Co-production is about designing and delivering services in true partnership with citizens and professionalsThe secret sauce of co-production is that it equally values professional training and lived experience.

It has the potential to:

  • create high levels well being and quality of life for citizens and  communities
  • preventative cost savings and more efficient use of public resources (staff time, energy and expertise; public purse).
  • bring new assets and resources into the system (people’s time, skills, networks) that have not previously been visible or accessible to professional services.
“Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours. Where activities are co-produced in this way, both services and neighbourhoods become far more effective agents of change.” —Nesta & nef, The Challenge of Co-Production, 2010

What's in it for me?

Governments save money, both immediately and preventatively: co-produced public services are often cheaper to operate than non-co-produced examples. As well, there are preventative savings as citizens become more self-reliant and thriving overall -- ie. they don’t require assistance from public programs. 

Front line social service providers are enabled to put use their expertise to develop customized solutions -- The role of the professional service provider shifts to that of a listener, facilitator and coach. Professionals work together with the citizen as partners to determine the best course of action based on the resources available and the aspirations of the citizen. 

Citizens experience improved service outcomes and are valuable partners in the delivery of their own care --service are more responsive to the realities on the ground, serve the needs that are immediate and important to service users. Citizens are expected to take responsibility, alongside professionals, for helping themselves and one another. The role of citizens shifts to being a proactive, engaged, empowered, critical voice and equal partner in the delivery of services.

NOTE: Co-production is not about downloading services on to communities and citizens. Rather, the approach is about listening to citizens and working with them to create better citizen outcomes.

Designers are able to create holistic services that are user-centric, responsive to on the ground realities, efficient, and encourage well-being

“Co-production is a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognizing that both partners have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.” —Co-production Critical Friends Group, 2012

Co-design is obvious but co-delivery is not... yet.

The strategic design (and design thinking) community has long embraced human-centered approaches, which prioritize the needs of the end-user above all, and participatory approaches, which involve end-users throughout the design process. However, it is still less common for designers to incorporate end-users as part of the ongoing delivery of the service, i.e. for the end-users to be co-deliverers alongside the professionals.

(grid via The Challenge of Co-Production)

Furthermore, Designers who are incorporating co-delivery seem to be doing so almost by accident without realizing all of the positive benefits of this approach. A designer may choose to incorporate co-delivery because he or she recognizes that doing so makes the service more responsive to the realities on the ground and cheaper to operate than what is currently in place; however, he or she may not realize the added sociological benefits. For example, contributing is an essential daily ingredient to wellbeing. Enabling someone to give back to society yields other positive benefits like strengthened social fabric, which in turn leads to greater feelings of safety, trust, inclusion and quality of life for those who are part of that community. 

While it is important to note that co-production is not the answer for all services, there is an enormous opportunity to incorporate a co-production approach in many of our public services. In particular, public services that traditionally have a long-term relationship with citizens, such as caregiving, health care, justice, and education, make good candidates for re-design that considers co-production. Despite it's incredible potential, co-production remains largely under-utilized as many designers aren't aware of it's full range of capabilities.

Co-production is not new, it is the way we did things before there were public services. Using Co-production intentionally as an approach to designing public services has the power to help us transition to a world where communities spearhead the changes most relevant to their needs, with the support of government policy.

(publication in video: Co-production: Towards a new Welfare Model

“Co-Production is when we design and organize public services together with citizens rather than deliver public services to them”—MindLab, Co-Production: Towards a new welfare model, 2012

Wondering if your service is co-production? Check it against nef’s list of 6 co-production principles

  1. Asset based approach (acknowledge and celebrate the assets within the community)
  2. Working on capabilities (builds the skills of those involved)
  3. Develop mutuality (true partnership between professional and user)
  4. Growing networks (support, share, stretch - not only connecting with the usual suspects)
  5. Blurring roles (some people are paid, others are not, all are important)
  6. Catalysts (new role for professionals - from experts to coaches and facilitators)

Further Co-production Resources

Examples of co-production:

Articles about co-production:

Think Thrice posts:

If you're interested in continuing the conversation on Co-Production, check out the Toronto co-production meet-up group.

For more concrete examples of co-production in action, see Elder Care Innovation.