Wales should be an enabling state

Ruth Dineen makes the case for a member-led Co-Production Network to implement the Williams Commission agenda

Edgar Cahn’s vision of “no more throw-away people” is becoming a pragmatic necessity. The market certainly won’t save us, but maybe a revitalised core economy can. That will mean a redefinition of what we mean by work, and a re-evaluation of the daily contributions that citizens make to ensure the health and well-being of their families, neighbours and communities. It will also mean a realignment of the relationship between state and citizen, “recalibrating power through new relationships based on trust” as our Health Minister put it. Co-production is the means of creating that transformation.

And here’s where the Williams Commission on the governance and delivery of public services in Wales, published last Monday, wades in. It sets out a comprehensive programme of change, covering complexity, scale and capability, governance, leadership, values and performance. The authors conclude that the problems are systemic and inter-related and that “urgent and radical action is needed before it is too late”. Their solution is wholesale transformation, a “complete overhaul of how public services are governed, led and delivered” to ensure:

  • “A clearer shared vision and sense of common purpose between government at all levels, citizens and communities;
  • A much greater focus on co-production with citizens and communities, to identify and implement means of pursuing those outcomes; and
  • Consequently, a much stronger emphasis on enablement, empowerment and prevention in the design and delivery of public services.”

Further, the report argues that:

“This is the only way of sustaining viable and high-quality public services. No public sector system can continue to meet growing levels of demand for high-cost responsive services from declining real resources; the emphasis has to shift to reducing demand for such services through prevention and co-production. Even if those pressures did not exist, there would be a strong case in principle for making this kind of change and reconnecting government and public service more intimately with those that they serve.”

As the authors acknowledge, co-production is not an easy option for transforming public services. It requires a radical change in the way we do things, at government level, in organisations, and as citizens, service-recipients and carers. This will involve changing both behaviours and systems. The overarching aim is shared power, shared control and shared responsibility between the state and citizens. This can only be achieved if we work together in genuinely equal and reciprocal partnerships. This is made explicit in the body of the report but disappears from view in the recommendations, along with the other half of the co-pro equation – citizens and communities. In short, that means Us.

To make good this omission, we propose that a government-supported, fully funded Wales Co-production Network be established. It should be a member-led, peer-support group, committed to advancing the principles and practice of co-production in Wales. The proposal is based on the successful model used in Scotland but goes well beyond this to link up with Welsh traditions of co-operatives, mutuals and community. It would build on and extend the voluntary work undertaken to date by Co-production Wales to advocate and demonstrate co-production principles.

The intention would be to help establish Wales as an ‘enabling state’, making the connections between co-production and other relationship-centred approaches such as citizen-directed support, the social model of health and asset-based community development.

The Network would campaign for and support co-production across all sectors and at all levels – strategic, organisational and individual (practitioners, professionals, carers, and service-recipients/citizens). Through asset-mapping, mentoring and partnership working we want to encourage the formation of relationships of trust and reciprocity between government, public services and citizens, and develop new systems of commissioning and evaluation to support these new ways of working. Citizens will be supported to become co-producers of services, with a voice in their own lives and in their communities.

The Williams report stresses the urgency of the task in hand and the need for a holistic approach which addresses organisational behaviour, structures and systems and enables and empowers citizens to participate fully in the design and delivery of their public services. We agree. A Wales Co-production Network could help make these aspirations a genuinely co-produced reality.

Ruth Dineen is Director of Co-production Wales (All in this Together)

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