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Co-commissioning public services with service users and communities



The starting point for good, local commissioning is public engagement and accountability – so that the public’s priorities drive the type of service which is commissioned...

Open Public Services 2011, Par 5.9, page 31

Commissioning of services has become the major approach in the UK for thinking about what needs to be delivered, to whom, and to achieve what outcomes. It essentially covers all the activities that are required to have the right services in place, other than the actual delivery of the services.

At the heart of commissioning (and decommissioning) is the issue of priorities. Co-commissioning involves the public sector and citizens working together, using each other's knowledge and expertise, to prioritise which services should be provided for which people, using public resources and the resources of communities.

Co-commissioning is already happening in many forms. Young people are sitting on commissioning bodies for young people’s services, expert patients represent patients on Health and Wellbeing Boards and what started as participatory budgeting in the UK a few years ago has now evolved into Community Budgets. Governance International recently facilitated a co-commissioning event for a Scottish council’s Childrens Services department, working with its third sector providers, including user-led organisations, to develop new ways of including them in the commissioning process. So, it’s time for you to join this movement to user and community co-commissioning.  The Governance International 5 Step Model to Public Service Transformation shows you how to reap the benefits – and also how to avoid the pitfalls and reduce the risks of co-commissioning.

How we can help you do it?

Governance International provides four tools for integrating community resources and insights into the (de-)commissioning processes.

Community Insight 1: Community Survey

Why do it: To obtain strategic information on service priorities and potential for community involvement in the design and delivery of public services.

How to do it: A Community Survey provides local councillors and service commissioners with a clear mapping of which services people value and need most, which services people value and need least, which they are most satisfied with, and which they are least satisfied with. The Survey will also reveal who already does what in contributing to public services - and who is prepared to do more. The combined service and community mapping shows which segments of the population and which local areas are likely to co-produce specific public services.

Community Insight 2: Co-Production Labs

Why do it: To obtain innovative ideas for service redesign and ways of involving communities in public service delivery.

How to do it: Once you have identified the services which need to change most and people who are prepared to get engaged, Governance International helps you to engage users (and where appropriate other stakeholders, such as carers), managers and staff in a carefully facilitated dialogue, which explores ideas for designing costs out of services and improves outcomes through new approaches to co-production.

Community Insight 3: Community Budgets

Why do it: To ensure the buy-in of the public through a ranking of savings or development proposals.

How to do it: Once public agencies have engaged with users and other stakeholders to identify savings and development proposals for specific services, a wider audience can be involved in assessing these options.  The Governance International approach ensures that the voting does not simply allow majorities to throw out the services which are needed by and strongly supported by groups which are in the minority.  This is done by giving all people the chance to vote for what they WANT, as well as making clear what they DON’T want. Depending on the local context, the voting may be done through voting machines in a public meeting or through a cost-effective internet platform (or by a multi-method approach, carefully scrutinised).

Community Insight 4: Community Charters

Why do it: To embed a more collaborative way of delivering public services in a clear accountability and transparency framework.

How to do it: Service commissioners and community representatives have to agree on a governance structure and the contributions which each will make towards service standards and achieving outcomes. Governance International helps you design and implement mutually agreed Community Charters which ensure all parties know what is expected of them in the co-commissioning process.

How it all fits together

The GovInt 5 Steps Model to Public Service Transformation contains a range of tools to ensure that your agency makes the most of co-commissioning. The 5 Steps model helps you to identify where co-commissioning is already happening (‘Map it’), where it is most likely to be cost-effective (‘Focus it’), which citizens are most keen engage in co-commissioning (‘People it’), how to raise awareness of the potential of co-commissioning in your agency and services (‘Market it’) and how to scale it up (‘Grow it’). Governance International  can show you how the techniques listed above can be plugged into the 5 Steps Model to make co-commissioning work for you by improving the outcomes you achieve and cutting your costs.

What are the benefits of Co-Commissioning?

Traditionally commissioning has focussed on identifying the needs of the local population. For Governance International co-commissioning is not just about asking services users and communities what services they want but also what they already contribute and are willing to contribute to a reconfigured service.

As public agencies are facing significant budget cuts, a combined needs/capabilities assessment can mobilise new resources, while ensuring that users and communities get the public support they need.

When agencies involve service users and communities into commissioning and de-commissioning services, it brings:
  • More resources, by encouraging citizens to co-deliver services.

  • More user satisfaction with services which are based on people’s needs and increased well-being as communities can bring in their assets;

  • More innovative ideas for redesigning public services;

  • Savings by de-commissioning or redesigning services that citizens see as either failing or needing to be improved

What are the risks?

As public consultations on the current budget cuts have shown, asking everybody about what public services to cut can lead to the problematic situation where people are encouraged to provide views on services about which they know little and care less. This often results in serious threats to essential services which only a minority of people use (e.g. services for people with disabilities).

Contact us

At a time when budget cuts compel public agencies to think more radically about services, explore with us how to engage your local community in the commissioning of services. With our support and your enthusiasm we can work together to champion citizen engagement in service commissioning, leading to better outcomes for communities and greater efficiencies for you.

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