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Getting co-production wrong

04 July 2023
By Josie Soutar, Managing Director, Sheffield Flourish

As someone who has got co-production wrong on many occasions, here’s five traps to try to avoid when co-producing in the real world:

1. Co-producing something that is already agreed

This is a classic: You’re launching a new service when you realise you haven’t engaged with any service users. You quickly plan a ‘co-production’ session to ask people about something that is already decided.

People aren’t daft and will soon work this one out. If you are consulting on something rather than co-producing, then say so. Be clear on the purpose and what can and can’t be influenced.

Josie Soutar

2. Don’t wander from the path!

It is worth remembering that co-production involves people, and people don’t always stick to your carefully outlined session plan. It can be tempting to shut people down. Here are a few ways to counter this:

  • Build-in time for people to ‘vent’, particularly if the subject is emotive
  • Have a flipchart for ‘parked subjects’, to discuss at a later time
  • Scrap your session plan and see where the discussion takes you. This is where unexpected learning can happen.

3. The tokenistic service user

I’m just leaving this one here: inviting one service user to a meeting full of professionals is not co-producing. If you want to meaningfully engage, then really think about the power dynamics of who is in the room.

4. Blank flip chart syndrome

Most co-production sessions go something like this… here’s some information on a topic, discuss in groups, write on a flip chart, feedback group-by-group…

This is not the way to inspire new thinking on a subject. Be as creative as you can with things like images to stimulate conversation and get people drawing or walking around the room. A useful resource is below.

5. Off into the sunset, never to be seen again

Finally, a good co-production session will get people passionate about a topic, but too often they never hear from the facilitators again. If you value people’s input, then make sure you get in touch afterwards to feedback on how you have used their input.

Sheffield Flourish is a charity that works collaboratively on innovative digital and community projects, recognising the untapped strengths of people who’ve experienced mental health challenges.

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