As part of Co-Production Week, Charlotte Clapham, our GROW Traineeship Development Officer at Inspiring Change Manchester, talks about the importance of coproduction, and the barriers to doing it properly.
This week is co-production week, and therefore a chance for people, services and organisations around the UK to celebrate, advocate for and raise awareness of co-production. The hope being that one-day co-production becomes commonplace in the design, delivery and evaluation of our support services. The question is then, why is it not the norm yet? This week we’re keen to explore the barriers to co-production in order to help us better understand how we can encourage the sector to adopt this practice in a meaningful way.
Let’s start with the definition. Not a very simple task. There are tonnes of definitions of what co-production is and what it definitely is not. So, to draw on a very simple definition, co-production in this context is: “A process whereby professionals who deliver and people who access services come together to share power in the design, planning, delivery and evaluation of those services, recognising that everyone has expertise, assets and skills to contribute to improve the quality of life for people and communities”. (https://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide51/what-is-coproduction/defining-coproduction.asp)
What’s stopping us then? On our journey to achieving true co-production it’s important to have honest conversations about what our barriers are, so that we can one day overcome them. This blog can’t possibly address all of these, but we can certainly tackle a few of the main challenges.
This is a biggy. For many people and organisations, particularly those with already reduced capacity, there doesn’t seem to be enough time to co-produce anything. So, what is it that takes so much time? Co-production is about bringing together a diverse range of lived experience and expertise to share power in decision-making. This should include a wide range of stakeholders, for example, frontline practitioners, people who use the service/s, carers, commissioners. As we know, any collaboration takes more time than doing something independently. Having to scramble to identify and engage all these stakeholders is challenging, particularly if it is not yet common practice to gather all of these voices for the purpose of decision-making. There is therefore a danger that a scramble for bums on seats can jeopardise the quality of who is contributing to the co-production process, a key determinant of how successful the outcomes will be.
The response to Covid-19 is a great example of how time can be a barrier to co-production, particularly in times of crises where decisions are having to be made in rapid response and cannot afford to be delayed. This is understandable of course, but perhaps highlights to us all the need to make sure we have the practices and people in place to be able to co-produce in times of crisis. Otherwise, we risk co-production being confined only to specific projects where there is lots of time and flexibility for the process, and we miss opportunities for innovative solutions to all kinds of complex challenges.
Resource can mean several things, but one key factor here is of course money. What do we do when so much of what true co-production is about is power sharing, yet often, those people who use services or are carers, the voice of lived experience, are entering the process on a voluntary basis? Without meaning to open a bag of worms, there is often simply no budget to offer paid incentives for people to participate, but usually the organisations who are designing and delivering the process, hold the resources and therefore the power. Either way, there should always be a central focus on how to balance and share power. After all, power goes much further than simply financial imbalance and should be understood in terms of how decisions are made, and influence is shared. It is about a willingness to adapt and change the processes of decision making, which often requires more in terms of time and effort, and investment.
The fear of getting it wrong can often lead to it not being done at all. Without the expertise and knowledge of what it is and what it should look like, many are hesitant to give it a go. There have been several different attempts to combat this, for example by creating roles within organisations or services to focus on this specifically. While this can be a great way to increase knowledge and resource, it can also prevent organisations from having a greater knowledge across the board. In an ideal world if co-production were to become commonplace, we would need everyone to develop a deeper understanding of what it is and a confidence in how to engage in it. Ultimately any attempt to acquire expertise in co-production within organisations needs to be shared widely to make a greater impact.
Last but not least – where is the ‘evidence‘ that co-production leads to better services? In order to drive co-production forward we have to be able to evidence that it is more than just the right way to do things in principle, it leads to better outcomes. Better outcomes for the people accessing services and better outcomes for the people delivering it. If we can demonstrate this, we can equally demonstrate that it will therefore save the system money. If services are empowered to better meet the needs of people accessing them then there is certainly an argument to be made for co-production as a more cost-effective approach.
Yet, in order to be able to effectively gather evidence, we have to overcome the fear of getting it wrong and start doing it until we get it right, and make sure we document all the learning that comes along the way. This is what we hope to be able to contribute to at ICM, recognising that it will inevitably be a journey of trial and error.