Letting go of power – the impact of co-production

Andy Williams
Andy Williams
Director of Involvement

I have worked in roles specialising in co-production for the last 16 years. Although many of the barriers I first met, including tokenism and resistance to change, remain, overall, I have seen incredible progress.

I believe co-production to be blending the expertise of people with lived experience with the expertise of professionals. It requires partnership, collaboration and equality of voice to enable the right environment for co-production. When this approach is followed properly it leads to creativity and innovation. That is what makes it exciting.

What is co-production?

To work in a co-produced way, you are by necessity letting go of power and accepting you do not know where the work will lead you to. A recent example of this in action was when Revolving Doors supported co-production on the National Lottery Community Fund’s Help Through Crisis Programme in Middlesbrough. The service delivery staff discussed how often services are not accessible to the people who need them the most. This led us to ask “how do you design a service for people who don’t use services?”

We took this question to people in Middlesbrough with lived experience of those same services. Our role was to ask the questions, listen and support the group to create solutions. The group discussed the reasons why accessing services can be difficult. This led to a new idea, peer led drop-in services with peer coaches. Afterwards, service delivery staff reflected on this process and said it challenged the traditional role of a manager, encouraging them to let go, give up some control, and not set any fixed outcomes. 

This example illustrates how exciting co-production can be. We are encouraged to see that coproduced service design is being adopted on a larger scale by bigger organisations.

The impact of co-production

At Revolving Doors, we have seen large scale impact from co-production. We’ve supported our Lived Experience Team (LET) to design services with NHS England’s Health and Justice National Team. The LET made the case for paid peer support roles to be embedded into the Liaison and Diversion services. The LET collaborated with NHS England’s National Team to pilot this and evaluate the model. Following its success, it is now embedded within all Liaison and Diversion services.

Our Lived Experience Team are continuing to shape large scale projects such as the new Reconnect service and Community Service Treatment Requirements (CSTRs). Our lived experience forums are also leading a new inquiry model on probation reform which is producing some fascinating ideas for change. There’s always more to do, and new ideas to pursue, but we are excited about the vision for a smarter criminal justice system that our lived experience members are creating.

Our co-production model

Co-production is a learning process. We have learnt ways to refine our process while remaining open to unexpected outcomes.

We’ve learnt that impact happens when decision makers in the system are collaborating with lived experience groups that capture wider and multiple perspectives. For example, the National Expert Citizens Group (NECG), who we coordinate and support, represent a network of lived experience groups across the country. A co-ordinated process of local, then regional discussions, that inform the NECG’s work ensures the group reflects the current issues rather than views that may be specific to an individual. This approach enables the group to speak with assurance, and ensures professionals have confidence and trust in the group. Similarly, we apply this when representatives from our lived experience teams attend more formal board meetings. We ensure that our members are well prepared, have discussed the key points in advance of the meeting and are representing the collective view.

Another crucial part of co-production is supporting the decision makers to collaborate effectively with our lived experience forums. We view the decision makers in the system and our lived experience groups as partners with the same aims. Our role is to enable and facilitate this collaboration.

We lead this facilitation in our forums by helping decision makers identify opportunities, areas to influence and how to present to the group in an accessible way. Most importantly, we encourage them to bring curiosity and the intention to listen and learn. The forums are an incredible source of knowledge that they may not have been aware of and will be crucial to the development of their work.

If you’re interested in learning more about co-production, please get in touch with Head of Involvement Andy Williams.