Article: Why is Co-production so hard to understand? 

By Geoff Thomas, Timebanking Wales

Co-production like any new buzz word is easy to hijack. Often times you will hear people say “we’ve been doing co-production for years but we never called it that”.  Really!

Like any other form of piracy it is simple to select elements of a buzz word and badge them up as co-production. At worse this leads to service providers powdering themselves with make-up, at best the dawning realisation that instead of designing people around services, we are beginning to design services with people which mobilises their social energy. But this is only the START.

The next question centres on how public and third sector providers define community engagement. The Communities First programme stresses the need to ensure community engagement. Similarly, the Welsh Government is a great drumbeater for engaging with communities. Unfortunately, neither mention a methodology for the ‘how’ or what form of community engagement they wish practitioners to adopt – a Lady Bountiful model of engagement (one way service transactions helping people in need) or an interactive model of engagement (two way service interactions enlisting people in need as contributors to change). The latter is a two way conversation founded on the ethos of mutualism. So make your choice, what is your preferred model of engagement to implement co-production?

The next question is somewhat tricky as it forces human service organisations to face another fundamental question – how do we thank people for the work they do?  If you are bored with the old debate whether this question is about recognition or reward, believe me you are not the only one. I’m sure we all agree that giving time to contribute to civil betterment is just as important as giving time to economic growth. Whilst the latter is a familiar concept measurable as Gross Domestic Product, the former is best referred to as Civil Domestic Product. Co-production gets serious about Civil Domestic Product by giving it a social currency, beginning to construct dual currency platforms, market and non-market economies, that make the two economies visible. Now, how prepared is your organisation to take this concept on board?

So next time when some of the old guard fail to master the ‘simple perplexities’ of co-production, invite them into the vanguard reminding them that public programmes are unlikely to succeed unless they actively engage, are co-produced, with the people they are designed to benefit.