Co-production: more than a short term fix

July 28, 2010 at 9:36 am Leave a comment

By Simon Bracken

Last week I attended an event at NESTA to launch the report “Right here, right now: bringing co-production into the mainstream”, which is the last of three published by NESTA and nef (new economics foundation) on the topic of co-production. Drawing on a network of over 100 co-production practitioners, the report argues that the time is ripe to bring the strong development of co-production atthe periphery of public services into the mainstream.  Doing this will mean remodelling public services so that people “are involved in an equal and reciprocal relationship with professionals and others, working together to get things done.”

The most compelling discussion looked at the extent to which co-production can and should be pitched as a money-saving solution to the current national financial crisis. Keynote speaker Philip Colligan argued that current financial uncertainty should not be seen as the only reason to move towards co-production. Instead longer term problems such as, amongst others, an aging population, chronic health problems, poverty and reoffending could be tackled through co-produced services which allow a clearer focus on producing better social outcomes.

As the questions fired in, there was recognition amongst the audience of the need for caution in pitching co-production as a solution to the financial crisis. It was argued that tying co-production to too strongly with efficiency could prove a death nail if it is shown to fail on this parameters. On the other hand, if the co-production of public services works effectively it should get rid of the inefficiencies caused by the common failure to focus on social outcomes that is characteristic of many public services.

As I see it, the conditions that provide the catalyst amongst practitioners and political will for co-production to thrive may be partly caused by tightening purse strings, but this does not mean the movement should be seen as merely reactive to the current situation. Co-production can tackle the limits of current prevailing systems and understandings of public services.

Many challenges face the advocates of co-produced services. There are problems, not least, with getting recognition and support even where positive social outcomes are being produced. Panellist Gareth Symonds is Deputy Director of Young People’s Services at Surrey County Council and has advocated co-produced Young People’s services in the county. He pointed to the pragmatism needed to achieve recognition for his achievements. It was not, he argued, realistic to go to the Surrey chief police officer and ask for the money he has saved them by reducing crime in the area (especially when police officers are being sacked). Nevertheless, going and asking for investment in schemes which are producing outcomes for crime prevention is more likely to produce a positive result.

With the absence of politicians at this event and some scepticism about the support that Co-production will get at a national level, this kind of pragmatic thinking and a great deal of work and bravery on behalf of front line staff will certainly be needed to provide the catalyst for change.

The Innovation Unit has recently published a report on Radical Efficiency which covers many similar issues to those discussed at this event and engages with the challenge of delivering “more for less” in public services. Download it here.

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Entry filed under: Local Innovation, Public Services, Radical Efficiency.

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