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27. March 2018


Creating a Galaxy of Co-production Stars in Aberdeen!

Co-production? Isn’t this just the latest fad to take our attention away from council budget cuts, the increasing uncertainty surrounding public sector jobs, the ever greater risks of failure in our hard-pressed health services? Don’t we have something more important to talk about than bringing citizens into our health and care services, when we’re already up to our lives in change, change, change.

NO! A large group of staff in in Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership – and some of their service users – have been demonstrating during the past year that co-production is something different. And something important for the future lives of people living in the city.

In the process, a number of stars have appeared on the horizon – indeed, a whole galaxy of stars! Over a hundred people have been taking part in training in the Co-production Star Action Learning Programme, a CPD certified training programme to give people the knowledge and skills to grow co-production approaches in the Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership. The Co-production Star has been devised by Governance International, a non-profit organisation, which is one of Europe’s leading training providers in the field of co-production. Facilitators from Governance International led the training programme of workshops and Co-production Labs – but, of course, the key inputs came from the participants themselves. 

The feedback from those involved has been enormously positive – this has opened eyes about what co-production can achieve and opened doors to bring people together to change the quality of life in Aberdeen, especially for those people with high health and social care needs.

Just a reminder of what we are talking about here. Co-production means service professionals, service users and their communities making the most of each other’s resources and capabilities to improve public services and the outcomes which people experience. In other words, it’s about getting both public services and citizens to DO things together – whether it’s agreeing the priorities for future services (co-commissioning) or making services more tailored to the needs of service users and their carers (co-design) or using the talents and energy of local people to actually do more activities to improve public outcomes (co-delivery) or getting practical feedback on how good services and outcomes are and how they need to change (co-assessment).

Of course, co-production is not new. Service users and communities have always been making some contribution to public services and to improving the quality of life in the community. But systematically? Identifying where service users can do and are willing to do more? Making it easy for citizens to contribute in ways which are comfortable for them and don’t waste their time? Giving them some training and support, so that they can make the most of the efforts they put in to making public services better? No, it became clear during the Co-production Star programme that, up to now, co-production has been largely underestimated by public services, if not ignored completely. So its potential has not remotely been tapped.

And it has also become clear during the Co-production Star training programme that this potential is really high and must in future be taken much more seriously. To highlight what co-production could mean in Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership, each of the four Localities explored how the co-production approach could be used to tackle at least one major health or social care problem facing their Locality. These were all important, serious and multi-faceted problems – they included living with diabetes, tacking loneliness and the conditions which it causes, falls prevention for the elderly, and turning a large residential home into a thriving community centre for the benefit of both the residents and the local community.

Of course, the big question is: what has the Co-production Star training achieved? So far, the main result has been the design of new approaches to tackle these specific health and social care problems and commitment to try them out, with a systematic and practical evaluation of where they are successful and where the approach needs to be refined. That has meant the launch of a number of Co-Production Labs to enable action learning.

However, the longer run achievements of the Co-production Star training programme seem likely to be much more significant than simply helping to make some current services more successful. Two changes in particular stand out from the workshops and Co-production Labs to date.

First, staff now understand that they have been largely ignoring the resources of service users and communities, even though these could potentially have a dramatic effect on local health and wellbeing, if properly mobilised and harnessed. This means a transformation of the role which staff see themselves as playing in helping local people to achieve a better quality of life.

Secondly, a group of staff and service users have emerged who are both expert in and committed to the co-production approach to health and social care. As yet, of course, this does not cover all of the hundred participants who have been involved - but it does include over 20 who have attended almost all of the workshops and Labs and who have been central to designing how co-production could help their Locality in practice. These ‘Co-production Stars’ haven’t just obtained CPD recognition for a rigorous and demanding training programme – they have worked out how to change their Partnership (and its constituent organisations). They therefore form a new Galaxy of change agents in Aberdeen who can bring citizens into public services.

This is not a fad, not a deflection from ‘core business’, not an attempt to hide from local people the increasing problems of local services – it’s a turning point in the way in which citizens and the public sector make the most of each other’s contributions to local life. Watch this space for future reports on the progress of co-production approaches in Aberdeen Health and Social Care Partnership!

Tony Bovaird, Director, Governance International and Linda Smith, Public Health and Wellbeing Lead, Aberdeen City Health and Social Care Partnership

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