SCIE seems to think that Co-production is all about services – Bob Disagrees

We think that co-production is just essential good practice – a recognition that institutions and professionals are there to support and advise but, only in extremis ever take over someone else’s life…

It could only happen in England… are you sure?

Coproduction – the systemic co-option and redefinition of a democratic and very social idea?

As usual, it’s happened. Institutions of Government have co-opted ideas -that were born of communities who cared enough to act upon and take ownership of those issues that that really matter to them – and redefined them to suit the hegemonic agenda.

In its current bulletin, SCIE celebrates Coproduction Week, a festival of its own invention, telling us that they have “celebrated the incredible contribution that people who use services, and carers, make to designing and delivering services”. This seems to me to be a blatant misrepresentation of the philosophy of coproduction.

Coproduction is securely based on the principle that most of what we all depend upon throughout our lives is to be found in the core economy and consists of family, neighbourhood and civil society. “It runs on a thin stream of money – but it is primarily powered by our minds, our spirits, our hearts. It runs on psychological energy: love and kindness, caring and compassion, encouragement and moral duty” (Ruth Dineen). It is explicitly NOT primarily about the design and delivery of services. The challenge is for a public services system that has been mired in the lunacy of marketization and commodification for 3 decades to reinvent itself in order to re-establish its historical links with the real world – the world of relationships – and to concurrently set about ending the trend that, as John McKnight so ably put it, asserts that:
“We have reached the apogee of the modern serviced society when the professionals (and the government) can say to the citizen…
 We are the solution to your problem
 We know what problem you have
 You can’t understand the problem or the solution
 Only we can decide whether the solution has dealt with your problem
 We need to solve your problems
 We need to tell you what they are
 We need to deal with them on our terms
 We need to have you respect our satisfaction with our own work”.
Instead true coproduction invites citizens to be active in assisting each other to enjoy both the benefits and responsibilities of more interdependent, connected, and social lifestyle. It primarily nurtures relationships.

Services, public institutions and professionals all have a crucial role in co-production where the receipt of public services constitute an important component in ensuring a good life for citizens when that which might be derived from the core economy needs supplementing and complementing – and this is often the case. But this firstly assumes that public services are concurrently:
• committed politically to actively and intentionally supporting the core economy
• systematized and organized to prioritize this approach
• and populated by professionals who are both skilled at working co-productively with resources they cannot control, trained in this art, and accorded both the authority, capacity and necessary time by their employers to practice accordingly.
Presently none of the above is true:
• our politicians of all hues are enamoured of markets, competition and the promotion of phoney consumerism – reinforcing the stupid notion that achievement of good lives relates directly to the amount of money spent on services
• our systems are focused upon attempting to demonstrate ‘fairness’ in the face of a dysfunctional and totally inappropriate social care market and explicitly not on supporting citizens to assert control over both their own lives and the lives of those they love
• And our professionals have not been trusted to practice social work for decades – reduced all too often to the role of administering systems and covering their own and their organisation’s backs.
In this context it has to be the primary role of government to promote a society where people have time for each other, the security to invest in relationships, and are not constantly pressured to seek solace in consumption. Such a notion is presently unintelligible to the simple souls who pretend to represent our best interests at Westminster.

Co-production involves citizens, communities, and, when appropriate, the professionals who support them, pooling their expertise to create more effective and sustainable outcomes. It is based on a philosophy which values individuals, builds upon and enhances their own support systems, and considers their place in the wider community. This approach requires a move away from service-led or top-down approaches to one of genuine citizen empowerment, involving service-users and their communities in the co-design and co-evaluation of supplementary and complementary services, starting from a one person at a time practice perspective.

The long-term well-being of our communities depends not simply on government policies but on the strengths of their social networks, on well-functioning family structures, on economic self-sufficiency and a root and branch redesign of social care structures and systems. I wonder if SCIE is able to help us develop these key features in practice?