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Co-designing and co-commissioning policy solutions to in-work poverty

One of the key pillars of JRF’s transformation to a new way of working is designing new ways to develop policy solutions — ones that involve people with experience of the issues we are tackling as an equal partner.

Over the past year we have been exploring how to do this in the area of in-work poverty.

So why this area? Well, there is a lot of discussion about in-work poverty and numbers of people affected but very little of the debate is led by or even includes those who are directly affected by it. We wanted to start to shift this.

All well and good but this is probably one of the most difficult areas to do participatory work in because, well, people are working, aren’t they? So, they don’t have time to come and do work with us on it! And most groups of people with experience that we know of are out of work so we had a very limited starting point.

So how did we do it?

First off — existing relationships with people affected by the issues — of which there were very few. Most of the groups led by experience that are coming together are out of work as they have the time to commit to this type of activism. Very few of these groups manage to engage with people who are in work. I had a few connections and luckily, they were fairly strong ones. Engagement work often relies on strong relationships — if people know and like you then they are more willing to get involved — it’s the age-old adage of trust. We spent a couple of months trying to reach out to others but really struggled to get anyone else — the one person we did find was through a contact of ours that had the relationship. So, relationships all the way!

We started off with 4 people and had to work flexibly around people’s availability. Most worked part time and one was self employed, somehow we managed to find a time that worked for everyone.

We brought these 4 people together with a range of JRF colleagues with expertise in economics, policy, research and media. We spent time building up a sense of unity and team spirit — working as one together. We developed and agreed shared values and ways of working. Developing a strong foundation for collaborative work.

The aim was to combine all areas of knowledge including the most important area — knowledge gained from lived experience — to create a whole new way of working. And I have to say what a lovely team they made! I am continually grateful for the calibre of colleagues and partners that I get to work with — it is one of the best parts of this job!

The next step was to get some help to deliver the project, we sought out delivery partners that could help us and then developed a process of co-commissioning — with each of the team members having an equal say in who we went with.

Relationships and trust are hugely important, so we invited 2 competing organisations in to deliver a session with the whole team (JRF plus LE partners). We gave them a brief and asked them to lead the session. This way we were able to get a feel for the approach and the people pitching.

We then asked them to work up user friendly proposals for how they’d go about this work.

Then — another workshop — looking at the proposals in depth combining our areas of expertise. We developed key areas that we were looking to mark against — 1) knowledge of participatory approaches 2) research expertise and — perhaps most importantly — 3) the values we had agreed earlier on in the project. With these things in mind we worked through each of the proposals in detail using a pros and cons template. We then deliberated these pros and cons and collectively arrived at a decision amidst reams of flipchart paper and endless cups of caffeine!

This was the first co-commissioning process that JRF had undertook— it was one of the first key milestones in working towards developing an entirely different approach to policy development. And one that others in JRF are keen to replicate.

This is an exciting journey to be on and one that I have enjoyed immensely — the chance to bring together inspiring people from all walks of life to collaborate and create solutions that are grounded in real life experience that is then combined with wider knowledge from economics, existing research, employers perspectives and more.

The project has developed further than I have time to go into here but keep an eye out soon for another blog detailing where we have got to and how.

I’m always keen to hear from others doing similar things in different spaces and to share learning. Do leave any comments you may have below!

Written by

Head of Participation and Advocacy for JRF. I lead our work on participation and co-design approaches to policy development and influencing.

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