Imagine a new public service where the team delivering it has tirelessly come together to design every aspect, thinking of all the possible needs of those who will receive it. The service is then launched into the community with fanfare and excitement and - oh no! After all the work put into the design, there are unforeseen issues. The service is not as useful as expected because it is missing one crucial element: the service user’s perspective.
National Co-Production Week (5-9 July 2021) was created to celebrate the benefits of co-production, share good practice and promote the contribution of people who use services and carers in developing better public services.
National Co-Production Week is now more relevant than ever. Public services are now working differently, as previous decision-making blueprints and governance processes were superseded by the quick decision-making needed to respond to the pandemic. This provides the perfect opportunity for co-production to take a front seat in public services and stay there.
In our experience, however, co-production can be easier said than done. In particular, it is difficult to ensure that all participants are heard on an equal footing. But for co-production to be successful, residents’ and service users’ opinions need to be given equal weight to the opinions of the qualified professionals and experts who design and deliver public services, and who are used to making decisions. We’ve therefore put our heads together to identify and share some key factors that we find helps a co-production process be successful and lead to real change.
1. Skilled facilitation
Investing in skilled facilitation can help to ensure sure everyone is heard and that the suggested changes are put in place. Inclusive and effective facilitation can help to overcome insider-outsider dynamics among participants, keep participants focused on the relevant topics, and ensure all opinions are respected, regardless of factors such as age or background. Facilitation training is a key enabler for good co-production, to ensure that the information can be gathered and relayed to services in the most effective way.
2. Embedding co-production into processes
Co-production needs to be fully embedded in service design as part of a process in which information is gathered and fed into decision-making, and the results are then shared with the participants. A co-production process cannot be a one-off conversation, no matter how well facilitated.
3. Investing sufficient time and resources
A co-production process can be time-consuming for the public sector and for the participants. There may also be additional costs to consider, such as hiring accessible spaces and compensating participants. If co-production is taking place online, time and resources may need to be invested in the right tools, equipment and training. Co-production cannot be done by halves. A less time-intensive approach that just engages or communicates about a change may be all that is needed in the situation, but this should not be substituted for co-production.
At the end of the day, the effort that goes into comprehensive and dedicated community co-production pays off in spades. This can be summed up with the maxim “different conversations, different outcomes”. Committed co-production can ensure services really work for the people they are designed for and are ever-evolving to suit their needs, which, at the end of the day, is why we are all here.