Sharing the Power

Blog post by Fiona Jamieson, Programme Manager, The Robertson Trust

Over the last 18 months, local women in Cumnock have driven the development of Heart and Soul, the first of two women’s centres to be established in Scotland as part of The Robertson Trust’s Women Centre programme.

From the outset, the aim was for the design and development of centres to be led by local for local women; to reflect the voices, experiences and needs of the community they would serve. While this way of working is now new, it does represent a new way of working for The Robertson Trust and, in moving towards coproduction and co-design approaches, and in understanding better our role in the effective delivery, we have found ourselves on our own learning journey.

In a highly positive way, coproduction has proven to be a disruptive influence for our Innovation and Learning team. It’s forced us to reassess where our role as a funder begins and ends in community engagement, to reflect on the power imbalance that can often exist between funders and those we would like to support and to capture the learning that will allow us to more effectively support this approach going forward.
In this particular programme, the centres, which also received funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, aim to provide a positive space where all women can come together and socialise, thus providing support and companionship to those experiencing tough times. It is hoped this holistic approach can act as a form of early intervention for those at risk of negative outcomes, whilst decreasing the likelihood of further stigmatising those who have previously been in the criminal justice system.

The programme aims to generate learning around how a gender specific, community-led approach can support women to achieve positive outcomes at a community, individual and agency level. However, the documentation around the opportunities and challenges in developing a project of this nature may well be an equally significant legacy for funders. This learning from development phase has been captured in an external evaluation by the University of Strathclyde.

From our own perspective, we have learned about the importance of building relationships with local statutory and third sector organisations to ensure there is an appetite, capacity and need for engaging in a particular agenda. Such relationships are fundamental to the success of coproduced projects and, as we learned from experience, when they’re not there, it can be difficult to articulate the vision and foster enthusiasm.

We have also recognised the importance of identifying a trusted intermediary agency at an early stage. In Cumnock, we are working with Centrestage Communities, who we recognised were far better placed to inspire the local community and listen to local voices than we were. While it is certainly important for funders to be approachable and informed, it is equally important to let go of the process and trust the identified facilitators or Development Workers to create a shared vision of what the project should be.
As a funder, we can often hold much of the resource power, but our journey with coproducing the women’s centres has taught us about the need to consider the skills, knowledge, professional experience and resources of all stakeholders, and ensure these are clearly reflected, and respected, when establishing roles and decision-making processes. We see coproduction as a catalyst for systems change, whereby traditional power imbalances are addressed in order to create lasting change for Scotland’s communities, driven by the voices of those who are most in need.

It remains an ongoing area of learning and, with the development phase for a second centre now underway with Active Communities in Johnstone, we hope to gain more insight in the coming months and establish exactly what coproduction means in practice for The Robertson Trust. Our definition may develop, but our learning and experience over the past 18 months has shown enough to suggest the principles of the approach will be utilised more often in our Innovation and Learning work going forward.

You can read more about our Women’s Centre programme here. You can also download the full evaluation of the Development Phase here and summary report here.