Co-production Week 2017

Co-production Week 2017

Monday, 3 July 2017

Co-production in public services: a complex journey of change

By Noreen Blanluet, co-production consultant, facilator, coach and mentor. 

Co-production is a journey, not a binary measure. It is the organisational equivalent of a personal path to self-actualisation, in which it isn't possible to finally arrive, stop growing, and tick the "done" box. Instead it is a constantly evolving process of striving with curiosity, collective learning, and incremental improvement.

More and more public services are recognising the need to adopt co-productive practices in order to create long-term effectiveness, cost savings, and improve delivery in a complex and ever-changing social and economic landscape. Legislative or policy compliance can provide the initial nudge by imposing a statutory duty for them to "do co-production". However they are being required to navigate, without a map, the tension between investing time and resources to create sustainable future services, while delivering essential provision right now under increasing pressures.

Many might be hoping for a new, simple, one-size-fits-all, fast and effective system that will solve that tension. Unfortunately co-production isn't simple: while its principles are straightforward, their practical application requires flexibility, innovative thinking, and adaptability to constantly evolving contexts. It cannot offer a one-size-fits-all solution. People, situations, teams and communities are endlessly variable. The beauty of co-production is that identifying and building on our specific set of assets and resources will return the best possible result for us, which will look different from everyone else's. 

But this means that the same core principles will result in context-specific outcomes created with care and awareness, not rolled out blindly regardless of local needs. Nor is co-production fast. Building the solid, trusting relationships that underpin it requires time, commitment, and showing up with openness and consistency. It's an inner journey as much as an organisational one for all involved.

That is why successfully working to co-production principles requires a radical mindset shift, which translates into a significant culture change for the whole organisation: becoming a learning organisation means getting comfortable with the uncertainty that characterises complex systems, approaching situations with the cultural humility to listen with openness and draw on a range of expertise, and taking calculated risks to test and iterate potential solutions, before scaling those that work in a context-specific way. 

This requires an authentic leadership that recognises the importance of building genuine relationships of trust, and that enables both the workforce and the recipients of services to be engaged and empowered. 

Without this understanding, attempting to roll out co-production as a process-based approach will at best have limited success, and at worst may fail spectacularly. Process-based "co-production" cannot truly deliver effective and sustainable change, because it is missing the point.

For services already under huge pressure, it might seem like too big an ask. It is undeniably a big commitment that will take time; however it is still a better solution than continuing to struggle in vain with increasingly failing systems. By applying a co-productive approach internally to begin with, we can realise that we already have a lot of what we need in the assets and the resources of our teams and workforce, as well as our service users and their communities. It requires breaking with routine to take a bold step and ask: "What matters to you?", and then truly listening.

While policy and legislation are setting a direction of travel as well as a statutory obligation, too many organisations are still uncertain how to tackle the transition. For co-production to really become the basis of public services, investment is necessary not only in training and toolkits, networks and resources, but also to transform leadership mindset and organisational culture. Explicit support is required to accelerate the pace of change, and to help our public services grow into the co-productive organisations that we need them to be.

Noreen Blanluet is a co-production consultant. She has been observing the evolution of the public services landscape and is convinced that more positive change is in the works.
twitter: @noreenblanluet

No comments:

Post a Comment