Co-production - the solution to all your problems?

What are you trying to achieve?  Saving money, better commissioning, transformational change, effective community engagement, making a mark in your organisation, or just trying to do some good locally?  Well co-production is your answer.  It’s the one-size-fits-all, panacea that will meet all your needs.  And it cures piles.


Well not quite, but it could be part of the solution to all of those things (even the piles come to think of it – but let’s not).  By harnessing people’s inherent expertise in their own lives, you can meet their needs better, more cheaply and more effectively.  Co-production means ‘people and professionals doing stuff together’.  Or more formally, the national ‘Critical Friends Group’ on Co-production has defined it as:


“a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognising that both sides have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.”


There are thousands of examples of successful co-production from this country and around the world.  Many are in health and social care, such as people with mental health problems helping to organise and manage their care.  But you can have co-production in any realm, from litter to crime.  Although the point is not generally to save money, they tend to be cost-effective – because you’re making use of the ‘free’ resource of people’s own time and knowledge.


So far so good, but how do you make it happen?  My answer?


Start a fire.


Not generally good advice at this time of year – and let’s be clear, it’s metaphorical – but rather than trying to change the whole system, it may be better to create examples that work and inspire others.  Trying to change the views of the massed ranks of professionals, amend the stacks of strategies or work through the thousands of local services is just too big a task.  What may be possible, though is to point people to examples where it’s worked well, to suggest specific opportunities in particular areas and generally to throw in the odd lighted match where conditions are right.  Each flaming example may then ignite others.


One burning flame I heard of recently in my local area was the use of co-production in an intensive care unit.  Even highly experienced consultants and nursing staff discovered things they just weren’t aware of before.  It was inspiring to hear of how attitudes had changed and new ways of doing things developed. Understanding how many patients experience hallucinations (from the drugs they are given) meant they now ensure others are prepared for that.  Listening to the experience of people on ventilators, who could therefore not speak, led to providing ipads to help them communicate.  If co-production can work in an area where, more than almost any other, you entrust your life to the expertise of professionals, then how much more relevant is it to other areas?


If you’re looking for a source of matches (or charcoal, or lighter fuel or indeed anything to delight the most discerning pyromaniac) you could well start with these blogs from others in the Critical Friends Group:


David Boyle - How to save public services

Daniel Hutt - Co-production: What does it mean in the criminal justice system?

Clive Miller - Coproduction: A new healthcare model for the 21st century

Constance Adams - reflections on the progress being made to get the Welsh Government to take up co-production

Hament Patel - Putting the ‘Critical’ into Learning and Leadership for Reclaiming Co-production Practices

Peter Beresford – What co-production means to me as a service user



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