Sharing dumplings, jetlag and the stage: co-presenting at conferences, the way forward

Dr Lindsay Dewa, Advanced Research Fellow in Mental Health, and Pelumi Fatayo, co-producer of Nexus, reflect on their experiences of presenting together at an international conference, and the value of putting co-production into practice. 

Oof – long day that wasn’t it! Is it 11pm or 7am? Is it Friday or Saturday? I’m so confused!” – Lindsay

That was a question I had asked Pelumi following over 24 hours of travelling from London (and Manchester for Pelumi) to South Korea. But I could see it was already well worth the trip before we’d even stepped out of the taxi – the bright lights, the heat… the friendly taxi driver trying to figure out where our hotel was on his five digital devices… we were excited! But what I was most looking forward to was co-presenting about co-production in mental health research at a prestigious international conference – ISQua – with one of my young co-producers, Pelumi. The conference theme was “Technology, culture and co-production: Looking to the horizon of quality and safety” so we felt it was perfect for us to share our experiences.

“Going to my first conference it was very exciting that it would be held in South Korea as I’d never been to country in the continent of Asia before. It was a surreal experience as South Korea is 8 hours ahead of the UK which took some getting used to!” – Pelumi

It was so important to me that Pelumi had a good experience. Not just at the conference (it was his first time), but also to enjoy South Korea as best we could with the downtime we had. Thankfully we had a bit of free time to explore before the first social gathering. We saw one of the oldest palaces in Seoul in significant heat and enjoyed the most amazing dumplings in the tiniest restaurant. The food over the week was truly amazing and the people were so friendly.

Arriving at the conference

We had collected our conference IDs and programme early on the Sunday, so we walked straight into the evening social designed to welcome everyone to the conference. I always get nervous at conferences and this one was no different, but strangely, I jumped into networking mode by getting stuck into the activities. Looking back this was quite unlike me but I thought, why not! It was a great way to get to know people as everyone then seemed to give me the look of “oh that was you doing taekwondo. Hi my name is…”. From this early interaction, we mingled and made lots of friends that we continued to socialise with throughout the trip. This first day felt crucial to create and maintain relationships.

“I wanted to immerse myself into the conference, as this was my first conference in this capacity, learning about the work going on within the health field by talking to researchers, doctors, service providers etc… [it] was really inspiring, getting to socialise with them was surprisingly very fun too. This is especially seen with an evening spent at a mansion, through the organisers ISQua, the evening was filled with food, drinks and live music. It was nice to get to know the different practitioners in a social setting.” – Pelumi

Before we knew it, the first day of the conference had rolled round. Despite a late night, and what felt like jet lag, we were up early for breakfast and straight into presenter mode – going through our slides and last minute queries. It was such a privilege to co-present about co-production with Pelumi, and I was determined to continue using co-production principles by sharing power in the session. We took it in turns running through the slides, had equal voices and were able to reflect on our experiences together.

“Being able to present ‘Fighting for a culture of co-production’ with Lindsay was truly an honour in which I am so thankful for. It gave space for co-production to be shown in real time, and it highlighted what sharing space and power looked like. Also having the film ‘Nexus’ be screened at the conference was a real highlight of the conference as it gave us insight into what Covid was like at an international scale and some interesting insights were brought up that could be explored within the next instalment of Nexus (fingers cross).” – Pelumi

The power of co-production

We were also given the opportunity to screen Nexus , our co-produced film about the impact of Covid-19 on young people’s mental health. Truthfully, we didn’t expect so many people to turn up as the session was run over lunch! However, brilliant discussion followed the screening and again – like our symposium – the great thing about the screening was doing it together.

“Going to this Conference has meant so much because it has allowed me to be in spaces and with people I never thought I’d get to be with. As some of the work that is been done about Covid-19 and Technology in health care is truly groundbreaking. I am very thankful and humbled to have had such an experience. As it has really inspired me, in ways where I am now trying to think about the bigger picture and how can I contribute to the amazing work already going on within the field.” – Pelumi

However, it seemed that we were the only researcher/public member presenters, and there were very few public and patient members in attendance. With the conference centered on co-production, we found that very strange, and a real shame. To truly co-produce you need to work together across all stages of research – including dissemination. This experience made me want to join the ISQua board to not only encourage more mental health focus, but to also encourage true co-production and be an advocate for patient and public voices! Hopefully, next year we won’t be the exception,  but the norm.

“I would definitely encourage any other young person who has this opportunity to definitely go for it. Even if you might not think you should, because Lord knows I had those doubts and I thank God, they didn’t stop me, it’s that saying of faking it till you make it. As it’s important to challenge yourself, to take up space and to be in the rooms where conversations about health are happening.” – Pelumi

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