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Disability Rights UK’s project to increase participation in sport and physical activity

About the project

Get Yourself Active is a programme funded by Sport England and led by Disability Rights UK. We work tirelessly to increase Disabled people’s participation in sport and physical activity, so that everyone can experience its benefits.

Disabled people are found to be one of the most inactive groups in society. We know that more needs to be done to understand the barriers that Disabled people face with accessing physical activity. We work alongside Disabled people and Disabled people’s user-led organisations to lead change in the social care, social work and sport sectors, in order to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for Disabled people and help them to get active in a way that is right for them.

We have been working alongside Durham University on a fully co-produced project called Moving Social Work. Our research has shown that social workers are essential and trusted messengers to the people they support. However at present, no standardised education or training for social workers on how to promote physical activity exists. The Moving Social Work programme aims to create the first resources to educate people doing a social work degree, as well as provide post-qualified social workers with the tools to promote physical activity to and for Disabled people. Ultimately, the more social workers understand the importance of physical activity, the better placed they are to support a Disabled person in leading a more active and fulfilling life.

What has co-production meant to the project?

Co-production is about recognising that lived experience of a particular community or communities plays a central role in the design, development and delivery of projects and services.

We have always wanted to make sure that co-production is a central part of this project; we recognise that the resources would have little impact if we did not work together with people with lived experience to co-produce the resources. We have ensured it is included in the project plan from the beginning and that co-production is seen as a key pillar of the project’s success.

What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?

We used a range of methods to engage with a variety of people. This included running knowledge cafes with different stakeholders and with Disabled people. We conducted a Delphi study, which is a structured method where ‘experts’ in a certain field answer questionnaires in two or more rounds in order to reach agreement about a topic. As well as this, we set up expert interviews, which was an opportunity to gain expertise from key stakeholders in social work and sport across the user-led and Disability field.

At the beginning of the project, we also set up a co-production group. The purpose was to raise the voice of people with relevant expertise or lived experience of a long-term health condition or Disability, to shape and influence the project. The aim was that group members would draw on their own experience and knowledge of social work and/or Disability to advise, work on and steer the activities.

We aimed to recruit a variety of key members who bring perspectives not represented by other members of the advisory group. This included:

  • student and post-qualified social workers
  • university social work programme lead
  • Disabled people with experience of using social work as a service
  • a sport sector representative.

The group all have individual experiences and represented different community areas, for example, some with experience working with Disabled children, some with adults, and many with lived experience.

The co-production group have acted as champions for co-production in the design and delivery of the project. They have helped to co-create information and resources for the project, supported with expert interviews and with the development and delivery of the knowledge cafés and other research activity.

What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?

It all sounds really positive, but the co-production process has been a big learning curve for all of us so far. In true co-production fashion, it’s never been straightforward. We really saw the importance of the relationship-building element of co-production. It has taken a while for engagement to build up while we got to know the group and got to know each other, and built that all-important trust.

The group has also been fluid in nature which has sometimes been challenging, as we’ve not always known who to expect at meetings. We’ve had people engaged initially who then dropped out, then others joined who brought life back into the group. However, it’s important to remember in co-production that members of the group are human beings. They may have personal issues, get busy, and not always have the time.

One way we dealt with this was to always offer a variety of ways for the group to keep involved in the project. As well as more formal meetings every couple of months we offered drop-in sessions, one-to-one calls or catch-ups. We also set up a platform on an online collaboration website to upload documents and create forums for the group to engage with.

What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?

Co-producing the project has helped to strengthen the resources we have developed because we have ironed out any issues earlier on. The resources are developed through research, and the input and support of numerous individuals with professional or lived experience. Working with the co-production team helped ensure that the resources were accessible, inclusive, and representative of diverse communities. We are looking forward to seeing where the co-production group takes us as we begin piloting the developed training and resources.

What advice would the project give to others?

Co-production can be messy when you’re starting out, and you can get things wrong. However, it’s all about working together and learning as a team, which goes for everyone involved.

Co-production can also take time. Develop a suitable format that works for everyone involved, and you’ll always find a way you’d do it differently next time. But you shouldn’t be afraid to take a timeout, or change if things are no longer working. Like anything else, co-production processes need to evolve as your project evolves.

There is no straightforward template for co-production; the process will look different every time you do it. Using the co-production model means that everyone is always involved. Just as they share in the mistakes, they will share in the final success. Co-production empowers everyone to rethink how and what can be achieved.