A fair few years ago when I first heard the phrase co-production, I have to confess that I groaned, inwardly of course, rather than out and proud, but still. It all seemed a bit jargony, more than a bit opaque and a bit ‘buzzword’ American if I am honest.
Fast forward to today and I and all us Community Catalysts are well and truly sold. No more groaning, with volume or without – so much power and blatant common sense hidden behind a less than obvious descriptor.
So what happened to change our minds?
The first step on the journey was meeting the amazing Edgar Cahn, American civil right lawyer, author of No More Throw Away People (if you haven’t read it you are missing out) and founder of the timebanking movement. The second step was quality time with the New Economics Foundation learning from them about the origins of co-production
This is not about consultation or participation – except in the broadest sense. The point is not to consult more or involve people more in decisions; it is to encourage them to use the human skills and experience they have to help deliver public or voluntary services. It is, according to Elizabeth Hoodless at Community Service Volunteers, about “broadening and deepening” public services so that they are no longer the preserve of professionals or commissioners, but a shared responsibility, both building and using a multi-faceted network of mutual support.
Then came steps 3….to 103, taken steadily over the years between the inception of Community Catalysts 10 years ago and today. Time spent with people and communities, partnerships that succeeded and those that failed. Plans made and executed with varying degrees of success.
Steps taken in work alongside older and disabled entrepreneurs, looking to challenge negative perceptions of deficit and replace them with positive perceptions of strength. Work with countless amazing local people willing and able to provide help and support to other local people. Work with like minded allies and partners sharing our vision and willing to partner to help us on our journey. Work in formal co-production partnerships convened by policy makers or strategic decision makers. Work with people, informally doing stuff that is never seen as co-production but is.
A few things stand out as we look back on our journey from sceptical groaners to passionate co-production converts.
- People and communities always know as much as professionals and institutions – but professionals are people too!
- Things done together are always better than things done alone
- Most people are warm and generous and willing to share what they know and give what they can
- Co-production is sometimes expensive – but is always worth the effort
- Co-production can be difficult, and the road taken might never actually reach the anticipated destination – but the destination is does reach is more likely to be the right one
Two quotes spring to mind as I write this piece for national #coproweek, the first of 3 we hope to publish telling tales of our experience of co-production in action.
Nothing about us without us – James Chorlton
Not everyone can do everything, but everyone can do something – Vicky Buckingham
I think together they offer a mini road map, to guide any co-production journey.