What is co-production and why is everyone talking about it?
This blog will hopefully help you understand what co-production is and importantly perhaps, what it isn't. Here lies the route to true understanding.
But first, why is everyone talking about it? Many people believe that co-production represents a new vision for public services which offers a better way to respond to the challenges we face - the challenges of changing demographics, increased demand, spiralling costs coupled with financial constraints. Evidence shows it can deliver improved outcomes for service users while reducing costs - click here to read more from the research.
There are a number of different definitions floating around for co-production in public services:
“the production of public services through the equal and reciprocal contribution of service users, communities and professionals, making use of their pooled resources, expertise and willingness to improve service processes and outcomes.” Wikipaedia, source of much knowledge
“a new vision for public services which offers a better way to respond to the challenges we face - based on recognising the resources that citizens already have, and delivering services with rather than for service users, their families and their neighbours.” NESTA
Our People Powered Health (PPH) programe - where we aim to scale up co-produced solutions in health - defines it as this:
“the concept of co-production is that people’s needs are better met when they are involved in an equal and reciprocal relationship with professionals, working together to get things done.”
PPH sees co-production as being built around six characteristics:
- Recognising people as assets
- Building on people's capabilities
- Promoting mutuality and reciprocity
- Developing peer support networks
- Breaking down barriers between professionals and users
- Facilitating rather than delivering If you’re still in the dark you’re forgiven.
It’s quite a leap from reading conceptual definitions to understanding what co-produced solutions might look like on the ground. So..
What does it look like in practice?
Co-production represents a fundamental shift in the way we view the role of service users. Instead of being passive recipients of care they are recognised as equal partners, with a unique contribution to make to the design and delivery of services. Their skills and expertise are harnessed so that they take more control over their own health as well as supporting each other to do the same. Barriers between professionals and users are broken down. To understand more here is an example from our work:
Despite major investment early years’ services have not been reaching the most vulnerable families and in the current economic climate budgets have been reduced. Our Transforming Early Years programme generated insights that showed vulnerable families were not accessing services because they felt ‘done to’, were mistrustful of professionals, feeling judged by them and turned to ‘people like them’ for support and advice. Sites around England developed new service models to improve outcomes for users, reaching more vulnerable families by making services more accessible. Many of these were built upon the concept of co-production:
- The sites realised that there was a great deal of capacity in the communities themselves, it was a case of harnessing this
- Equal partnerships between service users and professionals worked together to develop the new models
- New services involve using volunteers in the community with time, skills and expertise to share. Some act as coaches and mentors, offering classes on parenting for example. Others act as community ambassadors ensuring services offer what the community needs
- Sites are planning to move to models of co-operative ownership where the families, community and professionals all have an equal say in the running of the centres
- Professionals move into a facilitation role, training and supporting people from the community to deliver services themselves
Predicted figures of the new service models show an increase in reach of 100-230% and an average reduction in cost of 25% by year 2.
If you're still not sure check out some other examples here.
What co-production isn't?
Co-production is not participation, patient and public involvement or a tick box exercise - tokenistic nods to government agendas. It is not about surveys asking people's views on services. It is about true partnership working with communities. It is not about removing professional intervention and relying on untrained volunteers in a cost cutting exercise. It is about changing the role of the professional and freeing up more time for specialist interventions where they will always be needed.