The term co-production‚ began as a way of describing the critical role that service ‘consumers’ have in making it possible for professionals to make a success of their jobs. It was originally coined at the University of Indiana in the 1970s by Elinor Ostrom and other academic sociologists as a way to explain why neighbourhood crime rates went up in Chicago when police stopped walking the beat and lost their vital connections with the local community.

It was also used in the UK in the 1980s by Anna Coote and others at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and the King’s Fund to describe the reciprocal relationship necessary between professionals and individuals to make positive change concrete. It has been a term that has been applied particularly to the necessity of a two-way relationship between doctors and patients, but applies equally well to other public services.

The concept has been deepened and broadened by US-based civil rights lawyer Dr Edgar Cahn, who emphasises the involvement of the wider neighbourhood of families and communities as well. Dr Cahn has urged that the credibility of co-production depends on the following values:

  • Assets: every human being can be a builder and contributor.
  • Redefining Work: work must be redefined to include whatever it takes to rear healthy children, preserve families, make neighbourhoods safe and vibrant, care for the frail and vulnerable, redress injustice and make democracy work.
  • Reciprocity: the impulse to give back is universal. Wherever possible, we must replace one-way acts of largesse in whatever form with two-way transactions between individuals, as well as between people and institutions.
  • Social Networks: humans require a social infrastructure as essential as roads or bridges. Social networks require ongoing investments of social capital generated by trust, reciprocity and civic engagement.

Co-production requires professionals and service managers to move out of traditional roles as experts and providers‚into partnership models that work with clients and communities. This enables them to find a solution together to the complexity of their problem and sometimes requires that the problem be

redefined. Real and lasting change are possible with approaches that build or strengthen social networks and in turn motivate people to learn about and exercise their powers and their responsibilities as citizens.

At HCCT, co-production is key to the way we work. We have put together a collection of thoughts on co-production (2097) written by our staff on how co-production plays a crucial role in our day-to-day work.

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