At a recent conference on co-production it was amazing to see how quickly professionals could discount people who access services.
A Co-Production event hosted by Holyrood Magazine at the COSLA building promised to be a blend of “theory, discussion, a workshop and good practice to provide an up-to-date understanding of how you can effectively utilise co-production.” All these aspects occurred within the day but in my opinion, it was the values of co-production that were either discussed, or became apparent within discussion, that provided the most valuable learning from the day. The learning primarily centred around people’s involvement in co-production, how to do that and just how easy it is to lose sight of such a key value; it is a fine line between doing co-production and the process diminishing into a tick box exercise.
Too easy to ignore people easy to ignore
Following presentations and a short Q&A with two speakers in the morning the event changed gears with a workshop session. It was led by Josie Vallely, a Project Manager at Iriss.
She initially gave a presentation that provided a useful reminder on the wide array of groups that should be included to truly have a co-produced service. Included was a x/y graph with a sliding scale of ‘people who have a say’ and ‘people who are impacted’ ranging from ‘always’ to ‘never.’ At the top of the scale were ‘fat cats’ (to give their official name), ‘politicians’ and ‘local authorities’. At the bottom were ‘people who are easy to ignore’, ‘people with lived experience’ and ‘family, friends and carers.’ Josie explained that for co-production to be most effective the people who are currently at the bottom of this scale need to be at the top and always have a say because they are the ones who are always impacted.
It was during the first workshop exercise which followed that drove home how easy it is to lose sight of key co-production values such as inclusion. The exercise was drawn from the Iriss Co-production Project Planner (this link will take you away from our website) and asked participants to list the stakeholders that would need to be recruited for the project. I was taken aback by the immediacy in which some members of our group were ready to discount certain individuals who would access the service. Individuals that would be the very same people regarded as ‘people who are easy to ignore’ and impacted the most by the service.
The fact that some people were able to make assumptions about a group they themselves didn’t belong to drove home how easy it is to disconnect from key values of the co-production process. It became obvious through seeing this that measures should be put in place right at the beginning of the planning stages. Firstly, a commitment needs to be made to adhere to the values that co-production requires, and then consistently reassess that they are being honoured throughout the process. Second, is to give the project enough time for a robust recruitment period that allows for all stakeholders to be included and with the necessary representation.
Without those two aspects it is evident that a co-produced project can very quickly descend into becoming another public service that does little to benefit the people who use it, except this time there is a label attached to it that makes it sound nice. Co-production isn’t easy, it takes a level of discipline, willpower and patience that will often be counter intuitive to the time constrictions of any funding. However, when people who access a service and professionals do come together as equal partners a moment of truth occurs and, in that moment, something of real value can be produced for all.