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Camden and Co-production

Author: David Towell

This article examines the important work of the New Economics Foundation (nef) on how local authorities can put outcomes and co-production at the heart of the commissioning process.

Commissioning for outcomes and co-production, nef's recent publication, is described as ‘a practical guide for local authorities on how to put social, environmental and economic value at the heart of their commissioning decisions’. Its examples include the reform of mental health services in Camden, the development of young people’s services in Islington and Lambeth and providing better school meals in Nottinghamshire.

This guide is addressed to local authorities but as its title suggests, it puts strong emphasis on ‘co-production’ between these authorities, the people and communities they serve and indeed the providers of these services.

It seeks to conceptualise a new approach to commissioning which:


  • Distinguishes three phases in the commissioning process: gaining insight into what is required; planning and procuring services; and delivering and evaluating them.

  • Emphasises co-production, partnership and learning from experience as important activities throughout this process.

  • Makes a focus on outcomes for people and the whole community the key driver of change.

In the nef approach, commissioning agencies and partnerships are encouraged to develop an outcomes framework and to invite potential providers to work with people who use their services to co-produce activities which will best deliver these outcomes. This framework needs to reflect the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 in attending to environmental, economic and social goals as well as identifying more specific outcomes based on what is important to people in relation to a particular service. Moreover the outcomes need to attend to both the interests of particular service users and benefits to the wider community.
In articulating the social outcomes, nef makes ‘well-being’ a key objective, given more precision by attending to the five ways to well-being: ‘connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give’. It also draws attention to the importance of looking ‘upstream’ so as to find opportunities for the prevention of problems as well as dealing with their consequences.

All this becomes clearer through the examples. In the London Borough of Camden, the focus was on improving mental health day services. The local authority already had a high level set of sustainable community strategy goals, concerned with sustainable growth, a strong economy, connected and vibrant communities and responsive public services, which had been translated into more concrete priorities. These provided the basis for identifying community level outcomes.

The five ways to well-being, again translated into more concrete priorities relevant to mental health services, provided the basis for identifying service level outcomes including being well-housed, maximising personal income, getting a job, staying healthy and extending friendship networks. Camden commissioners also specified some of the processes (or quality characteristics) they expected would contribute to these outcomes (e.g. information and advice, personal support, educational opportunities etc.) without trying to define the precise shape of future services.

Here then is a framework for potential service providers, working with people using these services to shape and cost proposals for future provision. The whole approach is helpful more generally in the search for the ‘win – win’ innovations required to advance both sustainability and social justice through simultaneously addressing multiple local priorities.

The Centre has published reports on commissioning and community sourcing by Chris Howells and Chris Yapp, they are here.


The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Camden and Co-production © David Towell 2015.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.