The idea of co-production is gaining increasing popularity in the public sector. It seems that people are regularly asking about the benefits of co-production or co-design and questioning whether these ideas fit with public service policy and program design.
For those of us who have been trying to introduce the idea of co-production into our workplace for a long while this change of tide is welcomed, but with a caution. My cautionary note is that we will adopt the term ‘co-production’ without effecting any of the changes required. Co-production isn’t consultation, it isn’t volunteering and it most definitely isn’t surveys. We’ve excelled at asking users what they want, then categorizing the answers; sometimes turning them into word pictures; putting patient statements in quotation marks for the inside covers of reports and often inviting clients or consumers to speak at the launch of services that don’t really address their needs. Co-production is about an arrangement where users of services produce, in partnership with professionals, the services they will ultimately use. I support the idea that public services can only be truly reformed when service users are encouraged and enabled to design and deliver the services they need in equal partnership with professionals.
Co-production involves citizens, communities, and the professionals who support them, pooling their expertise to create more effective and sustainable outcomes. It is based on a philosophy which values individuals, builds upon their own support systems and considers their place in the wider community. This approach requires a move away from service-led or top-down approaches to one of genuine citizen empowerment, involving service-users and their communities in the co-commissioning, co-design, co-delivery and co-evaluation of services.
The discussion paper Challenging Co-production by NESTA is a great place to start to explore a co-production framework for the public sector.
Co-production has emerged as a critique of the way that professionals and users have been artificially divided, sometimes by technology, sometimes by professional and managerial practice, and sometimes by a spurious understanding of efficiency.
The wonderful thing about co-production is that it gives us a legitimate framework for asking users about the abundance of skills they can contribute to the design of the service,policy or program. Users of services, like designers of services, are resources not drains on a over-burdened system. Co-production theorists have called this the forgotten ”engine of change”. It’s no wonder the system is failing, we’ve forgotten to use all our engines.
I recently stumbled across this great short film by the New Economics Foundation (nef) made about peoples Experiences of Social Care . After numerous interviews across England with people who used social care services they discovered there were two types of places that people live in: Service Town and Together Land. I know where I’d rather live.