What is co-production?
The National Co-Production Advisory Group is a group of people who use social care services, carers and citizens which was set up following our work with the Department of Health. Our purpose is to continue working in co-production with Government departments and other influential social care and health organisations to co-design, co-develop and co-deliver services. We share models of good practice and personal experiences in order to improve people's lives.
At a recent meeting of our group in London, I was asked if l would write a blog to explain - in my own words - what I think co-production means.
For me, there is no single definition. The term co-production emerged in the United States in the 1970s and was developed by Edgar Cahn, civil rights lawyer and speechwriter to Robert Kennedy.
I think it was in the 1930's that George Orwell said: "We are all equal, but some are more equal than others".
Some 80 years later, we are trying to tip the balance back to where we are all equal by using co-production. It is an approach to decision-making and service design where participants are treated as equals, regardless of age, disability, race and the other protected characteristics; and regardless of their social, economic or professional background.
I first came cross the terms co-production and co-design when I was former chair of the Coalition of Disabled People in Birmingham. This was in 2003, when we were trying to be a pan-disability organisation that was looking at how we could work across impairment issues, including learning disabilities, older people, mental health and black and ethnic minority issues - amongst others - to give us a genuine voice of what needed to change locally across the city.
We, as disabled people, came together to attempt influencing issues like employment, housing and education because we understood how local people experience these services and what they need. We developed this knowledge because of our own, direct lived experience. Back then, our voices were not always seen as the most legitimate or credible, both from the viewpoint of other people who use services and statutory agencies like our local council. However things have changed to give us this window of opportunity around co-production now.
What were some of the highlights of working in a co-produced way?
Co-production can support people's dignity and values, helping them to feel empowered and respected. It also encourages a sense of belonging. It enables co-operation based on common sense values and principles and is an efficient way of working. Most of all, co-production can transform services by leading to substantially improved outcomes for disabled people.
However, of major importance is the window of opportunity for people to determine how their exact support requirements as an individual are met. Even if a particular solution has been co-produced, it does not mean that it shouldn't still be open to personal preference.
Sometimes, organisations can find working in a co-produced way very challenging because there is a lack of understanding around the meaning of co-production. Different sections of the same statutory agencies show that they are at different stages of working co-productively. At times, they see it has a hindrance not a window of opportunity.
But we believe co-production is both an essential philosophy and approach. The National Co-production Advisory Group has begun the process of rejuvenating participation and empowerment through the Making it Real programme, which we as people who use services, carers and citizens are leading.
We actively promote interaction and share experiences in our work by replenishing, re-energizing and reconnecting groups of people. We help people and organisations to break down the building blocks of the three "I's" of ignorance, indifference and inaction. It is about taking control in an active and responsible manner so that choice and control can flourish.
Co-production is supported by the inclusion of people with experience of using health and social care issues in our communities. By reducing the experience of exclusion, stigma and discrimination, real co-production can flourish.
Co-production offers a radical yet practical route to re-organise public services that makes a real change. It is necessary to build links between professionals, service providers and the community to spread knowledge and encouragement, share problems and collectively develop new ways of working. It does this by helping people in coming together and co-operating to find a new way of doing things.
So the statement there is "nothing about me, without me" really fits in well here: co-production means that the contribution of people who use services, their families and carers is maximised and valued.
That what l consider is real co production.
What do you think?