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The impenetrable world of co production in social care

Alan Rosenbach Sector Commentator

Taking back control was a defining line in the recent referendum on our membership of the European Union. It has resonance with the arcane world of co-production in social care.

The idea of co-production is bandied about quite widely and liberally in social care settings and contexts. I cannot find any evidence that co-production is making any sort of difference to anything in the care sector.

Before we think about what co-production means, let alone what it delivers we should start with a definition of production. Essentially production is about organised activity that transforms resources into finished products and services. Along side this has been the concept of the “core economy” which is made up of family, neighbourhood and community. The production outputs from the core economy are:

  • Love and caring;
  • Coming to each others rescue;
  • Democracy and social justice.

According to the New Economics Foundation “Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours”.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) gives three definitions for co-production and sets out a number of key features that describe co-production in the care sector https://www.scie.org.uk/publications/guides/guide51/what-is-coproduction/defining-coproduction.asp

The one area for broad agreement is that co-production is not about consulting or more participation. It is all about encouraging citizens and policy makers to work together to shape public policy. That presents the first and so far insurmountable challenge for social care. The asymmetry of power means that most of the power lies with the state bodies and its representatives like commissioners and regulators of services. There is no demonstrable published evidence to be obviously found that much of this power has been relinquished in the context of social care. There is on the other hand a fair bit of reported consultation and participation through consultation with little evidence that it changes anything. This then is not co-production despite claims to the contrary.

The government of Canada (and take note it is the government leading this initiative) is looking to deliver new social innovations to deal with 21st century challenges. It first needs a strategy to deliver this model. It is describing the approach it is taking to developing this strategy as co-creation rather than co –production. The important shift here is a call for public nominations to participate in the first order task of developing the strategy that is being co-created.

All too frequently in the care sector the strategy is set and the attempts at co-production are at best to play at mitigating the top down approach that is already in place. This is the case for policy, planning, regulation and delivery in the care sector.

We have a government that plans to publish a Green Paper in January 2018. Here is a great opportunity for genuine co-creation about the strategic direction for social care for the coming generations. The government could invite the public to shape the future of care and support for this Green Paper and for which there is then a public consultation.

The challenge as with all co-production is that the Government will have to give up some power, which it will struggle to do. It will have to be less hierarchical. But most importantly as with all co-production approaches, government both national and local has to be open to proposals and solutions that it did not bargain or plan for.

Co-production for social care is about those in power and control nationally and locally allowing citizens to take back some of that power and control from the centre to shape their own democracy and social justice. Unfortunately the structures and mindsets are all geared up not to let this happen.

Edel Harris





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