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Bookmark and ShareJulia Slay co-ordinates nef‘s work on co-production.

Last week I received a call from a director of services from a large London council. Let’s call him Mr Borough. He had just read our latest report, Public Services Inside Out, which makes the case for people and professionals designing and delivering public services together in equal partnership: what we call ‘co-production’. This innovative approach, we argue, results in much better outcomes, often shifts towards a more preventative model of public services and can lower costs. Mr Borough had also been told that he would need to make a 30 per cent cut to his budget within the next three to five years. But instead of heading straight for the nearest pub to drown his sorrows, he was actually excited by what lay ahead. Mr Borough felt that the current ‘squeeze’ on public services represents the biggest opportunity he had ever faced to radically revisit the shape and style of the support he is able to offer people.

Co-production offers such an alternative, as a wider transformation of our public services by bringing new resources – people’s time, skills and experience – into the system.

Mention “co-production” to someone and the chances are most people won’t know what you’re talking about. But although the vocabulary of co-production isn’t well known, the practice of it is increasingly happening all around us. Almost any service can be co-produced: while the actual process and activities can vary, it almost always looks and feels the same as the principles which underpin the approach are manifested in everyday practices, as well as in strategic level governance.

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Bookmark and ShareJulia Slay co-ordinates nef‘s work on co-production.

There’s something in the air at the moment. A combination of spring air, Icelandic ash, and the almost tangible pulsations of change vibrating up and down the country. The election comes. And with it is a sense that we can review and take stock of how we, as a country work. We look to new solutions, to innovative models and ideas which might point the new to a new direction – particularly, in our case, for how we might run our public services.

Last week, among this buzz of election fever,  fifteen front line public sector workers and around a hundred guests came together to talk about one such innovation – an approach where public services are designed and delivered in equal partnership between people and professionals – also known as co-producing public services. We were launching our latest publication, Public Services Inside Out, and show people how co-production works on the ground.

Those who came were struck by how radically different the outcomes of co-production can be. Max, an eighteen year old participant in the national programme Learning to Lead, presented confidently and fluently to a large group about how their model of self elected student councils makes students the ‘crew, and not the passengers’ of their education.  User Voice, whose strapline is ‘only the offender can stop re-offending’ made a persuasive and passionate argument for the importance of working with offenders to identify long term solutions and preventative measures that will break the current criminal justice deadlock. Mark, a member of KeyRing who was been supported to live independently, spoke about how his disabilities had previously marked him out as someone who ‘needed’ things, and that these needs had defined time and time again what he couldn’t do. Since joining KeyRing, the focus has shifted onto what he can do, and where his skills and abilities can be supported and developed to help him live within a mutual support network where he is integrated into the community.

All of the front line staff and people there illuminated the key to co-production. If we peg people up as ‘users’ of a public service which is delivered, they will be relegated to a passive role which adds little social value, and provides no opportunity for equal participation in our services. But if we understand that people have skills, capabilities, knowledge and experience to contribute then we can see the huge potential for unleashing these hidden assets and co-producing better outcomes across our services.


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nef employees blog in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the new economics foundation.