Co-production - Frequently asked questions

Will co-production lead to people asking for too much and expecting too much?

Experience shows that involving people in an honest and open way is likely to lead to people taking sensible and well-thought out decisions. Being clear with people about what is possible and any constraints gives people a better understanding of the issues that services face. It often means people contributing innovative ideas for how things might be done differently.

We don't have time to do co-production well so isn't it better not to try at all?

Developing relationships and trust, both of which form the basis of good co-production, does take time. But don't assume you are starting from scratch. Many people and organisations are already making steps to co-produce activities locally. It is important to seek them out. It is very hard to get it right all the time but it is important to make a start. Being honest and open about the challenges you are facing and what you feel it is possible to achieve is a useful step in building trust.

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 shared learning during co-production means that everyone involved 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 rather than a problem. 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 say 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 more control about the services and resources that affect them.

How much will it cost to do it well?

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, particularly by being around where people are, and spending time talking with them in places that make sense for them.

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 co-producing 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 is the difference between co-production and consultation?

Consultation asks people for their ideas, experience and opinions and often tends to occur once a problem has been identified and a proposed solution decided. Co-production involves people from the very beginning, so that they are helping to identify the questions that need to be asked, not just commenting after decisions have been made.

Co-production is different because it requires people's actions as well as their views. This can be in 1-2-1 relationships with professionals where people play an active role in designing and putting into practice their own support. It can also be in wider peer or community support between people and professionals. Co-production means that power is shared more equally between those who use services and those who provide them. Everyone's skills and resources are put to use.

What skills does a commissioner need to do co-production well?

Commissioners 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 techinques that make it easier to have equal conversations with people. Active listening skills and the confidence to communicate with a range of people in a variety of settings can be valuable in taking a co-productive approach.