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Co-production means working together to produce better outcomes for the person. It is a way of reminding professionals that outcomes matter only because citizens want them and that producing better outcomes depends upon using the skills and expertise of both the professional and the citizen.


There is a tendency to treat public services as if they exist for their own sake. But this is a false perspective - services exist in order to help achieve outcomes - improvements in health, safety, wealth, contribution etc. Accordingly, services must be judged by the degree to which they help us achieve those valued outcomes. Ultimately it is people themselves, sometimes with considerable help, who achieve these outcomes: it is our health, safety, wealth or contribution.

Once we realise that people are at the heart of achieving valued outcomes then we need to reconsider the relationship between the person and the professional. It is clear that this needs to become a mutually supportive relationship - where the professional supports the person to achieve their valued outcomes - and the person supports the professional to fulfil their responsibilities. This relationship of mutual support and creativity is called co-production


It is important to note that the dynamic of co-production will change depending upon the context. In some situations we will rightly expect professionals to exercise considerable authority and leadership (e.g. a surgeon performing an operation.). But usually the reverse is true and most of the leadership must come from the person themselves (e.g. finding and keeping a job).

The value of the co-production relationship depends upon the synergy that comes from the combination of these diverse forms of expertise. And again the detail of the balance of expertise will vary with context and the individuals concerned but generally speaking we can distinguish two kinds of expertise.

Citizen expertise:

  • citizens know their own situation
  • they know their problems and the kind of impact they have on their whole life
  • they will know more about themselves, their gifts
  • they know their friends, their family and their community

Professional expertise:

  • professional will have seen many people with similar problems
  • they may have expertise in the factors which have created those problems (whether that be physical, psychological or social)
  • they will know more about the resources which they control 
  • they may know about the resources and services available from other parts of the system

Co-production is particularly valuable where problems cannot be easily solved with standard solutions. It is ideally suited to helping people to manage and improve their mental health, a circumstance which demands careful attention to the perspective of the person, but one which must also be balanced by a supportive external perspective.

The publisher is The Centre for Welfare Reform.

Co-Production © Simon Duffy 2011.

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.


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