Co-production in social care: What it is and how to do it

Practice example: KeyRing

About the organisation

KeyRing was founded over 25 years ago by Carl Poll.  He asked people with learning difficulties a simple question: what do you want from life?  They consistently told him that they wanted their own front door.  From this, KeyRing networks of support came to life.

A network comprises around nine members, with various support needs, who are supported to get and maintain a tenancy. They are supported by volunteers and staff to become full citizens and to use the resources within the community as well as to recognize and share their own skills.

Its vision is for vulnerable people to be at the heart of their communities, sharing skills and talents for everyone's benefit. KeyRing exists to improve the life chances of members. 

What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?

Everyone has skills to bring, whatever their situation, for mutual benefit. The values of the organisation have always been about co-production even before the term became fashionable.

Having a great team of staff and volunteers who are supported by a culture of positive risk taking has been a key driver.  Members are always encouraged to do things for themselves and each other in order to build up their self-confidence. Most people want to help; many have just never been given the opportunity or the support to do so.

The use of the network means that the members live in and are part of the community. This certainly helps to remove any barriers to accessing and sharing skills with the wider community.

What difficulties have there been in implementing co-production?

When you ask most people what their skills are, they find the question difficult to answer. KeyRing believes that time needs to be spent on developing people's confidence so that they can recognise the skills that are intrinsic to them. It also believes that people need to be aware of where to draw the boundaries so that they do not become overly dependent on each other.

The approach of letting people try and risking failure rather than taking over and doing it for them is crucial. 

What are the main strengths in the approach that has been taken?

Co-production helps people to gain and build self-confidence. Giving and receiving support amongst peers and the community also widens the safety net. The more that people are connected, the better equipped they are to seek and receive support. 

Many traditional approaches to delivering services rely predominantly on support from staff; the co-production approach brings in a whole wealth of resources to support the members. Not least of which is the support that they offer each other. 

What are the main outcomes of co-production?

Co-production and mutual support give people a sense of self-worth. People gain in self-confidence, which some members have used to get a job. People also gain independence in the sense of being in control of their lives.

How has the organisation worked to engage all sections of the community?

KeyRing works with many different people to set up networks, from local housing officers to local librarians to local shopkeepers. Volunteers live in the local community and networks are spread across it. They are part of the local community and KeyRing’s role is to help them to become a valued member of it. Each situation is taken on a case-by-case basis as every community is different, as is every member.  KeyRing carries out analysis of the community to identify resources and speaks to partners in that community.  Guest speakers from the local area are often invited to talk with the members.

What advice would the organisation give to others?

Everyone has skills to offer – they often just need a chance to share them. As frightening and time-consuming as it may be, it really is worth it.

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