Co-production: It’s just a fancy title right?

Co-production: It’s just a fancy title right?

Co-Production – It’s just a fancy way of saying people working together right?

Well yes… and no…

It’s about people working together with the right people, and the way they look at doing so. It’s about engaging and working with the people that benefit from the product or service the company provides, and there is more layers to that process than you may think.

To me, the true key to co-production is being honest and open from the start about just how involved you want the service user to be! Don’t say it’s co-production if all you want is a bit of co-design or someone to review an idea. Say it as it is, from the beginning! And, if it’s something that needs a more fluid approach, with a team working on various aspects of a project? State that from the start!

Co-Production is after all, about teamwork, and a key component of that team is the service user! Why? Because to be truly successful you need the engagement, involvement and support of the community around you, the people who will be using your service, or buying your product.

There’s many ways you can involve your community here. Be it through surveys, questionnaires, asking them to help design and pick a logo or product… Building a team and finding out just what is needed by those you are connecting with, and having them involved right from the start through to completion. Some look at it as a ladder, others a journey with interconnecting roads along the way, and that’s the way I like to think of co-production. From idea conception, focus groups, design and implementation, there are many ways of ensuring your community is involved and has a say during that journey. It’s a cycle, a process that may well need to be repeated more than once on any one project. It requires investment, investment in time as well as in people for it to be successful… however the rewards will speak for it’s self.

Co-Production is by no means the only way to involve your local community or the skill base and knowledge it holds.

Co-Delivery is a means of providing a service you need outside expertise for. So you, the service provider, would work alongside another service provider to deliver a programme jointly as a partnership. As your co-production or co-delivery journeys progress you may wish to consider a venture into co-evaluation. Working together with service users, your in-house team, and outside evaluators (universities are a good option) to look at the data you have collected whilst your service has been running, and work on a plan to improve and adapt the services you offer, dependent upon the findings. It’s a good way to implement a test and learn policy, so your programmes and services are always adapting to your communities needs.

But, back to co-production for now… what are these different roads I mentioned?

Coercion – where you persuade people to attend an event you are putting on, like an open day or fun activity. Here you could look at signing people up to a mailing list where you can entice them into engaging further at a later date.

Education – where you help your service users gain relevant knowledge about your service, a workshop perhaps, or event with information tables available.

Informing – this is where people responsible for a service talk and explain about how things work. If you have made any big changes to the service you provide, this would be a great way to engage with your service users and let them know how and why their service may be changing.
Consultation – this is your surveys and questionnaires, meetings where you ask the service users opinion. However, they may not have the influence or power to make changes yet.

Engagement – here your service user is given more opportunities to express their views, and can find themselves able to influence some decisions if you, the service provider, allows.

Co-Design – the service users feel a larger sense of involvement here, joining in focus groups and helping to design services based upon their experiences and ideas, with much more influence towards true decision making powers.

And finally… Co-Production – this is where we see a truer equality between service users and service providers. They work together, as colleagues, from conception to implementation. Sharing ideas and decisions, about things like content to policy designs, and the ways to implement them and bring a service to life.

See what I meant about the layers and the journey? And it IS a journey. You need to discover what both your service users and yourselves can provide!

So, what’s in it for the services users that decide to volunteer their time, experiences and expertise to your cause? Sometimes it’s nothing, they volunteer for the freedom it gives them, the social connections it provides, and the reminder that they have a role to play in the world outside their homes. However, for co-production to be truly successful there should be some form of reciprocity embedded within it. What do I mean by this? Well, time is one of the most precious commodities we have, and volunteers give it up freely if they believe in the cause they are supporting. Shouldn’t service providers respect that sacrifice enough to think of some type of exchange in thanks? This doesn’t have to be a monetary exchange here, It could be training opportunities, a cake during meetings every now and then, support or development opportunities. You could be a reference on a job application, pay their travel expenses to your venues, or even consider your volunteers first when looking at hiring your own new staff… Show them you appreciate them and the role they play, and you will have a community network of support around your service to be proud of!

Now this isn’t all there is to co-production. Far from it. But, others more educated in its inner workings than myself have found the words to explain the journey much more eloquently than I can. This is just a snapshot… a peek through the window, to hopefully make you want to step inside and see just how you can start your journey and begin to involve others in the decision making processes of your service. You never know, you may find you end up working with people who have hidden talents, lost beneath a world of parenthood and self doubt…

This article was written by Joanne Webb, a Parent Champion for A Better Start Southend.