What is Co-production?


With services and policy changing rapidly, many decisions are being made which will have dramatic impact on people’s lives. At Expert Link, we believe these decisions should be co-produced. But what is ‘Co-production?’

There are many definitions, vision statements, ladders and theories of ‘Co-production.’ And while we think it’s fantastic that so many people are working in this field, learning to overcome barriers and sharing wisdom with others, it can also be daunting! With so much different information, it can be hard to get work started, or to recruit others to the cause.

In this weeks ‘Conversation on Co-production’ we explored some definitions and examples. With so many in the room we benefited from a wealth of wisdom, ideas and suggestions of ways to think about Co-production. Here’s my interpretation of what I heard from the group.

Three frames for co-production

We can think about co-production as a definition – it’s people working hand-in-hand together, people working in partnership, or people working in a strengths based way that does not need things (or people!) to be ‘fixed.’

We can think of co-production in terms of the function it plays – it’s a tool for transparency, a way of making a better environment, a way for services to limit the assumptions they make about what people want.

Or, we can think of co-production in terms of the things that make it work - it needs an organisational or team approach, it needs people to let go of power, it needs flexibility to balance the drive for quick results with the resource required to make sure everyone who should be involved is involved, it needs to empower people and give them a sense of ownership. This can be hard, particularly in services operating with set hierarchies and rules.

What’s important is what happens

Whatever our thoughts on definitions, we know there is great work happening around the country, with people sharing some fantastic examples embracing elements of our thoughts on co-production.

Activities underway by Shelter have seen the removal of ‘roles’ and hierarchies, SHP empower their tenants with a voice, Dragon Café were praised for blurring the lines between ‘giver’ and ‘receiver,’ Groundswell have looked to work creatively to embrace new requirements around digital, and Cardboard Citizens, through telling untold stories by people based on their own experience and what they want to tell creatively, are working to can change the mind-sets of policy makers and the public sector.

The Booth Centre was also praised for its inclusive culture - encouraging participation in the ‘delivery’ of its services and activities, and promoting confidence in all those involved. The organisation believes in people, and people believe in the organisation.

Our principles

At Expert Link it is our mission to promote, inspire and support co-production. As part of this, we want to keep things simple when thinking about co-production, so that more people can see the benefits and join a movement that can bring about the change that we want to see.

To support this we have developed three principles – not definitions! – that guide us and our work. These reflect challenges around letting go of power, giving people the means to participate, removing labels and stigma and looking at the skills and talents that we all possess.

We share these with you, and we would love to know your thoughts!

Principle 1: No one person owns the truth. The wisdom and power should reside in the collective

Principle 2: All stakeholders are afforded every opportunity to sit at the table equitably

Principle 3: We focus on the group purpose using a strengths-based approach


Some useful resources relating to 'What is Co-production?'

MEAM – Co-production: Theory of Change
Homeless Link – Co-production Toolkit
The Parable of the Blobs and Squares