"Co-production is not just a word, it's not just a concept, it is a meeting of minds coming together to find a shared solution. In practice, it involves people who use services being consulted, included and working together from the start to the end of any project that affects them..." (National Co-production Advisory Group)

Co-production has become something of a buzz word in recent years. It should mean the full, equal and active involvement of people who access services in their design, delivery and evaluation. Power is shared and all participants are recognised and rewarded for their skills, time and knowledge.

Far before the term co-production became adopted, disabled people's organisations like ours were doing it in practice already. We 'did co-production' in the setting up of Breakthrough by forging constructive working relationships between disabled people and key partners at our local authority. And then by working with them to design, deliver and develop an organisation which would put the principles of the Social Model of Disability fully into practice, and with disabled people at the helm. See, for example, this article by our late founder Lorraine Gradwell about co-production and the early days of Breakthrough:

https://coproductionforchange.wordpress.com/2015/11/17/breakthrough-co-production-in-practice/

An excellent current example of a co-produced project which we facilitate for Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) is the Disability Design Reference Group (DDRG). This is an influential and paid forum of disabled people who advise TfGM on the design and accessibility of the Metrolink in Greater Manchester, as well as on many other local transport initiatives. Importantly, the DDRG are involved in the early stages of projects before decisions have been made, shaping the accessibility of projects alongside engineers and other professionals.

Unfortunately though, many other projects which claim to be co-produced do not live up to this standard and are really just vehicles for one sided engagement or 'lip service' consultation. Decisions have already been made. This approach has led to a great deal of cynicism about the effectiveness of co-production from many - including some disabled people we hear from.

The idea of co-production did not originate from the disabled people's movement, but it does have significant potential to empower disabled people in some contexts because:

  • Organisations and services often don't fully recognise what disabled people require and unintentionally create disabling barriers as a result.
  • It recognises that disabled people are experts by experience and have a huge amount of knowledge to offer professionals as equal partners to ensure genuine inclusivity.
  • It avoids the tokenism of only involving disabled people in a piece of work once the agenda and probable outcome has been set (often seen in consultations!)
  • Disabled people need the support of their peers to live independently and reduce social isolation. This is a key pillar of independent living. Working in collaboration with other disabled people is one way to ensure that this is available without being to prescriptive.
  • It links well to the theme of 'nothing about us without us'. It also compensates people for their time and expertise in money or in kind.
  • At a time when resources to support independent living are in short supply, co-production can ensure that costly mistakes are not made by involving disabled people in the design of services and projects from the outset.

Here are some useful resources on getting co-production right and making sure your engagement is meaningful and inclusive:

Beyond the Usual Suspects, Peter Beresford, published by Shaping Our Lives: http://www.shapingourlives.org.uk/documents/BTUSReport.pdf

Co-production for Change: Blogs hosted by Helen Sanderson and Lorraine Gradwell: https://coprodcutionforchange.wordpress.com/

Co-production In Social Care: What It Is And How To Do It: http://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide51/