Applying effective and meaningful co-production principles across local government

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, co-production and meaningful collaboration between the voluntary and community sector (VCS) and local government has been in the spotlight. As local government increasingly faces financial challenges of high inflation and increased pressures on statutory services, co-production should be considered even more vital to ensure that local services meet the needs of local communities.  

This blog discusses what we have learnt from our work to support local government, and how partners can be engaged to deliver meaningful co-production with local communities.  

What is co-production? 

We have our own definition of co-production, developed from years of working on projects to enable local communities. But we also like to challenge our thinking to ensure we are constantly learning and evolving. When we recently asked representatives from the VCS during a workshop about how they define co-production, they emphasised three crucial elements: 

  1. Organisations need to work with communities to define goals and priorities. This means ensuring that all parties have equal power and stake over decision making.  
  2. Service providers need to work with community members and representatives from the VCS to ensure collaboration over design, decisions, delivery and evaluation.  
  3. For true co-production, there needs to be a movement away from ‘tokenism’ so that citizen power can be genuinely impactful to service design and delivery.  

Co-production goes beyond the ladder of engagement, consultation and participation approaches by emphasising that service providers need the communities they serve as much as communities need service providers. 

Supporting local government to foster co-production  

We regularly co-design and facilitate engagement processes. As part of our work with the Greater London Authority supporting the implementation of the Building a Fairer City Plan, we delivered a London-wide event on the “The Power of Participation: Communities at the centre of decision-making”. Key takeaways from this event included that co-production requires time and resource and that imperfect processes should bring forward new learning.  

We have also run action learning with groups of local government officers wanting to embed equalities into service delivery. Our learning from these groups emphasises the need for meaningful and genuine co-production in local government. It was mentioned in these sessions how important it is to involve people from different backgrounds, especially young people, for co-production to benefit from a diverse mix of voices. 

Top tips for co-production  

During our years of experience working with local government and the VCS, we are often asked questions about how to put co-production at the heart of service design. We believe that co-production doesn’t have to cost more than traditional service delivery routes. Rather, services which are co-designed can make more appropriate and effective delivery models which can contribute to savings.  

Here are some of our top tips: 

      • It is important to understand the genuine appetite of each individual local authority – does there need to be some early dialogue with senior leaders and members to explore what this means? Helpful to this discussion is thinking about what current systems look like and whether they help or hinder co-production and what red lines/non-negotiable considerations may present themselves in the process.  
      • Mapping the communities that you want to engage with is a helpful first step but why not take this as the first step to co-production? We use ‘snowball’ conversations to find individuals who offer genuine first-hand experience within local communities. 
      • Limited funding across local government should not be a deterrent to co-production. Identify the powers and levers that already exist and use relationships to expand on those opportunities.  
      • Consider a broader base of engagement – have you explored other methods such as ethnography, co-design groups, action learning etc. 

      If you would like to know more about the work that we do around co-production, including different types of methodologies to engage with communities, or have any other questions, please email Ben.Lee@sharedintelligence.net or Lisa.Mccance@sharedintelligence.net. 

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