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)

33 thoughts on “Wales should be an enabling state

  1. Having read this a few times and not understood how it has any relevance to the real world I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be either thick or in the first stages of dementia.

  2. Hi Jeff
    Neither I expect – if you haven’t come across co-production in action it probably does sound unlikely. But a visit to Ely/Caerau community with over 21,000 hours of volunteering by the community for the community, or to Glyncoch where a co-produced ‘safe communities’ initiative brought the crime rate down to zero, or DrugAid peer mentoring scheme, or Monmouth Council’s co-produced approach to adult social care etc etc provides compelling evidence that shared power and shared responsibility actually works. Ruth

  3. I was saddened to read the comment by Jeff Jones, as I am aware of a number of ‘real world’ examples of co-production, some of which are supported by academic evidence. For example, within health service development, Experience Based Co-design has proved to be a practical and energising approach to service improvement – co-production is at the heart of this process. I also know of care homes, who have used the underlying principles of co-production to radically redesign the way they operate to the benefit of all concerned. This has included the involvement of people with dementia, which may come as some encouragement to Jeff if indeed he is in the early stages.

  4. Further to Mr Jones’ comment, I read with interest his opinion on Wales On-line concerning the Williams Report ‘Why this Williams Commission won’t save Wales a penny’. In my view he rightly says:

    ‘What is required across the public service in Wales is a cultural change when it comes to managing public services in a century where the public sector faces some real challenges. Merging authorities will not bring about that cultural change in my view.’

    I believe that we don’t need is a wasteful restructuring that focus the mind of leaders on positioning themselves and their organisations and uses large amounts of public finance and professional energy.
    What we do need is a deep commitment to;
    * understanding what matters to the people who have an interest in our public services,
    * creating simple ways of delivering these services that use people’s talents and do not waste peoples skills and energy with empty bureaucracy.
    * organising services that help people take a real role in running them and help them develop as experienced citizens in our communities.
    Co-production offers a set of values that help us to create public services on this basis, it also offers us a set of skills and techniques that people can use to rebuild not only our public services but also our civil society, and finally there are already some brilliant examples of there people are actually doing this in Wales and across the world.

  5. Co-production makes fundamental sense in terms of enabling people to access the services they need and reducing, in may cases, their reliance (and costs) to the State.

    In Monmouthshire, Supporting People is part-funding a pilot initiative that is developing Community Coordination, based on the Local Area Co-ordination model.

    We are doing this as it will enable Supporting People to have a better appreciation of the non-SP funded support already in the communities and the unmet needs of people in the communities. We also need to develop outcome reporting/monitoring where the outcome is what we are calling “primary prevention” – ie stopping people needing Local Authority funded support or care. In this scenario, “prevention” probably means something different to the “prevention” that SP is focused on (probably the prevention of a crisis).

    Most importantly, being involved with co-production pilot initiatives will help us develop win-win scenarios – benefiting both the people needing support and our ever pressured budgets.

  6. Ruth, thank you for a brave and innovative contribution to the debate in Wales. Brave because you will (and already have here) encounter ignorance and resistance to radical change, which seeks to shift the balance of power away from established hierarchies, and requires citizens to take more responsibility for decisions that affect them. A challenge facing this approach is that it requires culture change, time and adequate resources to achieve that change. It will be necessary for the very people who currently wield decision-making power to enable others to become more influential in the process – making political space for change. I am optimistic there are enough enlightened decision shapers here who recognise the compelling benefits of not-medicalising people (there are pioneers of the co-production approach is in the health sector), of crediting people with the capacity to add considerably to Wales’ intellectual and social capital, and who understand that citizens value Wales’ natural resources and capital and the benefits and services it provides.
    However, decision making and influence currently rests with very few. And there is a tendency for these few to follow a typical pattern: Decide, Announce, Defend (DAD) – the alternative is to Engage, Deliberate and Decide.
    Here are some principles of good engagement:
    • Adopting a precautionary approach: engaging as openly, inclusively and early as possible (and reducing intensity later if appropriate) – for more robust outcomes, and avoiding lowest common denominator / too linear processes.
    • Clarifying the need for some kind of intervention, before moving on to consider the range of possible solutions, before working up the preferred way forward
    • The decision-making group / project “owners” / conveners should embrace alternative framings of their issue from the outset and take a deliberative approach, rather than relying on consultation where possible.
    So fellow readers / contributors to this on-line forum, lets move away from the adversarial espousing of [sometimes entrenched] views.
    Jeff Jones, you consider in a previous contribution, whether recommendations in the Williams Report will improve “issues such as capacity and scrutiny” and conclude we need “real debate not rushed decision making”. You say also “Whether that happens will depend on how many AMs put the long term aim of good accountable public service delivery before short term political calculations.” Leaving the last sentence aside for a moment, in fact, there seems to be much common ground that would allow you and Ruth and Wales’ civic society to engage in constructive deliberations leading to a new vision for efficient, sustainable public service delivery – funny that! So how about we don’t leave it up to just the few AM’s in which you have faith. And let’s start as co-designers of this new architecture by remembering that form follows function – who better to ask about functions than the people who receive services, people who deliver services, people who manage them, people who have strategic oversight of them – in short all of us.
    And yes, you’re right, we do need to use language that everyone can understand.

  7. Excellent piece. At last we see some fresh, original thinking to challenge the turgid complacency that is the lifeblood of our politicians, especially at local authority level. The author opens up fields that we all ought to address, such as the citizens-focussed delivery of services. Also, across our communities, social and economic interaction has to be re-imagined. Emanting from this article, there is certainly plenty of scope for discussion, though I’m sure our conservative commentariat will choose to downplay or ridicule Ruth Dineen’s contribution.

  8. IWA – you recognise issues of participation and addressing any democratic deficit are relevant to more people than just those interested in a narrow definition of politics, hence publishing John Osmond’s contribution “Can bigger be better local government?” on several of your pages. Why then narrow the debate away from stakeholders interested in Health, Environment, Economics and Science – when an interesting perspective emerges?

  9. I’m with Jeff Jones on this one – I don’t really understand what the author is on about?

    Have I got this right? Co-production is a new bit of jargon to cover situations where people have to volunteer in order to provide the services we think we should be getting from the public sector in exchange for the taxes we pay?

    In which case I say no – make the public sector do what it says on the tin which means re-structuring away from the desk-fliers and towards front-line service providers giving the latter more autonomy and less box-ticking and form filling to do…

  10. This ‘co-production’ sounds like a new word for some old – but important – ideas. Perhaps a new word is necessary because some of those good ideas – ‘civic culture,’ ‘voluntarism,’ ‘the third sector,’ ‘a thousand points of light,’ ‘social entrepreneurship,’ ‘community enterprise,’ ‘the big society,’ ‘localism,’ ‘enabling government,’ etc – have been branded ‘right wing’ and therefore ‘bad things’ in the narrow-minded lexicon of Welsh public life.

    If so, Ruth Dineen is right to welcome what Sir Paul Williams says on this subject. Indeed, there is a lot of good stuff in the small print of the Williams Report and one of the objections to the headline-grabbing bonfire of local authorities is that it distracts attention from the Commission’s more useful recommendations.

    The tragedy is that we all know that the Assembly will latch on to the headline-grabbing bits of Williams and use that as cover to ignore the more worthwhile recommendations. The socialistic politicians who dominate Wales dislike giving up any direct power, and have always resisted things like enabling councils and purchaser/provider splits – which have in fact been well established concepts in more progressive circles since the 1980s. The irony is that the abolition of the smaller councils would be wholly unnecessary if they had, as was envisaged, embraced the role of enabling councils from the start. Their own socialist dogmatism has condemned them.

  11. Hi John
    Sorry about the jargon…co-production in this sense has been around for several decades, along with a growing body of evidence to support its capacity to increase engagement and social networks, build on people’s strengths, improve well-being and health, and make services more effective. So I’m afraid we are stuck with the terminology. It’s the exact opposite from the ‘Big Society’ scenario you quite rightly rail against. That hands over responsibility but leaves power and control in the hands of the state. Co-production is based on genuine partnerships with shared power & control leading to shared responsibility. There are some good examples in NESTA’s ‘Co-production Catalogue’ if you’d like to know more.

  12. Your concerns that ‘coproduction’ might be a euphemism for getting volunteers to replace services is understandable and some might abuse the term in that way. However, as a community development practitioner in Glyncoch until recently, I have learned that social challenges are much better addressed when community members and service providers collaborate and learn together. I have been amazed at the difference it has made to the physical environment, to crime levels, educational attainment, and so on. Coproduction, properly understood, is about democratising services and valuing the insights and contributions of all stakeholders. It is so much more than mere partnership working because it embodies a set of values that recognises community members and service users as part of the solution as opposed to passive recipients of services. Surely involving people in service design and delivery in a way that is properly reciprocal and respectful is inherently a good thing?

  13. Interesting reading – lets summarise – the state is contracting (your political views of whether this is a good or bad thing are interesting, but it is a fact) – and to be fair, this for many local authorities mean doing ‘what is says on the tin’ that is, protecting statutory services they have a legal duty to deliver. That means some Councils will need to merge to fulfill this duty effectively (sorry, I don’t agree the size of a Council has any direct impact on democracy).

    So we are in a position where services are being withdrawn, and therefore the question is, do people complain about this and lobby – yes, but that only gets you so far. Do Council’s simply withdraw? None of this is feasible, Council’s are aware that if they do, people’s needs tend to increase which leads to increased demands on expensive and acute health and social care services, which they already cannot afford to meet – they need to cut off the supply – prevention and early intervention are no longer just used as sound bites, money is being invested (this is true in RCT and Cwm Taf)..

    So coproduction – a new word for an old concept maybe – BUT in the current climate, it has new meaning and value, as the public sector are asking for communities and others to work with them to solve these problems – and this is new for them, and for us (to now be seen as key partners) – so we have a lot of new things to learn about meaningful involvement of active citizens, service users and communities . . . BUT we all need to agree we are all in this together (sorry!), and it may not help to think of Council’s or other organisations as ‘them’ and everyone else as ‘us’.

    Cannot we all agree that to address the challenges we all face, we need to work together better, and that’s means more meaningful involvement of all kinds of people, not forgetting the private sector, and it is nice to have some advice, guidelines and examples of what does work, rather than us all working in silos and starting from a blank sheet of paper?

    So I am all up for some more clarity on helping us all do this – we have noticed a step change from RCTCBC – as directly commented to me by an Head of Service ‘we actually need the third sector now’) – and that was in relation to a commissioning meetings and rewriting tenders on working with families to include developing community interventions – such as developing peer support / parent groups, with the local community. Hope that helps!

  14. The time is right for change, and Coproduction requires both cultural and systematic changes to public service provision. Ruth and the Coproduction Wales Network are working together, sharing practitioner experiences, and making approached to government in an attempt to demystify Coproduction, identify real and appropriate case studies, and establish ways and means of putting Coproduction into action as a matter of course and not as a unique and new approach (we are not reinventing the wheel here).

    I believe the Williams report, together with austerity, will assist a cultural shift towards Coproduction, leaving little option for politicians to back out when they realise that this really means joint working and moving away from the traditional channels of power and control currently adopted by government (large and small). It does recognise that government needs ‘the people’ to secure a sustainable future and, therefore, people can win back control over the services they require. Coproduction levels the playing field so people can better interact with commercial and public suppliers.

    The third sector are heavily engaged with this but do not make the mistake of reading into that a scenario where volunteers replace paid staff or produce their own service provisions. This is about people shaping the services they require; these services will still need delivering by professionals and, in some instances, through paid or even profit oriented providers.

  15. Ruth, thanks for the reference. The NESTA Catalogue is very impressive, but subject to the reservation that it is less a Catalogue than a selection of case studies, so there remains a question of general applicability – especially in Wales where a culture of participation has been neglected for decades. You will also be aware of the problems of sustaining an initiative after the first few years.

    Yet the principle of user-participation is surely the right way to go – as Jenny says, inherently a good thing. The jargon is a problem across the public sector. Even those of us who are fairly fluent in management-speak find it a pain having to translate it into English all the time and it is a real barrier if you are seeking to involve new people.

    Someone really needs to come up with a better word than ‘co-production.’ There is an old joke in the film industry that ‘co-producer’ is the title you give your assistant instead of a raise.

  16. Glad you found the Co-pro Catalogue useful John…you’ll be pleased to hear that there are lots of examples in Wales too; we just haven’t had the resources (time or money) to create a home-grown resource. But Public Health Wales and the Health Promotion Library are helping us to plug that gap. We’re putting together a joint funding bid to create an open-access electronic and physical co-pro resource AND PHW have collected recent case-studies from across Wales which we are in the process of editing and collating. They will go up on the Co-pro Wales blog in the very near future. I’m sure you’ll find them inspirational, we certainly did.

  17. John, in response to your comment about the term ‘co-production’ – it has been receiving both negative and positive comments. However the latter include “it does what it says on the tin”: production = action/doing, and co = with/together… it’s all about doing things together. A more succinct definition of co-production I have yet to find…

  18. The key phrase in this discussion comes from Roger Davies when he states ‘moving away from the traditional channels of power and control currently adopted by government (large and small).’ Now I’m not against new initiatives – and we are certainly going to have to find new ways of doing things in Wales given the stark economic times we live in – but may I ask who determines who ‘coproduces’ what? At the moment we elect local councilors to oversee the provision of local services and if we are unhappy with their performance we vote them out at the next election – what advocates of co production would call ‘traditional forms of government’.

    So how are these coproducers going to be directly accountable to local people in the way that elected councillors are? Also do the advocates of coproduction intend to make democratically elected local government in Wales redundant? If that is the case it would be extremely worrying, as whatever criticisms people may have of local government in Wales I’ve yet to see a better or more accountable way of doing things than local people directly electing people from their community to oversee the management of local services, which is the system we currently have.

    Cutting through all the jargon and largely unintelligible ‘management speak’, coproduction at best seems to be music to the ears of neo-Thatcherite advocates of a permanently smaller state, like current British chancellor George Osborne, and at worst the kind of ‘philanthropic’ and charity based local service provision that existed in Victorian times.

  19. This is a really interesting discussion because of how many people immediately, and with good insight, associate co-production with centre-right values of the smaller state and civic responsibility. The fact that the co-production agenda has been embraced by organisations with a typically left-leaning agenda is a testament to the fact that, finally, Wales is developing a new, more fluid politics that better befits the devolution era. Left and Right are swiftly losing much of their significance in daily life and for the same thing to be reflected in politics cannot come soon enough as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t think this is merely symbolic – it marks an important step for those who are interested in social justice to recognise that there may be something to the dependency myth after all, and that people who are empowered are far better off than those who are passive recipients. Similarly, by recognising the value of opinions from the grass roots up, it offers the chance to build efficient services that might have a better chance of evading the swinging axe of Whitehall’s cuts. It may seem like jargon, but co-production could just be the appropriate terminology for a post-austerity landscape.

  20. This is just the Third Sector – after a lot of bad publicity – re-forming and (giving the impression of reforming) in pursuit of the old objective – public funding.

  21. I thought this well worth a read, though short on explicitness of service delivery and management shape if co-production was enacted. For me the telling bit in Williams is the way in which the whole report is declamatory and sententious about ideas like co-production (leave aside precise definitions) then it has nothing to say as a detailed recommendation. Williams does that a lot. It flounders outside his stomping ground of health services. It preaches a lot on scrutiny, accountability and governance, evangelising the repeated ‘musts’ for change and then goes silent on what would be the agency or pathway to such reform, except in the higher reaches of the government or the executive. This the work of a top civil servant assisted by 6 govt insiders. The report is 347 pages of expensive upholstery with only one thing worth reading or remembering. This report is not about delivery, it is just about governance. Williams lives a million miles away from messy, implementation-cursed delivery.

    Ruth, serious question on co-production on the ground. Describe for me such a change in schools. How would co-production differ from academies and even free schools? Genuinely, I am asking the question, without any political leanings. If co-production cannot respond imaginatively to such important areas of public services, it is not to be paraded as ‘the next big idea’. It is a smaller idea that does not have extensive salience in this wider debate. Perspective is important.

  22. Hi Leigh
    I think we could just be in a having cake and eating it scenario with co-production…the point is to increase democracy, well beyond the occasional vote for someone you don’t know and whom you will probably have no further dealings with. If local authorities start co-commissioning, co-designing and, where relevant, co-delivering services with their communities, we’ll get more relevant and sustainable services and a community that is listened to and valued. Co-producers are directly accountable to local people because they include local people. An example is Glyncoch’s co-designed and co-delivered ‘Safe Community’ strategy / action plan which reduced the local crime and anti-social behaviour rates from the highest in the Pontypridd area to the lowest – and sustained that change because the strategy was owned by everyone. It doesn’t mean that the statutory services cease to take responsibility but that they work in equal partnership with citizens and on the basis of what’s important to them. Definitely not a Lady Bountiful approach.

  23. It would help if Ruth Dineen explained in one simple understandable sentence what she believes co production actually is. Perhaps something along the lines of “Co production is this thing where the workers get to vote on how their work is run and managed-similar to the John Lewis model” That would probably do it. But I’m afraid there’s more at play here.

    Let’s take that Ruth is a well meaning, well intentioned woman. This may be the case but her language and message inevitably reminds the reader of the unpleasant training culture made famous by the non transparent ‘Common purpose’ group with their numerous mantras such as ‘leading outside authority’ ‘transforming culture’ and ‘forming the leaders of the future’ . Many people would call it brain washing or globalist indoctrination. After all, we must all become well trained global citizens (I’ve always been one as far as I know) and we must repeat key trigger words at all suitable opportunity: sustainable development, common purpose, global citizenship,empowerment, enabling, transforming etc etc. Most public bodies in Wales pay for the privilege for chosen members of their staff to be sent to be ‘re-evaluated’ on these courses. Ruth and her company generously offer a course for £180 a day, £340 for two days or £480 for three days.

    Co operation and helping each other has traditionally always existed in Wales – another reason why people in Wales and the rest of Britain are seeing through this training and consultancy sham. They are not trusted anymore. And rightly so. There is no place for such non transparent organisations in Wales, especially within public bodies payed for by us the public. The unpleasant desire of these groups, as Ruth herself points to in her Linkedin page, is for a globalist set of leaders. Well trained, plastic leaders doing the corporations’ bidding quietly and without question perhaps. People in Wales need to stop looking up to these psychobabbling pseuds and stop taking them seriously. If private companies or individuals want to go on courses to be mind bended and ‘enabled’ then they can do it with their own money.

  24. Hands up and full apology to all those commenting about the jargon…will do better in future!

    Terry: one great example of co-production in schools is time-banking (eg in Ferndale and Michaelston). Pupils volunteer one hour of their time to help by running after school clubs, or buddying up with younger pupils, or helping with a litter-pick. In return they get a time-credit note to ‘spend’ going to the local leisure centre or to put towards the end-of-year prom. Results are more confident, engaged and motivated pupils and a greater sense of community within the school. CAST Cymru (Communities and Schools Together) have offered to host two Wales Co-production Network events in March to share ideas and evidence about the impact of co-production in schools…do join the group if you’d like to find out more.

    G. Morgan: Here’s a definition of co-production ‘Co-production enables citizens and professional to share power and work together in equal partnership, to create opportunities for people to access support when they need it and to contribute to social change.’ The overarching aim is social justice.

    And on the basis that any response by me to the psychobabble globalist indoctrination charge would be unlikely to convince, I’ll have to hope that someone else feels like offering a defence on my behalf (possibly my mum!).

  25. In the context of public services, I believe coproduction is about acknowledging and addressing the ingrained power imbalance between the state and citizens. This means professionals and citizens working together in genuinely equal partnerships, with shared power, control and responsibility, to improve individual, community and ecological wellbeing.

    In my view, coproduction thus challenges the dominant economic paradigm and supports a shift towards a more equitable partnership culture (

  26. @Paul Swann – the link you provide doesn’t help shed these types of organisations in any good way I’m afraid. Your link displays the usual incomprehensible mumbo jumbo and the predictable sexual stereotype of ‘Men=bad, wife beaters,violent’ . People see through this nonsense now.

    @Ruth-G. Morgan: Your definition is sadly still without any real meaning. We all want social justice of course. Social change seems fairly innocuous too but that depends on what kind of social change is deemed necessary and who decides what that change should be. I would suggest that the type of social change we need is to encourage citizens to enable themselves to rid Wales of leech like training and consultancy groups which drain our public funds, and to insist that this wasted tax payer money instead goes in to the productive economy and job creation in Wales.

  27. Thanks, Ruth, for starting an interesting conversation. My comments are as follows:

    1. Problems of definition

    • Co-production can mean many things: eg. commissioners working together; commissioners and providers working together; commissioners, providers and citizen representatives working together; individual professionals and citizen/service users working together; citizens working together with other citizens, etc.
    • In addition, co-production in any of the above relationships can be either formal or informal.
    • All these things are good, and should be encouraged, but there is a danger that the huge variety of options for co-production will result in a lack of clarity or consistency in its application.

    2. Problems of authority and power

    • Many of the key intended partners in a Co-production-based society are agents of the state with a strong sense of their superior responsibilities and status.
    • Many of the key intended partners in a Co-production-based society have been subject to professional training and accreditation which gives them a strong sense of their superior knowledge and status.
    • Simply exhorting everyone to work together, without addressing these problems of authority and power-relations, will result in little noticeable change to the experience of non-statutory and non-professional ‘partners’, especially ordinary citizens.

    3. Problems of market ideology and competition

    • Much of the terrain for Co-production in the delivery of services and supports for citizens is already dominated by attitudes, policies and practices which promote the opposite, namely competition, and especially cost-driven competition.
    • Consequently, many of the key intended partners in a Co-production society are currently focused on “divide and bully down costs” if they are commissioners, or “survive and expand at any cost” if they are providers. For an example, look at adult social care.
    • Amongst the many detrimental effects of this situation, I would highlight the absence of joint planning between commissioners and providers, the distrust and secrecy between providers (including the third sector), and the total marginalisation of citizens throughout ‘procurement’ processes.
    • Simply exhorting everyone to work together, without addressing these problems of market ideology and competition, will also result in little noticeable change to the experience of citizens and those who seek to benefit them.

    4. Recommendation

    This is a big change agenda, but I believe the following action, which Ruth touched on briefly, is an essential strategic component which offers clarity and consistency:

    • Develop and promote social co-operatives (as autonomous entities and as consortia) so that:
    o users and other citizens, including local staff, are member-owners;
    o the power relations between citizen and state/professional are equalized through the mediation of a democratic body (the co-op) and its co-op allies;
    o the principle of “co-operation amongst co-operatives” is activated;
    o the ideologies of both competition and top-down statism are challenged by legally constituted exemplars of citizen accountability and reciprocity.

    I and others are currently in the process of establishing a Mid Wales Social Co-operative Consortium and hope this will be replicated in other regions. We also anticipate encouragement for this work from the soon-to-be-published report of the (WG) Commission on Co-ops and Mutuals. We do not see ourselves in opposition to Co-production, but instead invite Co-production activists to embrace Co-operation as a central mechanism for achieving the change they and we desire. Anyone interested in engaging in social co-operative development in Wales is welcome to contact me for further information: [email protected] .

  28. Adrian is right that Ruth deserves credit for starting an interesting conversation, one of the best on this website. She also deserves credit for responding to comments courteously and patiently, probably winning a number of converts to her cause in the process. Certainly not a few of us certainly now have a better understanding and favourable view of ‘co-production’ – even if some of us still think it needs a better name!

    Adrian also does well remind us that we already have a long tradition of co-operatives. Even those of us who do not see co-operatives as a panacea feel that some of their principles could be usefully applied to a number of other activities.

    All in all, this is a good example of what this website does well.

  29. Many thanks to Adrian for a spot-on overview of the challenges and likely barriers to co-production…and for suggesting a practical way to build on what we already do well rather than trying to start from ground zero. For me, and many others involved in the co-pro campaign, co-ops offer an ideal (and values-led) governance framework for sustainable co-production. And everyone likes / understands the word which is a great help in the circumstances! Consider yourself thoroughly embraced!

  30. Whilst I acknowledge the benefits of what is now called Co-production, I like others who have responded above, would like to stress that Co-production is nothing new. It emerged from survivor activism (mental health) in the 80s and has been known as ‘Involvement’ or frequently ‘Service User Involvement’. Indeed, co-production is a form of meaningful involvement.

    Given this, my concerns at present regarding co-production rest upon the premise that co-production is being redefined and owned by ‘practitioners’ rather than users of services. Indeed, I attended the initial ‘We’re all in this together event’, yet this appeared very much a ‘practitioner’ event, rather than a truly co-produced event – I was not made aware that there were any ‘users of services’ and was asked when I arrived what organisation I was from. I consequently, did not disclose that I was a user of services, and was very disappointed as their were no users of services presenting on this occasion. I consequently disengaged from further events.

    I am also concerned where funding will be sourced for the Welsh Network. Indeed, I am a service user activist and am a member of the National Service User and Carer Forum for Wales (mental health). We are seeking funding from the lottery as the Welsh Government are not going to fund us. We are a forum which is produced and co-produced by service users from around Wales and feed into the National Mental Health Partnership Board. If we cannot get funding from the Welsh Government, why should the Co-production Network?

    This also leads to my third concern – that Co-production implies that professionals and service users work together. However, as mentioned co-production is a form of involvement, with user led and user controlled services being the ideal for many. Co-production as it is in Wales through the network, which overwhelmingly includes practitioners – draws away from the fact that many service users do not want to co-produce with professionals or practitioners, they would like to co-produce with other service users.

    Moreover, without a clearly defined co-pro approach / definition, the word is being utilised by many to equate to cost cutting and the expectation that service users volunteer their time, with no recompense.

    I would be extremely interested in knowing whether service users are being truly involved and where funding is being sourced.

    Kind regards


  31. Hi Bethan
    Good to hear from you! You raise a number of important points – particularly the issue of service recipients being fully represented – and I wholeheartedly agree that a co-pro Network which only consisted of practitioners would be meaningless. Co-production Wales / All in this Together is currently unfunded (95% of our work is unpaid) and there are just two of us so our capacity is limited. Service recipient representation is one of our key objectives for 2014 although it’s very unlikely that we will be able to become truly representative without funding – not least to enable service users and carers to attend meetings without being out of pocket. But with your help and input we could certainly make more rapid progress…maybe a Wales network event co-produced with the Forum would be a good start?
    For me there is something new in co-production. It is more than involvement, it is about shared power, control and responsibility – a sea-change in the way that government and most public service organisations operate. And it’s certainly not about substituting volunteering for state provision.
    There appears to be a genuine willingness to take the first steps in some government departments but we will need to work together if we are to have any chance of pulling this off. We think that a member-led and inclusive Co-production Network is an essential prerequisite, not instead of or in competition with other ‘citizen’s voice’ and advocacy groups, but working in partnership with them on this shared agenda.
    As to where our funding will come from (or, indeed, whether we will manage to get funding), we don’t yet have an answer to that. But I’m more than happy to let you know once I know. I do hope your funding bid is successful – and that we can support each other to ensure that ‘nothing about me without me’ becomes more than just a rallying cry.

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