What is co-production?
Why the tech world needs to embed co-production when creating products to ensure they’re successful in the long-run.
4 min read
Co-production is built on the idea that those who use a service are best placed to help design it.
Its history is based firmly in the health sector, however, as a guiding principle, it is proving an effective way to create and develop projects outside of the sector because of the impact it delivers.
Whilst it’s only just beginning to make ripples in the tech world, those tech providers who do use it to guide their project development are already seeing a number of advantages.
We’re a big fan of using co-production principles at Big Lemon. In fact, we’d love to see more organisations use it and embed it into the way they work. Here’s an overview of what it is, its origins, and the benefits co-production can bring to your tech project.
What is co-production?
We’ve introduced co-production as an approach that is built on the idea that those who use a service are best placed to help design it. But this definition alone doesn’t do it justice in terms of the benefits it can bring to a project.
Rather than being driven by policy or technology, co-production is based on people’s life experiences and concerns.
The Co-Production Collective, a community dedicated to fuelling the international co-production movement, describes it as:
“An approach to working together in equal partnership and for equal benefit. It brings together different forms of lived or living and learnt (personal and professional) knowledge, understanding and experience for better outcomes and mutual benefit.”
The Collective highlights that when approaching a project, “we need to remember to think from the perspective of those that we want to engage with, those that we want to connect with”.
It makes sense when you think about it really. Why wouldn’t you get the users involved?
Why wouldn’t you involve those people, user groups, customers or communities that you’re developing your product for?
Jutta Treviranus, in her framework for inclusive design, suggests why it’s all too easy to forget your audience. “New innovations are designed for the ‘average’ or ‘typical’ person, so they are likely not designed with your particular requirements or needs in mind”.
“How we view things like designing, planning, truth, evidence, and scaling... They are all biased against outliers and smallest minorities. The irony of that is that it’s with those individuals at the very edges of our population that you find the greatest innovation.”
What does co-production look like?
Let’s say you’re interested in exploring embedding the co-production principles into your next project, what does this look like in practical terms?
And how straightforward is it for you to implement?
According to the Co-Production Network for Wales / Rhwydwaith Cydgynhyrchu Cymru - who we’ve been fortunate to collaborate with - co-production is a mindset and a way of working where you can:
- Build in everyone’s strengths
- Develop networks across silos
- Focus on people’s lives, not systems
- Work on the basis of great relationships
- Enable people to be change makers.
These ideas are built on the Ladder of Participation (Arnstein, 1969). Arnstein discusses a spectrum of interactions with communities, including:
Doing to - coercion, education Doing for - information, consultation, participation engagement Doing with - co-production
As you can clearly see, the emphasis for co-production is on ‘doing with’.
What does ‘success’ look like when embedding the approach?
Levels of success can be seen in the level of uptake, integration, impact on governance, and the impact on relationships.
The history of co-production
Co-production’s roots are based within delivering public services, particularly within healthcare.
“It started off as a way of working that involved citizens, decision makers or people who use services, family carers and service providers working together to create a decision or service which works for them all.
The approach is value driven and built on the principle that those who use a service are best placed to help design it.”
What’s unique about this approach?
The approach ensures that those with lived experience - those with first-hand involvement and experience, rather than through representations created by others - take an equal and active role in designing and developing services, as well as delivering them.
But it’s not always adopted by everyone. Genuine co-production in research and services has been limited, says the Co-Production Collective:
“Those who will be affected by a project or programme don't often get the chance to influence its design and development. This is especially the case for specific groups and communities whose voices have historically been excluded from power and decision-making”.
The case for co-production in tech
There are many reasons why you may wish to explore using co-production in your next project. Here are just a few examples.
Advantages of embedding co-production in your project processes:
It amplifies the voices of those who want to be heard, including those who are often ignored or excluded.
Collaborating with users: it is not the technology alone that makes for success but the “buy in” and collaboration of the people using it.
Enlightened self interest: the idea being that everybody is going to be in a position where you are vulnerable… where your needs are not met by the system.
‘It sounds great, but won’t it be expensive?’
We are taught when growing tech platforms that ‘success’ is getting as many users on the platform as possible. A cost-effective way - some may say - is to do so by treating all users the same. And if you were to design and build for many diverse needs, your project budget will be blown almost immediately.
To see this in action, check out What is co-production in tech?: a case study with the Co-production Collective and Big Lemon.
Well… not quite. Jutta Treviranus suggests otherwise. ‘Actually, medium to long term, inclusive design costs less because it allows for the creation of a system that is dynamically resilient. It costs less to design inclusivity right at the beginning, proactively’.
Co-production in real life: project examples
Let’s look at some examples of tech projects that have involved co-production principles to some degree.
Coding to Learn and Create: Designing educational coding tools for kids who have been left out of learning—especially those with complex needs.
Word Web: A digital support tool for children with or at risk of a Language Disorder.
Inclusive Cities: An inclusive design framework that co-designs connected cities, neighbourhoods, and spaces that are more diverse and inclusive.
Peerfest: PeerFest is a national annual event celebrating the importance, power and diversity of peer support.
How Big Lemon uses co-production
Over the past year, we have been on a journey to embed co-production into just about everything we do.
Any projects internally and externally now go through our co-production approach, ensuring that anyone who has contact with the project feels valued and has an opportunity to voice their opinion.
Ultimately this makes our projects not only more accessible to the intended audience but, more importantly, built for purpose.
An insight into Big Lemon’s co-production process.
Here are a few ways we use the approach:
- Clear communication - we ensure we run jargon-free sessions, ensuring to explain everything in detail.
- Feedback - every session involves anonymised surveys and questionnaires in a variety of formats to ensure everyone has a voice and is comfortable sharing it.
- Listening - we’ll have multiple team members collecting the feedback and opinions, and will share it via written comms and recording to ensure nobody's view is lost in the process.
There we have it, an introduction to co-production and ways for you to consider embedding it into your next tech project.
If you’re interested in learning more, check out these resources:
Co-producing technology: Harnessing digital solutions for social care - National Care Forum and VODG
Digital Co-production - new opportunities for collaborative innovation (Dr Elke Loeffler)
Want to learn more about how Big Lemon uses co-production as part of our process? Get in touch.