Co-production in crisis

During this pandemic, there has clearly been a need to respond and adapt quickly to a changing situation, provide clarity, and prioritise people’s safety. In addition, physical distancing has meant we are not coming together to discuss things in the ways we used to, either organised meetings or ad hoc conversations. In many contexts, this has led to a call for ‘command and control’, and a view that co-production is something that has to be sacrificed in the short term.

It is a compelling story, to bunker down, prioritise clarity and look to authority for answers. But for many of us collaboration is not a luxury that can be set aside easily. We are facing complex questions, and to find solutions that truly work for all, hearing different perspectives and experiences is key. 

It’s not easy, especially when there aren’t yet strong relationships and trust to lean on. There are factors that make it difficult for people to get involved, blockers to accessing the digital spaces we are now reliant on, difficulty in getting messages out to a broad enough range of people without strong community organisation structures, lack of time and resources within the sector, and more. And yet, it feels important, now as much as ever, that we try, find new ways to turn towards these challenges together.

“when systems fail, people rise”

We see in this moment the cracks in the system opening up, and communities responding with  creativity and resourcefulness. We see this happening with the response to homelessness during the pandemic in Greater Manchester, where relationships have been created and strengthened by working together as GMHAN over the last 3 years. 

We want to keep developing our capacity to work together, to truly collaborate and co-produce what happens next in the midst of so much change, and part of that is to share what we are trying and learning to inspire others, and invite feedback. Here are some examples of what’s happened so far…

Cross sector coordination: We built on existing relationships within the network to rapidly set up workstream co-ordinators that linked into different sectors and organisations including GMCA, health and social care, voluntary, faith and community sector, businesses and the public. This enabled us to see gaps, improve processes, set up feedback loops, and make the most of the resources and offers available.

Collaborative making sessions: We hosted sessions on zoom to bring in different perspectives on how to organise food, re-design remote support, and agree on donation distribution. We heard from people in different locations and from different services, and used a process called ‘convergent facilitation’ for coming to a group agreement that works for all. (You can read more detail about an example of this here.)

Open space calls: We also hosted fortnightly ‘open space’ sessions on zoom to hear experiences and feedback from different locations, discuss improvements that could be made, and get key information flowing between different parts of the GMHAN structure, including into decision makers at GMCA and to the Programme Board. 

Legislative theatre: The GMCA has engaged the GMHAN in 2020 to use Legislative Theatre, an inclusive, creative and fun policy-making tool, to inform the long-term GM Homelessness Prevention Strategy. Legislative Theatre holds co-production at its core, as communities directly impacted by inequality both frame the policy challenges and propose solutions. In addition, the project involves a core group of paid facilitators-in-training, all GM residents with experience of homelessness, who are learning the tools and will co-facilitate the play-making and public policy sessions. This group gathered via an open call, and has already begun its training over Zoom. Look out for a call for community actors impacted by multiple disadvantage in the first project. 

LockdownLives:  A collaboration between SSN and GMHAN, conceived by Jez Green of Mustard Tree, LockdownLIVEs is a docu-series co-created by GM residents in emergency and temporary accommodation during the pandemic. Short videos, poems, drawings, and photos are submitted and compiled into twice-weekly episodes that air on social media (@StreetSupportUK and @LockdownLIVES) on Tuesdays and Fridays at 3pm, responding to various themes about life during the crisis. The project aims to creatively connect people who are self-isolating in emergency accommodation; and help the broader public understand how this crisis affects those who don’t have their own homes, through artistic expression and advocacy. The LockdownLIVEs team is working with other groups conducting research, so that this co-produced reporting can support evaluation efforts.   

ULab sense making: We are following Presencing Institue’s ULab and the #GAIAJourney framework and tools developed by MIT (part of a global movement for “profound societal and civilizational renewal”), and are planning some cross sense making sessions to help us see future possibilities. More information to follow soon – if you are interested in this please contact

What now?

And what now? Who designs what happens when the hotels close? Who decides what the future looks like? And how might we work together towards solutions that work for all?

We face huge questions, and much unknown. To join the conversation, you can join one of our GMHAN events on 20th or 21st May:

For more news from GMHAN, you can join the mailing list here.