On 1st and 2nd December I attended the 2014 Service User Academia Symposium that was held at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand. The theme of the symposium was ‘Creating Connections – Building Bridges Together’ so ‘co-production’ in mental health research and education was the main focus of presentations and discussions at the symposium.
I was involved in two presentations at the symposium. Both presentations had been developed jointly (co-produced?) with others, so they raised very pertinent, crucial issues in terms of both content and process of knowledge co-creation.
I did the first presentation on the first day of the symposium together with Cath Roper, Consumer Academic from the University of Melbourne. Even though knotty issues and key debates in the area of mental health service user involvement in research from our experience as mental health service user researchers were intended to be the main focus of our presentation, we also placed increased emphasis on the process of our collaboration and its development from what could be perceived as a ‘shotgun marriage/partnership’ (formed foremost in order to secure research funding) into a genuine ‘love match’.
The slides from my joint presentation with Cath Roper can be accessed here:
I did the second presentation on the second day of the symposium. The material for this presentation, entitled ‘Mad knowledge(s), difficult knowledge(s): Critical reflections on paradoxes and unsettling relations in the politics of co-production in University-based mental health research’, had been produced jointly by myself and Tim Rawcliffe, a mental health service user colleague that I have known for about 3 years from the now dismantled North West Hub of the Mental Health Research Network in England. The idea was for me to present the paper at the symposium on Tim’s behalf as well.
During the night before the day of the actual presentation, I sent Tim the following email:
‘Hi, Tim. Hope you are well. I have been thinking about and working on the co-production paper on and off for the past week struggling with how to combine the conceptual work that I have done with the concrete examples of research we have discussed (eg mental health advocacy study and recovery project) and fit all this within the 20 minutes I have for the presentation (20 minutes plus 10 minutes questions).
But I think I had an epiphany whilst sitting through other papers yesterday that I found less than exciting as they were mere descriptions of ‘co-production’ initiatives with no attempts to theorise and conceptualise co-production at all. Also I had very good feedback regarding the paper I did with Cath yesterday which was very conceptual but people seemed to enjoy:-))
So, I have decided [and I am afraid it is an executive decision that we do not have time to discuss and negotiate as I am doing our paper in 3 hours, sorry] to do a conceptual paper about co-production with minimal or no reference to specific projects/examples. I will ask questions to problematise co-production and I will talk about concepts that have helped me (and hopefully us) think about co-production critically. I think we have enough descriptions of co-produced or less co-produced projects!!!
I hope you can live with my decision and you trust my judgement. I will send you the final version of the paper before I present it but we will not be able to discuss it before I present it, sorry, no time. I am actually going to record my talk and the questions afterwards so that you can get an idea of what I said.
I hope you will still speak to me after this and you will not feel ‘co-opted and used by an academic’ (jobless academic by the way :-))). I will call you after I have done the paper to tell you how it went – do not worry, I will call at a decent time (UK time)!
take care for now
talk very soon, Dina’
The slides from the paper that was developed jointly with Tim Rawcliffe and I presented at the sysposium can be accessed here Co-production paper_Poursanidou and Rawcliffe. During the presentation I touched upon issues relating to the process of my collaboration with Tim including my decision to do a different (ie entirely conceptual) presentation and the ways in which I attempted to be as transparent as possible in my communication and dealings with Tim given the challenges posed by the lack of time to discuss and negotiate my decision with him and the 13 hours time difference between New Zealand and England where Tim was based at the time.
After my presentation people came up to me and told me how much they loved my talk. Characteristically, one of the attendees said he hoped Tim was ok with my decision to do a different (ie conceptual) presentation. He said he would not know whether what I did was what Tim needed but ‘it [what I did] was definitely what we [the audience] needed’ given that I went a step further and attempted to look at what we are really talking about here…that I asked questions and did not stay at the level of description.