My journey into co-production

A blog in the mini-series testing the hypothesis that good commissioning is dependent on co-production - Kim Wallace shares her experience learning about co-production as a new commissioner in a local authority. 

I started my journey as a Commissioner with Adult Social Care at Essex County Council in November 2019. With limited experience of commissioning, but with great support and guidance, I set about testing, designing and reviewing services for the residents of Essex feeling confident that I knew what would be beneficial to people and what would make a difference to improving their lives.

Within 8 weeks of starting I was offered the opportunity take a course to understand the principles of commissioning and build my knowledge. Whilst learning remotely, I was also being supported by a colleague in my day-to-day work who was a co-production champion.  Together, we were to undertake a co-produced tender evaluation. This was to be my ice-bucket moment and would define the way I worked going forward.

The evaluation was carried out with people who had lived experience of supported living environments. Before I met with them I looked through the tender responses and felt quite confident in my assessment of who gave the best response and how the group would rate them. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and it was the best learning moment to have so early on in my commissioning career. One person asked: ”why would they think this was a good answer? It means nothing to me and I have to live in that house, not understanding what they are doing with or for me”. I had thought it was a good answer and the unreserved honesty in its appraisal really made me sit up straight.

Despite developing a theoretical knowledge of co-production via my course, the very real experience of being proved wrong by someone with lived experience was refreshing and a valuable learning opportunity. It made me realise that I should not assume to know what the best answer would be for someone else. Although I would never presume to make a decision on behalf of someone else, I felt as a commissioner my role was to design services for people, and that understanding their outcomes alone would enable me to do this successfully. This experience made me quickly revisit my ideas and to build in opportunities for co-production as much as possible to capture the motivations, experiences and driving forces behind these outcomes.

18 months later I have developed in my role. I now have an awareness and drive to include people with lived experience and deliver true co-production at all stages. It cements why Essex County Council are investing heavily in making sure co-production is embedded in our practice and that it is co-ordinated in a way that makes it a valuable experience for those taking part.  It is not a tokenistic gesture that happens at the end of a process, but is embedded as early as possible into the review or conception of a new service. That’s the way to truly unlock the power of co-production.


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