What is co-production?

There is not one definition of co-production that everyone agrees on because the approach is still developing and changing.

For example, the Care Act (opens new window) defines co-production in the following way:

'Co-production is when you as an individual influence the support and services you receive, or when groups of people get together to influence the way that services are designed, commissioned and delivered'.

The TLAP National Co-production Advisory Group says the following about co-production:

'Co-production is not just a word, it is not just a concept, it is a meeting of minds coming together to find shared solutions. In practice, co-production involves people who use services being consulted, included and working together from the start to the end of any project that affects them. When co-production works best, people who use services and carers are valued by organisations as equal partners, can share power and have influence over decisions made'.

The Co-production Network explains co-production in this way:

'Co-production is an approach where people, family members, carers, organisations and commissioners work together in an equal way, sharing influence, skills and experience to design, deliver and monitor services and projects.
Co-production acknowledges that people who use social care and health services (and their families) have knowledge and experience that can be used to help make services better, not only for themselves but for other people who need them, which could be any one of us at some time in our lives.

Real co-production means that people are truly involved in planning and designing services from the very beginning.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF) (opens new window), says that co-production is:

'The relationship where professionals and citizens share power to design, plan, assess and deliver support together. It recognises that everyone has a vital contribution to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities'.

NEF, in Public Services Inside Out (opens new window), recognises six main important parts of co-production:

  • Recognising people as assets: People are seen as equal partners in designing and delivering services, rather than as passive beneficiaries or burdens on the system.
  • Building on people's capabilities: Everyone recognizes that each person has abilities and people are supported to develop these. People are supported to use what they are able to do to benefit their community themselves and other people.
  • Developing two-way reciprocal relationships: All co-production involves some mutuality, both between individuals, carers and public service professionals and between the individuals who are involved.
  • Encouraging peer support networks: Peer and personal networks are often not valued enough and not supported. Co-production builds these networks alongside support from professionals.
  • Blurring boundaries between delivering and receiving services: The usual line between those people who design and deliver services and those who use them is blurred with more people involved in getting things done.
  • Facilitating not delivering to: Public sector organisations (like the government, local councils and health authorities) enable things to happen, rather than provide services themselves. An example of this is when a council supports people who use services to develop a peer support network.

In a similar way, SCIE (in Co-production in social care (opens new window)) notes that the principles of equality, diversity, accessibility and reciprocity are very important values that are needed in order for co-production to work.

The level of co-production in practice can vary a lot. It is helpful to understand how co-production can transform people's lives. Catherine Needham and Sarah Carr (opens new window), for instance, talk about three different levels of co-production:

  1. Basic co-production recognises that people are usually inevitably participating in most public services. For example patients taking their own medicine or children doing their homework. People who use these services will not have any influence on how the services are designed or delivered.
  2. Intermediate co-production more actively recognises that people using services have skills to offer. This level of co-production means that services recognise and support people's contributions and ideas for improvement. People's contribution is only looked for if it is helping to deliver services.
  3. Transformational co-production means that the power and control changes, so that people who use services are actively involved in all aspects of designing, commissioning and delivering services. People are encouraged to be involved even if their skills are not directly relevant to the service.

If co-production is going to play a role in achieving the ambitions of the Care Act, then commissioners, providers, people who use services and their carers need to focus on what it would take to make 'transformational coproduction' happen.