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

Practice example: Redesigning Support for Care Leavers

About the project

The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS), the Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum (STAF) and Argyll and Bute Council worked in partnership on a project called Redesigning Support for Care Leavers. Using the methods of co-production and facilitated by the design agency, Snook, the project has explored meeting the emotional and social needs of care leavers in the transition to adulthood.

What has co-production meant to the project?

The project aimed to create a level playing field where everyone involved, including young people, had a voice, valued each other and learnt together from the start of the process. The idea was to bring a different perspective to the design of a service and move away from simply voicing personal perspectives and opinions to making something together and testing possible solutions. This co-design process as part of the co-production agenda supported this idea.

What has helped in implementing a co-production approach?

It was helpful that the project lead worked for IRISS and was therefore independent and apolitical. IRISS provided £5,000 that was used to pay for design facilitators, materials, travel and other expenses. STAF met the costs of the young people who took part and the local authority provided venues.

Council staff were intrigued and could see the value of co-producing with the young people, so they were prepared to commit time to the project. Young people had some candid views and they felt confident in expressing themselves during the project.

What difficulties were there in implementing co-production?

One of the key issues was time. The project ran during working hours, which meant that some young people were at college or at work and found it difficult to attend meetings. While child care commitments were supported, similar support could have been provided to young people by running the project out of working hours. But there was no ideal solution, so ongoing discussions and flexibility were required.

The use of language was challenging, including the use of the term 'co-production'. The designers who facilitated the project also brought their own terminology such 'prototyping', and while this was discussed and explained in detail, some still found it difficult to follow.

As the project progressed, the fact that young people were not being paid for their time when everyone else was became an ethical dilemma. As a result, IRISS has adopted a policy of paying people who use services when working in partnership to benefit service developments.

The last difficulty was the geographical nature of the area itself – this was very rural and subject to disruption by the weather. This was more of a concern to those involved in the work from outside Argyll and Bute. The residents themselves were used to this and accepted that on occasions people could not make meetings.

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

The main strength has been in bringing many different perspectives, experiences and approaches together and focusing on the experiences of people who are supported by services. The facilitators brought a new perspective on collaborative problem solving using physical models to see if an idea would work, rather than only relying on verbal reasoning. This meant that participants had to clearly explain what they meant so that it could be modelled through activities like producing a mock-up of an information pack for a proposed service and producing a map. This helped everyone to develop and deepen the ideas together so that they could be fully explored, evaluated, tested and implemented immediately once it was agreed they would be useful. The conversations around these activities brought everyone's knowledge together, were open and enabled people to learn from each other.

What have been the main outcomes of the project?

Argyll and Bute has a good network of support services where everyone knows each other. There is now an awareness of co-production and how its flat, non-hierarchical approach is quite different from a typical top-down service development approach. Training has been developed that has built up young people's confidence to work with practitioners and one of the ideas (a friends' pack) has been developed for use in residential care. The project could have ended once the original goal of designing transitional services had been met, but in fact it has taken a more long-term view and is involved in strategic and structural changes. This includes developing a co-production working group. At the moment, Argyll and Bute Council are developing and training a network of young people who may be interested in taking part in co-productive working groups.

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

The project used local leads and asked them to invite people to take part in the project. There was a mixture of participants, from managers, to frontline staff and young people. No one was turned away.

What advice would the project give to others?

Useful links

The project blog posts

The project report


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