one another to champion co-produced research that is courageous and imaginative. COVID-19 is posing considerable challenges to our collective lives. Anxieties over safety, ballooning public deficits and economic uncertainty auger seismic changes to our social, political and economic landscapes. We need to affirm that co-produced work enables those without a voice and without a part can be brought into the public conversation about how we survive and emerge from this pandemic.

We had presentations from Kirsty Liddiard (University of Sheffield) and James Duggan (MMU)

Teach-out: Co-producing research during physical distancing from dugganjr

For more information:

Living Life to the Fullest Project Blog

Living Life to the Fullest Co-Production Toolkit

Twitter: @FullLivesESRC

Intro to whole Living Life to the Fullest team.

Virtual environments. 

Meaningfully including disabled young people. 

This is a pandemic – we need to share resources. 

Disabled children’s and childhood studies. With and by children and young people. Plans for impact and engagement determined by them. 

Virtual environments are important for activism and advocacy work. 

Project team has daily interactions via WhatsApp/Skype/Email/Twitter/closed Facebook group.            

Online is often more malleable to different abilities/bodies

Not tokenistic approach. The young people have undertaken the research and analysis, using new technologies such as online semi-structured qualitative interviews (see slides for list). 

There are always doubts about tokenism/imbalance in research, particularly the idea that co-researchers are only capable of doing a certain level of research. We argue they have alternative, legitimate expertise (Nind et al, 2012, 660 & Bucknall). 

Virtual methods, access and the body: new forms of citizenship online. 

Aware of digital exclusion. Work with what Kafer 2013 – ‘crip time’ allowing for e.g. different hours of availability, fatigue, medical routines. Embodied experiences – interruptions are not unwelcome but disrupt embodied modes of enquiry. 

Research team co-writes together online.

Disability research during the pandemic: ‘Your ‘only’ is my ‘everything’ – came from parent in Living Life to the Fullest in relation to focus on ‘the vulnerable’ being at risk – used to allay people’s fears.

The Coronavirus Act suspends duties of Las in Care Act, 2014. Removing this obligation is deeply impactful. 

Is now the right time for research? Should we be focusing on enquiry when survival is key?

Loneliness, Co-production and Homelabs from dugganjr

Introduction to Left on Read


Loneliness Connects Us (with Janet Batsleer): 14 co-researchers and engaged 200 young people. 

Used a carousel of methods to build the young people’s research capacity. Also worked with game/theatre designers to develop an immersive experience called ‘Missing,’ which toured the country. 

The ‘carousel of methods’ allowed people to make a sustained contribution, so they could, e.g.  contribute to one session and then another a few months later. This allowed them to participate if they had chaotic lives. We used community philosophy, made things, worked with body and movement etc. The young people selected the topics. 

We were interested in the different responses is we spoke to them cold about loneliness (e.g. ‘I go for a walk in the park.’) versus those that emerge during an immersive experience. This is why we chose the ‘escape room’ format for ‘Missing.’

FOMO: we worked with the idea of the fear of missing out re online representations.

I have a different idea of coproduction. I struggle with the idea that it is empowering/committed to social justice. It’s not as clear with what I do (as what Kirsty does). I’m interested in the question ‘How are you empowering people?’ More about the speculative. Proposing constraints and ‘lures’ for feeling to help people orient themselves in the world. Isabelle Stengers– ‘It matters.’

Left on Read: the plan was to focus on loneliness, how the young people want to approach it and what do. However, my usual project imaginaries focus on the model of the lab – bringing people together in a room. Now I’m thinking about the more contextualised place of young people’s homes. ‘Home labs.’ How we can use them to engage with something that helps to think around loneliness. 

Often I’m interested in the coproduction of failure.

 I’m also thinking about the potential issues with Homelabs.

I’m working with the City of Literature on this project that mobilises the ideas around Afrofuturism – a comic (book)-based provocation:

How has your life changed? What world would you want to go back to? 

And we want people to create responses to the comic. And it could become a rough-and-ready/co-produced version of the No Small Plans project.

*Stephanie Bolt asked the question – what happens to the young people next?

Then 5 breakout conversations

Edmund Coleman-Fountain (Northumbria) – co-producing sensitive research in lockdown, issues with privacy with, e.g., intimate and sexual citizenship 

Work on sexual citizenship. Challenges in locked down longer-term. 

What if e.g. LGBT people are locked down with people who they haven’t come out to/they can’t comfortably express themselves around. 

  • What are the challenges of doing research during lockdown?
  • What challenges to co-production research do lockdown conditions present, specific to sensitive and intimate topics? 
  • How can technology vs embodied togetherness help us to navigate the situation?
  • Is now the right time? If not. When?

Caroline Bald. Social work lecturer. Looking at young carer’s experiences. 

Ned asked – how do you find appropriate methods for dialogue? Is it important to e.g. get away from voice? 

Catherine Dod…(missed name). Undertakes policy research into HIV.  Wonders if the answer is hybrid approaches. Young people can see us but can type replies. But some may not be able to type. Is it about fluidity? Access to headsets to increase privacy? Could exchange take place over a protracted space/time?

Michelle…(missed name – Healthcare professional): Had a call this afternoon about trauma-informed approach to primary care. At the start we did introductions – where are you? Is there anyone else who can overhear you? Being aware that people may not be in a situation where they can speak freely.

If there is a facilitator, can there be an online chat so people can support one-to-one afterwards if something arises and people don’t feel comfortable speaking but need support?

Alex Marland: Trainee teacher. Ask the young people. They usually know what apps work best for them. Better for us to learn what they know rather than expecting them to. 


Fiona McHardy Research & Information Manager at the Poverty Alliance. 

Rachel Marsden: Enjoying the interdisciplinary focus. Different backgrounds. Something to be said about the wealth of shared knowledge. Does practice-based research in the arts. Contemporary arts, action archive, trauma of body, representations of chronic illness in art. 

Anna Pilson (Durham) – Dealing with the practicalities, safeguarding, platforms, and choices

Tania de St Croix (KCL) – Rethinking the early stages of co-production 

Christine Smith (Hull) – Doing memory work and collective biography during lockdown 

Ben Bowman (MMU) This is not a webinar: how can we [have fun and] share co-production in isolation? 

The internet is full of instructional videos, dance clips, TED talks and other one-way, producer-consumer multimedia interactions.  That’s fine, but it’s not what we’re usually looking for in co-production. What tools, skills and approaches can we use to resist, adapt to, or subvert those one-way relationships?

Prof Keri Facer (University of Bristol/ University of Uppsala) Reflections and ways forward

Remember – collaborative work is difficult enough as it is. 

Remember digital isn’t the only thing. There are posters, flyers, collective making. 

In my organisation, we have shifted a lot of face-to-face activities to writing (email). 

Look at all the work on digital divides since the ‘90s. This is not just about access to technology.

Look particularly at work in LMICs. Instead of thinking of the end user as one person in a room, think of the collective. That one person connecting and communicating with others, e.g. Steve Woolgar’s work. 

Remember collective action is still possible and may be needed. We can still go outside. See the March 26th VICE magazine article on protest:

Don’t try and make it all up on your own. Ask for institutional support. Demand that e.g. ethics an tech teams support you and recognise that we are working in different conditions. 

Opportunities: How often do we get so many people together like this otherwise? Look at South African Community Action Networks. Reach one, teach one. Taking a lot from barefoot college traditions in India. 

Mutual Aid – there has been a massive growth. How do we get behind and support this activityNot trying to get on with what we wanted to do before. Just because it’s an emergency doesn’t mean we should rush. The same rules for collaborative research apply: take things slowly, create space, have conversations, work with brokers (trusted intermediaries). 

How does this work bleed into our every day lives? Recognise this is emotional labour – responsibility for self-care.

Research councils: Take for granted they will give no cost extensions. Slow things down. 

As ever – who’s not involved? Who are we not speaking to? 

This is a moment for building solidarity – collaboration not competition. Collective fights, not individual. What might it look like if we networked this group

Keri suggested we read:

The Connected Communities literature reviews on traditions of collaborative research:

The Connected Communities report – reflecting on what it takes to do collaborative research well:

Policy Press book thinking about evaluation – in particular the last two chapters:

Twitter conversation #CoProdLockdown

Participants’ questions about #CoProdLockdown agenda

If you are interested in future events on #CoProdLockdown please get in touch (J.Duggan [@]

Special thanks to Kirsty Liddiard, Anna Pilson, Tania de St Croix, Keri Facer, Ben Bowman, Christine Smith, Ned Coleman-Fontain for presenting. And to Laura Breen for taking notes that are included in this post.

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