Co-production: The way forward

Featured article - 14 September 2016
Pete Fleischmann, SCIE's Head of Co-Production

Head-shot of the author, Pete Fleischmann, SCIE's Head of Co-Production

Pete talked about this at the Centre for Public Engagement conference in September 2016

My interest in co-production was shaped by my experience of mental health issues and psychiatric services. In my late teens and early twenties, I experienced a series of mental breakdowns. In the early eighties there was no advocacy, no personalisation, no talking treatments and certainly no co-production. So I was treated with drugs and electric convulsive therapy. I had very little say in how I was treated. Though in some ways things have improved, sadly the mental health system still has a long way to go.

I think co-production is the way forward for all social care and health services. Co-produced services have a much better chance of fulfilling people’s real needs. Co-production acknowledges the expertise of professionals but also says that the experience and knowledge of people who use services and carers is equally important. Co-production indicates a much greater degree of equality between people who use services and professionals. It also involves acknowledging that professionals usually have more power and resources than people who use services. Co-production is about trying to equalise the difference in power between users and professionals.

Over the last few decades the disability and mental health user/survivor movements and other groups such as care experienced young people and people with learning difficulties have built up an enormous amount of expertise around how to work together in user only spaces and also how to work with professionals. I believe it is really important that the development of co-production puts at its centre the lived of experience of people who use services and carers. It is vital that we apply the principles of co-production to the development of co-production. This might sound like it is not even worth mentioning. But as with all ideas, as co-production becomes more mainstream it is in danger of becoming diluted. We cannot assume that co-production will not become tokenistic and watered down.

One protection against this happening is to make sure disabled people, older people, people with learning difficulties and care leavers are driving the development of co-production in genuinely equal and meaningful partnerships with professionals.

I hope that one day in health and social care we will look back to the time when users and carers weren’t involved in developing and delivering services as a sort of Dark Age which now seems strange and irrational. Then co-production won’t be something special just the way things are done and it will be hard to imagine doing things differently.

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