Co-production in commissioning and market shaping - Frequently asked questions

How much money does co-production take to 'do'?

Doing co-production well doesn't need to be expensive. Don't assume that co-production will require setting up large meetings for many people.. There are different ways in which commissioners can make progress. This could involve commissioners spending time talking to them in places that make sense to them (like schools, community places of worship, community centres or the local supermarket) or working with leaders within these networks to support them to make the connections.

It is important to understand and value the time that people put into co-production, but this doesn't always have to mean a wage or payment. Asking people what recognition is most useful for them is important. For example some young people have said that getting accreditation to help build their CV was more important than money.

Commissioners should be able to cover any extra costs that people are likely to have so that they can take part (for example covering the costs of childcare to make it possible for parents to be involved). However, these costs should not be seen as extra costs for co-production. They should be part of the expected costs of any good work to involve and engage people.

How much time does co-production take to 'do'?

Co-production often doesn't fit neatly into the timescales that commissioners have to work to. It is important to be upfront about this and to plan realistically for what might be possible, including things that could change or go wrong. For example, plan what you will do if your discussion takes an unexpected turn from what you'd wanted to focus on.

Having the time to be flexible and reflective is very important and this is something that commissioners often feel they don't have. You will have a greater chance of success if you set aside some time before starting to plan what you want to achieve. It can help to identify local people and organisations who you can work with closely and who understand co-production and may have used it in their own planning.

What's in it for us - as commissioners?

Taking a co-production approach makes it more likely that you will get things right for people the first time round, preventing expensive repeat visits or underused services. Working with people can lead to the identification of new resources or existing resources being better used.

The wealth and depth of learning during co-production means that everyone learns from each other and benefits. Listening to people who you may never have spoken to before, asking the right questions, getting beyond the 'issues' to explore creative solutions can be very powerful. Co-production means bringing people on board to work with you and seeing everyone as an asset. This can mean that you suddenly have so much more to work with than you thought. Commissioners say that it is really positive to work in this way.

What's in it for us - as providers?

Co-production has benefits for people involved. These benefits are experienced both by people using services and people delivering them. Co-production can:

  • Improve the experiences of people using services,
  • Give you the confidence that your service offer is based on what people say they want and is co-designed and delivered with them,
  • Increase the capacity and ability of communities,
  • Demonstrate your commitment of making the most of people's skills, gifts and talents,
  • Build social networks and make sure that assets that are not valued or used enough are better valued and used.

For provider organisations it can be a very useful way of making sure you are supporting the people you work with to make deep and lasting changes in their lives.

What's in it for us - as people who use services, carers, families and communities?

Co-production is a way of valuing the skills, experience and assets of people, families and communities that are often overlooked and undervalued. It is also about making sure that power and control is fairer and more equally shared to ensure that people with care and support needs, their carers and family members have a strong voice in deciding how services should work ("nothing about us, without us"). Working co-productively can also increase the community's confidence and resources, develop new social networks and give people a stronger say about the assets that affect them.

Is there a role for elected members in co-production?

Elected members have an important role to play in co-production because they are another local asset. It's important that they are involved at an early stage and are comfortable to work equally together with other citizens, carers and community members.

Elected members need to be aware of what could happen when co-production is used. Co-producing commissioning can lead to better services, but it can also mean that existing services need to be decommissioned. Working with elected members early on in conversations with commissioners and people who use services and their carers can help to make sure that everyone is working towards change in the same way.

How can commissioners start with small steps or small groups but move onto bigger scale changes?

Just getting going can help build people's confidence. Start off by accepting that you are likely to make mistakes. In fact, making mistakes is an important part of learning to do co-production well. Things may not always go as planned, but learning to be flexible, to compromise and to adapt as you go is all part of the process.

It's important that commissioners go into this work with a clear understanding that they are sharing power and responsibility. Commissioners will bring expertise about certain things, but they cannot know everything. In a similar way, people with care and support needs, carers and family members cannot know everything either. So you need to go forwards with everyone involved with you. You need to understand that everyone brings particular skills and experiences, which are needed to find the best solution.

Once you have some examples of co-production in practice it isn't that difficult to do it on a larger scale. People rightly feel that it is important to convince leaders and elected members that this way of working is valuable. It is useful to involve senior staff and elected members from an early stage. Invite them to be involved in conversations with people who are part of the area they represent (their constituents). This can be very powerful as elected members are hearing directly from the people whom they represent and who may have voted for them.

How do commissioners convince people that co-production is a good idea where there is a culture that discourages people from taking risks?

The most powerful way to convince people that co-production is a good idea is to show people what it looks like and how positive the results can be when it works well. The best way to do this is to share the stories of people who have been involved. Visit a place where co-production is in action. This can help to build people's understanding about what co-production can mean in services and for people's lives.

Think about what colleagues who usually avoid taking risks would be interested in seeing. What is their agenda? For some people it might be important for them to see the financial benefits of co-production. For other people it might be how increased involvement with citizens improves people's involvement in politics and decision-making. Tailor your messages for colleagues and decision makers to focus on things that are important to them.

Co-production can feel threatening because it challenges peoples' values and sense of who they are where they work. Be prepared to work through and discuss such issues. Do not be held back by expecting or needing everyone to agree before you get started.

How do you get beyond the ''usual suspects''? How do you work with people whose voices are seldom heard?

Some people are more interested in going to meetings and events than other people. Accept that from the beginning and make sure that you are not focusing all your ways to involve and engage people on one or two methods. The aim of co-production isn't to exclude people who already take part. Treasure those people but make sure that they are able to access their own networks to engage with others. Support those people to see their role as one of reaching out to other people to bring forward wider issues.

Go to the places that the people you want to engage with are. Hold conversations about what matters to them rather than starting with the services you are interested in commissioning. Some methodologies for coproducing commissioning involve using information from people's reviews (or other information from services) which can ensure that everyone's voice is heard in the process, even if they are not interested or able to attend a meeting.

Think about your message. If people aren't coming to your events or aren't showing any interest maybe it's because of the content of your message or the language you've used in your invitations and publicity. Think about people's priorities and what would encourage them to get involved. Work with the people you do have engaged and involved to consider how you can reach, encourage and support others. Don't feel you have to do all the work. Use your networks and other people's to help with this. Focus on learning from people, not just inviting them to come to another event.

What skills do my staff need to do this?

People don't need a huge range of new practical skills, but must be open to a more open and inclusive way of working. This involves embracing a culture shift from being experts with answers, to being people who work alongside others and enable them to do things for themselves, involving a wide range of people. There are a number of useful ways that involve people that make it easier to have equal conversations. Active listening skills and the confidence to communicate with a range of people in a variety of settings is helpful. Often people need to be supported and told that they are allowed to spend time with people and develop relationships of trust that will support co-production.