Nesta report sets out the principles of co-production

Visitors to some housing estates in Cardiff may be surprised to see residents weeding and planting the communal gardens and going on day trips together, but projects such as these are the results of a new scheme being run by Taff Housing Association. In return for their efforts, residents earn credits which they can spend on arts and leisure activities. This is an example of co-production, and according to a new paper by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, it is the only sustainable way forward for public services under increasing stress and strain.

Nesta’s paper, The Challenge of Co-production, promotes equality between end-users and professionals in delivering services, proffering the alluring idea that a vast reserve of human talent and energy is going to waste in public services – the users themselves.

‘We aim to give this revolutionary new sector a clearer voice and build bridges between practitioners and policymakers who are desperately in need of a new approach to public services,’ states Nesta’s report.

However, some believe that the report sidelines co-design, which shares its goals and methods with co-production. The paper dedicates just a few words to co-design, in the chapter titled ‘What co-production isn’t’.

‘Co-design and other forms of asking the advice of users may be helping to create space for co-production, but can lack any continuing involvement in delivery,’ reads The Challenge of Co-production.

‘It is odd that co-designis only mentioned once andin a slightly dismissive way in the paper, because co-design is actually very valuable in the co-production process,’ says Royal Society of Arts director of design Emily Campbell.

Nesta asserts that the report still offers useful insights to designers working or seeking to work in the co-design field. ‘Designers can pick up on the paper’s ideas, such as people with similar [physical or mental health] conditions working with each other to give hints and tips, and the creation of support networks, when they think about redesigning services for the future,’ says Nesta senior lab development manager Chris Sherwood.

Meanwhile, design consultancy Think Public is engaging with Nesta in a newly formed group to discuss the paper’s ideas, along with the Design Council, a handful of other public design groups and practitioners from mental health care and disability services.

Think Public head of design Paul Thurston is forgiving of the paper’s lack of focus on co-design, saying, ‘As a company that provides design services it is very beneficial to have Nesta promoting this way of thinking and approach to public services.’

He also states that co-design comes before co-production in the creation of services, suggesting that the paper is correct that co-design ‘can lack any continuing involvement in delivery’.

Says Thurston, ‘Co-production is a product of the co-design process, at the end of which you hand over a service that has been designed in partnership with end-users to those users and professionals who deliver the service.’

Off the back of this paper, Nesta is launching a social networking website to allow stakeholders, including co-designers, ‘to share ideas, practice and experiences so that we can build a wealth of knowledge around this real culture shift between professionals and citizens’, says Sherwood.

‘Co-production is fizzing away at a grassroots level, but much of it is unknown at other levels,’ he adds.

Nesta’s core principles of co-production

  • Recognising people as assets, because people themselves are the real wealth of society
  • Valuing work differently, to recognise everything as work that people do to raise families, look after people, maintain healthy communities, promote social justice and support good governance
  • Promoting reciprocity – giving and receiving – because it builds trust between people and fosters mutual respect
  • Building social networks, because people’s physical and mental well-being depends on strong, enduring relationships

Source/ The Challenge of Co-production: How equal partnerships between professionals and the public are crucial to improving public services

Latest articles