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30. January 2017


What can co-production do for me? New opportunities for commissioners and providers to achieve better outcomes



This January we’ve already had lots of enquiries from local councils, social care and health partnerships and third sector organisations about our training and consultancy offer in user and community co-production of public services and outcomes.

So it’s becoming clear that more and more people now understand that it is no longer good enough just to talk about co-production – it’s time for public services to take action to strengthen co-production with specific service user groups and at neighbourhood level. This is the good news.  

The bad news is that there are still many people working in local councils who believe that co-production has nothing to do with them. After all, service users will simply have to take what (reduced) services we decide to given them. And, obviously, “communities are an issue for the third sector”. Wrong on both counts!

However, this is symptomatic of how outcomes-based commissioning has often been diverted away from the big issues. In theory, it offers great opportunities for enabling communities to improve outcomes. However, many commissioners perceive it as a service planning concept, internal to their organisation. Furthermore, many commissioners and service managers are facing (continuous) restructuring, often involving major disruption, so they become absorbed with internal processes, while neglecting what their job should be all about: Better citizen outcomes.

This is not just a public sector issue – many third sector organisations working in health and social care still embrace a ‘clinical model’ of health, whereas co-production promotes a social model of health, with a focus on wellbeing rather than illness. Some third sector organisations have indeed embedded co-production principles in their work - the Mosaic Clubhouse in London and Community Catalysts are good examples. However, in an era of permanent austerity, third sector organisations need to be able to demonstrate the social value that has been added through co-production. The recent evaluation of the Balsall Health Neighbourhood Forum in Birmingham by Governance International demonstrated a positive cost-benefit ratio from investing in co-production in community safety and revealed new opportunities for making co-production even more effective.

So how can co-production champions in local councils, the NHS and third sector organisations motivate and incentivise colleagues, who are not directly involved with local communities or people accessing services, so that co-production becomes their business, too, not just the agenda of some ‘engagement bods’ and ‘community nerds’?

Here are some new arguments for key stakeholders to get buy-in (literally) for co-production:


  1. Heads of strategy and finance: Co-production can be used as a budget management strategy, using the right mix of substitutive and additive co-production to achieve short-term savings while also releasing public sector investment in communities so they can help to  improve outcomes.  
  2. Integration Leads working in health and social care: Co-production can be used as a driver to promote the integration of health and social care, as it focusses more on outcomes rather than services and brings in communities who tend to be ‘sector-blind’.
  3. Commissioners interested in behaviour change: While there is increasing interest in ‘design thinking’ and ‘nudges’ to trigger behaviour change of specific target groups, the Governance International Co-Production Star shows that co-design is only one element in pathways for better outcomes. Governance International case studies, such as the peer training of learner drivers by young offenders in Austria or the Community Health Trainer Scheme in Manchester, show the potential of peer support, peer learning and peer training for sustainable behaviour change. 
  4. Open data officers: While there has been a lot of attention on how to open up governments so citizens can find out what they want to know, the big unresolved issue is what do (local) governments really know about local communities? Of course, there is a lot of talk about ‘big data’, usually as a top-down exercise, but this has so far not given governments that understanding of everyday behaviours of their citizens that many firms in the private sector have established, often with significant profit implications, through their monitoring of people’s purchasing patterns. There has also been some interest in asset-mapping, as evidenced by the group work in a recent West Midlands Co-Production event, but there are surprisingly few practical examples of asset-mapping leading to systematic mapping of community needs to community capabilities. So, it’s time for open data officers to engage with colleagues, especially those working in personal services, to drive the open data agenda from the bottom-up. We’d be very interested in working with commissioners and providers in further pilots of Governance International’s ‘See What You Can Do’ Toolkit to map individual capabilities, link them to the needs of service users and others in the community, and bring people together to improve personal outcomes.

So now over to you. In this blog, we have explored the potential benefits of co-production to four different stakeholder groups, who up to now have been talking about co-production but not grasping the nettle and making it central to their approach. We have also suggested ways of convincing each of these stakeholders that they need to take co-production more seriously. What about your organisation and your local area? Who are the sceptics whose hesitation is holding back co-production in your work?  What arguments do you suggest might convince them? What evidence would be needed to give these arguments real force with those stakeholders?

We’ll publish the best arguments, with your name (if you agree) and the chance for others to comment and build imaginatively on them. 

In this way, we want to turn this blog into a ‘What Can Co-production Do For You’ Resource – a stakeholder-specific list of co-production benefits.

We look forward to hearing from you.



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