The Scottish Homelessness Involvement and Empowerment Network (SHIEN) has been facilitated by Glasgow Homelessness Network (GHN) since 2008 thanks to funding from the Scottish Government. It was established to promote involvement, participation and more recently coproduction, within homelessness services across Scotland; supporting us all to get better at supporting homeless people to become involved in shaping the decisions and practices that affect them.
We knew that there was lots of excellent activity in services across the country and for the past 8 years SHIEN has provided opportunities for this to be shared and for us all to learn and continually improve what we do. We have achieved this through delivering conferences and events all across Scotland bringing together people who live and work with homelessness to discuss challenges and find solutions around involvement and participation. We are also in touch with over 1,800 cross sector subscribers through our regular newsletters and updates on our website.
We’ve spent some time lately trying to reflect on our collective learning over the past 8 years based on all of the debates and discussions we have had, and here is what we think we know!
- Unique Insights: we all have a tendency to favour certain voices at times, making some more important than others. Coproduction challenges us to bring everyone around the table to share their insights – people with lived experience, academics, professionals working in the sector, community members – and recognising that everyone’s perspective is equally important. It may sound like common sense, but traditional power dynamics often mean that we prioritise certain insights over others (often those of the person providing funding!) rather than us collectively agreeing what is important.
- Different Perspectives: it’s amazing how we can all see what we think is the same thing in an entirely different way! And even more amazing that in our own way we can all be ‘right’ even if we are saying different things! We’re all involved in trying to tackle homelessness for positive reasons, but not understanding the realities, motivations and pressures faced by people with different roles (including different legal duties and responsibilities) often makes coproduction challenging. When embarking on coproduction, any time spent on building a shared understanding of different perspectives, realities and pressures (and why they sometimes need to be different) will always be time well spent.
- Empowering Environments: creating empowering environments is one of the most important things we can do to try to challenge the existing power dynamics that can stop us recognising everyone’s unique insights. We achieve more success when we create an environment that makes it as easy as possible for a person to develop the skills, knowledge and experience that leads to them feeling empowered. This can include things like choosing a venue that is accessible to people, making clear in advance what people can expect and what is expected of them, avoiding jargon and official language that people often don’t understand, always giving everyone the opportunity to share their views and for everyone to ask questions. This builds confidence, self-esteem and creates a framework through which people can get involved at the level they would like to.
- Start where you are: one of the most common questions asked is about when to start involving people, when is too early or too late? Our view is keep it simple and start where you are! If you’re at the very beginning of a process then great, involve people then. If not, don’t worry about waiting until the start of something else, begin now and learn as you go. Any involvement is better than no involvement as long as we learn and keep building participation and coproduction into the way we work.
We think Samuel Beckett pretty much summed it up: