All sectors have buzzwords. Some are the kind that are just an old idea that’s trying to sound clever, some might be something that is spoken about all the time but no-one knows what it means, and some might actually be good ideas.
Co-production is a bit of a buzzword in the health and social care sector. Put simply, it means that people who receive a service – such as healthcare, care and support, or even education – work alongside the people who deliver that service. If you are receiving a service, you can help to shape it. You have real control. Your experiences and feedback are valued.
It’s fundamentally about a shift in power, though – and that’s not easy. In order for co-production to truly work, people who make decisions and people who run services need to give up some of that power, by understanding that their ideas do not always come first and are not always best. It is also about trust: trusting that the people who use services know what will work for them.
This all sounds very grand, doesn’t it? I have been talking about co-production in my work for several years, but last week I was reminded of how that relinquishing of control feels – and more importantly, how it works.
Grace Eyre Foundation is a fantastic charity that supports people with learning disabilities. We run a monthly club night. It’s what you’d expect of any club – there are DJs (who are learning disabled), dancing (lots of it), a well-stocked bar (of course). The club is co-produced, meaning that it’s organised each month by a committee of people with learning disabilities alongside someone without a learning disability. They all work together to plan it, and to ensure that everything goes smoothly on the night.
My colleague, without a learning disability, recently moved jobs and I was asked to help run the club night with the committee. It was my first time. Know this about me: I am someone who likes to take control, and I am also a worrier. I took the responsibility of running this club night very seriously, and I worried about everything that could possibly go wrong.
And you know what? The committee have built a brilliant format for organising and running the club, and they’ve been doing it successfully for a couple of years now. They work to each other’s strengths, they’re organised, and they support each other – and I know that not all teams have these qualities! They also know how to give people what they want from a night out; we had a great turnout, and were supported by brilliant volunteers from the local community who come every month and work alongside people with learning disabilities as they would any other colleagues.
The night was a resounding success and at the end, we all went home, happy that we had put on a great night.
I didn’t have to take control of everything. I didn’t have to worry so much about what could go wrong. The committee knew what they were doing, and they did it well. That, to me, is co-production in action. At Grace Eyre, we’re embracing co-production as one of our strategic goals for the organisation. It won’t always be an easy journey, but remembering that great things can happen when you relinquish your own power and instead trust in others is always a good starting point.