Our learnings about co-production: the view from the Wales Network team

Noreen Blanluet and Rachel Wolfendale, Co-production Network for Wales

We’ve been operating as the Co-production Network for Wales just over 2 years now, building on an initial movement gaining momentum for several years before that (and learning from the co-production practice in Scotland along the way!). We have learnt so much in that time about what’s doing great and what still needs work.

Here are a few thoughts in no particular order...

The understanding of co-production and what it really means is pretty patchy.

On one hand a bunch of people are working to the same values and principles, basically doing co-production without calling in co-production - so the challenge here (which is a fun one!) is to join all the dots and make sure we are all sharing and learning together, whatever we call our practice. On the other hand some people see it as a substitutive solution to dwindling public service resources, and they ignore the key power-sharing dynamic that underpins true co-production. A colleague of ours refers to this tokenistic, surface approach as “coprobabble” and we all need to be equipped to challenge this when it appears.

It all boils down to relationships and trust, from start to finish.

Many organisations, across all sectors, are hoping for a transactional approach to developing increased capacity in public services, a new and improved system to simply roll out. But co-production is all about building relationships based on trust. We need this in order to work together, share ideas, develop solutions, change our future… creating together in a safe space whether we have empathy and understanding for one another’s perspectives, and shared aims.

You cannot learn this by being told it, you have to get stuck in and do it.

Beyond some foundational training workshops in which people can learn what co-production is (and isn’t!), and a starter kit of useful tools and methods, the most effective way to learn and to progress is by doing, and by connecting with other people who are also doing - sharing challenges, sharing solutions, things tried and tested, and lessons learnt. The Network is here to help join the dots, shout about what people are doing, highlight examples of good practice, and connect co-production practitioners to one another. The biggest part of what we do is bringing people together.

(Related shameless plug)

We released our Co-production Knowledge Base a couple of weeks ago - it's a curated collection of all things “co-pro” with a wide range of different kinds of materials, serving as a one-stop shop for everything from academic papers to blogs, in a range of formats, and aimed at the world at large (as well as the Wales-based co-production audience). Here's the link: https://info.copronet.wales - and what's there is open for comments and additions. It will be updated roughly every month based on submissions received and new information published.

Collating evidence is a huge and important challenge.

One of our biggest challenges is that everyone’s so busy doing the stuff that changes lives, that we’re not as good as we could be at recording this work and sharing it with others - both within organisations and wider. But, building and sharing this evidence is an incredibly powerful mechanism for learning and for change. As a Network, this is a big priority for the coming year.