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Co-production in a non-contact environment

We’ve written previously about co-production, its role and increasing prominence in engagement and consultation through policy and practice and last week we had an online Wednesday Wisdom session on the subject. Aside from touching on the basic principles the questions from participants in the webinar focused on a range of practical issues. If you’re a member of tCI, you can check out the recording of that session and others on our website. If you’re not a member and would like a copy please get in touch.

In this article, we take the time to expand on just two of the points raised:

  • Conducting co-production in our current COVID-19 no-contact environment; and
  • The difference between co-design and co-production.

Looking at the first of these issues, at its heart co-production is an asset-based approach where people are the key resource, which raises a couple of questions:

  • How do we engage with people without face-to-face contact?
  • Do we just give up on the idea of co-production in lockdown?

The short answer to the second question is no, supported by the slightly longer answer to the first. In terms of engagement and consultation, co-production involves an environment of equal partnership where power is shared between professionals and non-professionals; this can be achieved through no-contact. However, the way we do this will need to change depending on lots of factors involved in lifting the lockdown.

The simplest way to cope is to move things online, but this immediately excludes the digitally-excluded many of whom are the people we most want to hear. Therefore, the approach, as with many engagement exercises, will require sensible adaptation. If adapting an online platform check that people are able or willing to use it. For instance, many non-professionals are wary of using Zoom due to negative perceptions of security, and many professionals are unable to use it as their organisations have blocked it. Secondly, ensure there are other ways to engage in discussions, most online platforms allow people to dial into the conversation using a landline or mobile phone – while this is helpful it is essential to ensure that these calls are free to the user. Finally, the use of analogue methods should be employed, such as postal responses, one-to-one or group telephone discussions and the use of advocates who are in safe contact with the people we want to speak to – remembering at all times that the consultor adopts the role of facilitator to enable to process rather than directing it.

Moving onto the second issue, the difference between co-design and co-production:

  • Co-design: encourages people to input by asking for their ideas in developing potential solutions.
  • Co-production: encourages people to input by asking for their ideas PLUS actions to support delivery once those ideas are developed into solutions.

In other words, co-design creates the space for co-production but lacks continuing involvement in delivery that characterises co-production. In engagement and consultation, due to the need for statutory decision making in the process, the majority of activity is co-design. This is an important distinction, as we look at co-production exclusively through the lens of engagement and consultation, which does not mean that the pathway or service is not co-produced. Under our lens, the engagement/consultation is, however, considered as co-design.

Finally, this brings up the question ‘where does co-production end?’, which in its simplest form could be argued to be at the completion of the engagement exercise. However, taken to its logical conclusion, fostering the environment for effective co-production creates new relationships and social capital between consultors and consultees that builds fertile ground for continuous engagement, a virtuous circle for all.

TCI have experienced associates who are familiar with both co-production and engagement and consultation law who would be delighted to discuss these and any other issues you may have in this area.

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