Scottish Co-production Network – Making it happen

Partnership working and the ‘co-production’ of public services with local stakeholders has formed an increasingly prevalent policy trend in many countries worldwide. Scotland is at the forefront of this movement, with the concept of co-production already embedded across a wide of fields from criminal justice to health and social care. Co-production is most commonly described using the NESTA definition:

“Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours.” (Boyle & Harris, 2009, pg. 11)

The Scottish Co-production Network (SCN) aims to provide a space whereby knowledge and learning regarding co-produced ways of working can be collated, shared and built upon. Facilitated as part of the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC), the Network utilises regular meetings and learning events to support what they see as their four key goals:

  • Build on existing co-production activity in Scotland
  • Be a forum for learning, debate and development of ideas
  • Create a space for practice & information exchange
  • Support dialogue and advance co-production approaches in Scotland

Earlier this month, the Network hosted one such learning event, entitled, ‘Making it happen’ aimed at putting co-production into practice through toolkits, experiential learning and listening from those already using this approach in their organisation. My colleague and I, whose research is also focused around the notion of co-production and co-design, attended the day event and were excited by the prospect of hearing directly from practitioners in the field. Much of our work to date on this issue has been largely desk-based research (in preparation for upcoming field work in 2016), and so the chance to interact with the practical, day to day, issues arising from this methodology was both refreshing, and useful to take back into our own research.

The day started off with challenges for the organisers, with heavy flooding and high winds delaying a train full of participants attempting to make their way to Perth. Despite the best efforts of the Scottish weather, however, the event was kicked off smoothly and attendees were given the chance to choose their first workshop of the day. Both my colleague Dani and I decided to attend the workshop exploring the Governance International’s ‘Co-production Star Tookit’, a session that was facilitated by the Chief Executive of Governance International, Elke Loeffler. This not only provided an opportunity to get to grips with one of the prevailing models of co-production (see below) but also meet a leading expert in the field whose papers and reports make up a high proportion of the current reading on my desk!

Co-production star

Governance International ‘Co-Production Star’ © Governance International 2013

Elke was joined in her workshop by Paula Brown, local co-production coordinator within East Dumbartonshire Council. She has been working alongside Governance International, the local Dementia Network and the Joint Improvement Team on PRESENT – a project designed to build a new type of collaborative working between individuals living with dementia and their local services, based around co-produced ways of working. Paula outlined that one of the key aims of the project was to integrate those living with dementia back into local life and offer opportunities for connecting more closely with their community and their peers. Utilising the five step process of the Co-Production Star , the project mapped priority areas with local service users, built a collaborative network of professionals, community members and individuals who supported this way of working and began to co-design activities to move from action plans to reality. The outcome, Paula highlights, has been a range of activities and services co-designed by people living with dementia, such as, supported walks, ‘Walk your Neighbourhood’ oral history events and a new community café based within a local care home with strong links to local schools. This latter scheme opens the project up to a range of intergenerational learning opportunities, with local upper primary and secondary students given the opportunity to volunteer and gain hands-on training on dementia issues and receive formal recognition of this.

Following Elke and Paula’s introduction and discussion we were encouraged to consider how co-production may already be applied within our own organisations and how this could be further developed through the use of resources such as the Governance International toolkit. Within our research, we often work with organisations or groups who work collaboratively – or co-productively – with local communities or individuals, however, taking this a step further and incorporating co-produced ways of working within our own relationships with research participants, is considerably less common. The concept of co-production within academic research is something that has long interested both Dani and myself and this workshop gave us the opportunity to discuss this further – and be open about the risks and rewards for all involved when considering this approach to research.

After a well-earned break for lunch, and a chance to network with fellow participants, we went straight into our choice of afternoon workshops. My colleague Dani, who is utilising co-design workshops within her research, chose to attend IRISS’ session dedicated to co-designing services (more about her experience and take-away learning in an upcoming blog post). The case study approach, however, was something that I was interested to know more about and so my afternoon was filled with understanding the principles of what makes a good case study and the innovative ways in which we can choose to present these. This session, facilitated by Olivia Hanley (SCDC), outlined the impact high quality case studies could have – and tasked us with developing the key aspects of a good case study.

The following principles of a good case study were developed by the group:

Case study diagram

Building the components of a good case study for co-production

These principles were then tested in real life examples from our own organisations or experiences. One group chose to present a case study in audio format – with interviews of local people, service users and staff of a project telling the story of action and change within that organisation. It was a powerful approach that enabled the ‘true voices’ of participants to be heard, not filtered through professionals or academics, but directly from those relying on the service in question. Our group chose to design a case study based around a futuring exercise, whereby a community space – already in existence in rural Scotland – have put in place co-production tools to drastically reshape and redesign where this space fit within the local community. Currently struggling with volunteer recruitment, fundraising and providing interesting and exciting activities for the local community, we looked at how co-produced ways of working could be utilised to update modes of practice in this example. A governance board made up of service users and community members to combat rhetoric of the ‘usual suspects’ was envisioned, an intergenerational space that accommodated the wide ranging needs of the local community was highlighted and, underpinning it all – the need for a locally led, contextual understanding of the priorities of that place and the people within it. This was built up into a case study from the community perspective in 2020 – looking back on the activities undertaken – and identified how co-produced ways of working had been implemented to make change possible. Envisioning where the organisation wanted to be, and how co-production could potentially be used to take them closer to this goal, was, for us, a useful exercise and enabled a critical examination of what activities doesn’t fit a firm interpretation of this way of working.  We recognised that, fundamentally, for activities to be truly labelled as co-production this approach necessitates a radical shift in the power dynamics between service user, community member and professionals.

The consequences of such a shift – for all involved – was only briefly touched on throughout the day and we felt that the risks and rewards of such a change could be a valuable point of discussion in another such learning event. As it was, the day was a sell out (despite the challenging travel conditions) and as such, demonstrates the high level of interest in this way of working within Scotland. For us, it was definitely worth braving the weather for.

Many thanks to the Scottish Co-Production Network for hosting this learning event – and to all the workshop coordinators on the day for sharing your learning and experience with us. Looking forward to connecting with you all again at the next event. If you’d like to know more about the work of SCN, or about co-production more generally, then you can visit their website here.

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