Co-production: A powerful approach for public service designers
There are many entry points for co-production: well-being and happiness indexes, asset-based community development, opportunities for impact investing and social impact bonds, the transition town movement, innovations in elder care, collaborative consumption and the list goes on. Co-production is an approach so well suited to creating positive social change that once it is learned you start seeing potential for it everywhere.
At least that was my reaction. I first learned about co-production during a work term at MindLab in 2011. As a research analyst for the Danish cross-ministry innovation lab, I scoured the web and devoured any reports, articles, blog posts and news stories I could find on the topic. Lucie Stephens, the head of co-production at the United Kingdom–based new economics foundation (nef) had written many of these pieces. For the past 10 years, Lucie and her nef colleagues have been thinking, writing about and doing co-production. We were delighted to have Lucie join SiG’s Inspiring Action for Social Impact Series (in partnership with the MaRS Global Leadership series) to share her latest thoughts on co-production via a public talk at MaRS last week.
What’s the big fuss? Co-production is a different approach to public service delivery
In a nutshell, co-production is about designing and delivering services in a true partnership with both citizens and professionals. That’s right, citizens are expected to take responsibility, alongside professionals, for helping themselves and one another. The secret sauce of co-production is that it values professional training and lived experience equally. By blending top-down and bottom-up expertise during the design and ongoing delivery of services, the approach creates better outcomes for citizens and is more cost effective for governments.
“Co-production is a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognizing that both partners have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.” —Co-production Critical Friends Group, 2012
Co-design is obvious, but co-delivery is not… yet
The strategic design (and design-thinking) community has long embraced both human-centred approaches that prioritize the needs of the end user above all and participatory approaches that involve end users throughout the design process. However, it is still less common for designers to incorporate end users as part of the ongoing delivery of the service—that is, for the end users to be co-deliverers alongside the professionals.
Furthermore, designers who are incorporating co-delivery seem to be doing so almost by accident, without realizing all of the positive benefits of this approach. A designer may choose to incorporate co-delivery because he or she recognizes that doing so makes the service more responsive to the realities on the ground, as well as cheaper to operate than what is currently in place. However, he or she may not realize the added sociological benefits. For example, contributing is an essential daily ingredient for well-being. Enabling someone to give back to society also yields other positive benefits, like a strengthened social fabric, which in turn leads to greater feelings of safety, trust, inclusion and quality of life for those who are part of that community.
While it is important to note that co-production is not the answer for all services, there is an enormous opportunity to incorporate a co-production approach in many of our public services. Public services that traditionally have long-term relationships with citizens, such as caregiving, healthcare, justice and education, make particularly good candidates for re-designs that consider co-production. Despite its incredible potential, co-production remains largely under-used, as many designers are not aware of its full range of capabilities.
The Family-by-Family program illustrates the power of co-production
Designed by the team behind In With For at the The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, Family by Family is a mentoring program where a network of families helps other families to grow and change together. The In With For team aimed to address the problem that an increasing number of children were being taken out of their families and thrust into foster care while social services did not have the resources to keep up with the growing demand.
The In With For team spoke with and involved end users (the families) throughout the design process. What surfaced was that struggling families would benefit immensely from support and mentorship from other families who had been through similar rough times, who were now doing better and who could share their lived experiences. Family by Family matches whole families with whole families, shifts the roles of professionals from experts to coaches, increases resources as the program succeeds (and as there are more families to help other families) and focuses on thriving rather than simply surviving.
What I find particularly exciting about this example is that it enables families to become self-reliant and empowered by their services, not at the mercy of them. Plus, it takes an asset-based approach (abundance thinking) that values and celebrates the skills, innate gifts and lived experiences that already exist within the members of the families. Through this example, service designers can see how progressing past co-design to include co-delivery can significantly accelerate the positive impact of a service solution.
Co-production is not a new approach; it is the way we did things before there were public services. Using co-production intentionally as an approach to designing public services has the power to help us transition to a world where communities spearhead the changes that are most relevant to their needs, with the support of government policy.
Are you wondering if your service involves co-production? Check it against nef’s list of six co-production principles.
- An asset-based approach: Does your service acknowledge and celebrate the assets within the community?
- Working on capabilities: Does your service build the skills of those involved?
- Developing mutuality: Does your service broker a true partnership between professional and user?
- Growing networks: Does your service support, share and stretch, connecting with those other than the usual suspects?
- Blurring roles: Some people are paid, others are not, but all are important.
- Acting as catalysts: Does your service provide a new role for professionals—from experts to coaches to facilitators?
Further co-production resources
- Designing Co-Production: Discovering New Business Models for Public Services by Christian Bason (MindLab)
- Pamphlet and video about co-production via MindLab
- Innovation in Policy by Laura Bunt (NESTA) and Jesper Christiansen (MindLab)
- Radical Efficiency by Sarah Gillinson, Matthew Horne and Peter Baeck (NESTA)
- The Challenge of Co-Production, Public Services Inside Out, Right Here Right Now and People Powered Health (NESTA and nef)
- Co-Production: A Manifesto For A Growing Economy (nef)
- Aspects of Co-Production (nef)
- Co-Production Practitioners Network
Inspiring Co-Production Examples (mentioned in Lucie’s talk)
- Merevale House: A residential home where people are seen to be living and working together
- Rushey Green Time Bank: Time banks where the doctor created a diabetes support network
- Parent-led childcare co-op network: Parents taking turns assisting professionals
- Youth Court of the District of Columbia: An alternative sentencing program for first-time juvenile offenders
- Family by Family: Families helping other families grow and change together
- Tyze: An online tool that helps people care for others
Satsuko VanAntwerp is the manager of social innovation at Social Innovation Generation’s national office. She manages the SiG National Lab Strategy, a program that promotes lab processes and supports those engaged in lab-like activity in the greater Toronto area. See more…