Co-production is the coming together of two sides of the same coin – service users and providers – to improve existing services and develop new ones. It is the meeting of ideas that respect the diverse experiences of those involved by creating an environment of equal partnership.
So what does that mean in practice? Co-production goes far beyond consultation and therefore must inform and challenge providers’ beliefs and values. It can also challenge the value service users place on their personal experience and knowledge, in the hope that it is not only recognised but also put to far greater use.
Providers need to believe that to deliver services people want to use, they must involve service users at every level of delivery, from design to evaluation. In turn, service users need to believe that their experience and input is vitally important in providing good quality services.
In my experience, staff are usually very open to co-production and embrace its main principle of an equal partnership with service users. Others can be resistant, nervous about embarking on a different kind of relationship with service users.
Cranstoun’s approach is to ensure all staff understand the benefits of co-production and how it differs to service user participation. It is worth reading this comprehensive report which includes good examples of co-production.
Providing training on co-production creates strong leadership throughout the organisation. To establish a consistent approach, we have reviewed all organisational governance processes to ensure service users are involved in service development and decision-making at all levels.
Service users may be familiar with sharing their story with others, but co-producing services means articulating and using their experience differently. Using lived experience to influence service delivery is a skill in itself and one that needs nurturing with the right support and guidance. Providing mentoring support is key to getting service users involved.
Supporting service users in this way is as important as getting buy-in from staff teams. Both are required to change the culture of the organisation, which, along with organisational structures that allow equal partnerships, creates an environment where co-production can flourish.
However, it’s easy to be complacent. To ensure success, there must also be an open and honest review process built into the system; any learning should inform continuous improvement, and so the cycle continues.
Co-production is a no-brainer. The resource it takes to set up and deliver is far outweighed by improved service user outcomes, making the gains for everyone immeasurable. Now that’s got to be worth it.