Blue Flower

Co-Production

Co-production is a subject close to the hearts of all of us here at SERC.  For that reason, we're very critical if it's done badly, or - worst of all - cynically (for example, when it's just used as a new piece of jargon, or as a way of papering over cuts to services, or as a way to abdicate responsibility for decisions).

But if done well, then in our experience it is probably the most socially effective way to run an organisation of them all. 

So what is it?  Well, in the simplest terms, it simply means everyone producing things together - doing things with people, not for them or to them.  Unlike similar predecessor terms (service user representation, engaging user voice, user-led commissioning and so on), the emphasis in co-production is on it being a permanent process that will be different every time you design and then implement a new aspect of your organisation's work - a journey rather than a destination.

The other point to note about co-production is that it is transformative: in other words, it cannot be done without significant changes to existing behaviour on the part of those practising it.  If done correctly, it usually also leads to significant changes to the existing behaviour of everyone involved with an organisation whether service user, trustee, volunteer or staff member.

The evidence on co-production indicates that it works best in services, "where the social issues are chronic and complex, and the solutions are contested".  (This quote is from page 26 of this Cabinet Office document, which is well worth reading in full if you want an academic type overview of the concept.  Don't be put off by the fact that it was written in 2009 - the warning at the bottom of each page along the lines of "This is not a statement of government policy" is as true now as it was then unfortunately.)

An excellent starting point, and we'll declare some nepotism of our own here, is 2015 Clore Fellow Jenny O'Hara Jakeway's report 'Humanising Services and Building Communities' - subtitled 'I.e. Co-production - how the hell do you do it?').  Jenny is a friend of ours, but even if she wasn't, the personal experience and insights based on actually trying to run a social organisation on co-productive principles for many years in one of the toughest estates in Wales would raise this above the other introductions out there. 

If you then want to dive fully into the world of 'co-pro', Nesta's guide is still a pretty comprehensive and useful compendium of learning, research and practical tools - download it here to begin your journey...