9 May 2016

Co-production: I believe in Unicorns after all, they are Scotland’s National animal!

A guest blog by Hilda Campbell from COPE Scotland, who was our ‘keynote reader’ at the Scottish launch of Catherine Durose’s new book Designing Public Policy for Co-production: Theory, practice and change

 I was delighted to be invited by What Works Scotland and the Scottish Co-production network to the launch of ‘Designing Public Policy for Co–production: Theory, practice and change’  and for asking my opinion of what I think is going to prove to be a very important book. It was also lovely to meet the Author Catherine Durose and I look forward to meeting again in 2017 and finding more about the ‘ARC’ (see Jam & Justice project) which she and colleagues are bringing to Scotland.

I represent COPE Scotland, a Scottish Charity established in 1991 to be a community-led initiative, and from that day to this, the principles of co design, production and delivery have been core to our values as has community budgeting.

The benefits of co design we have found for our service includes:
  • Systems for managing waiting lists to zero
  • Despite reductions in funding and increasing demand and wider geographic areas to cover, services and interventions have developed and delivered on what people were looking for
  • Paper trails and systems which provide us the data we need without making paper more important than people
  • A team of volunteers who help the professionals learn what isn’t taught in formal education but without which real shared decision making in care is a challenge
  • And more…….
However, despite all of this there is still some scepticism within some of the corridors of power about involving communities, about risks and how they can be managed, about where is the evidence base, this is all a bit too organic! Services like COPE Scotland, know what they do works, they have been doing it for 25 years but how can we prove that in a way that is valued.

‘Designing Public Policy for Co –production, Theory, practice and change’ I think is the proof which is needed to show by example of pieces of work which have been evaluated that in fact co-production is necessary if we are ever to find solutions to the wicked problems facing us today.

The authors and their contributors share a wealth of experience and evidence which recognises there are no easy answers, that there are multiple factors and layers all of which intermingle so that sometimes it can be hard to just be, and not have all the answers, to begin to work together and learn together when the possible outcome is unclear. The challenges that lie within this and the challenges around shifts in power; where communities become active participants in developing policy for their and their children’s future, as opposed to passive constituents. When having ticked their paper on the ballot box give up their right of opinion and leave decisions to the elected few.

In Scotland we are very fortunate; we have the new Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act which aims to empower communities through the ownership of land and buildings as well as providing new ways for people’s voices to be heard in decisions which matter to them. Towards a Healthier and Fairer Scotland is an attempt to engage with communities in new ways to work with people to find solutions. Involving communities and people with lived experiences really is becoming at the heart of so much of how we do business in Scotland e.g. the Transforming Self-Management in Scotland fund. However, we are on a journey and there is still a way to go, but the comments of Elinor Mitchell; Head of the Public service Reform Division of Scottish Government, who was also a keynote speaker at the launch, gave me real hope and optimism that this is a journey we can all make together, it’s just finding new ways to connect with people to support this, but the willingness is there.

For real change to happen; and as the book suggests, we need to look at power, who has it and how it’s used with what impact. Depending on how power is used it can have a huge influence on those affected by those decisions; ask anyone sanctioned under the new welfare reforms. Often the only power communities feel they have is the power to oppose, the power to not engage, the power to find fault, to be cynical and untrusting of any attempts by those perceived as having power to engage. In terms of De Bono ‘Thinking hats’ to wear a Black Hat, always looking at what won’t happen, or what will go wrong, or how it’s been all tried before and didn’t work, or cynically suspecting the motives of those paid to work with communities; that it’s only a job and they don’t even live here, just something else to add to their CV.

Interestingly those with the power also often come to communities wearing black thinking hats. Their faith in communities being the answer non-existent or tokenistic, or what they see as consultation the community see as decisions already made and then they wonder why people don’t engage.

This book offers some real examples of where things have been tried, tested and work:
    The Development of the App Maplocal which brought participation to people as opposed to people having to come to ‘a meeting’, so more people got involved in gathering information on what they considered local assets which provided better data than the usual workshop or meetings would. Also, this more organic way of gathering data as well as helping neighbourhood plans provided opportunities for other types of consultation and engagement. We are physically based in Drumchapel, which is to be a ‘Thriving Place’ and with stakeholders we are keen to see how we can learn from this piece of work to adopt and adapt locally.
This is only one example of the richness of this book.

Finally I will close with saying it’s not the easiest book to read. I graduated in 1983, my academic days are long behind me, and this is rather an academic read. However, for credibility I think it has to be, for there to be real change we need evidence that taking the risks associated with change need to be taken and this book offers a range of perspectives and evidence bases. This book is a road map, something to dip into, refer to, share with colleagues, it requires time to read and internalise and I hope would spark debate among those who perhaps don’t often meet to share their thoughts.

It considers various perspectives not putting one above the other but recognising there are many layers which need to be considered. It’s a step in the right direction.

It has inspired me to think about how do we find other ways which everyone can find accessible that if we are really to solve the wicked problems facing society today then we need to do it together in a spirit of mutual respect, accepting we all have different perspectives and power, but having a common vision which matters enough to all of us that we work together to achieve that vision, co designing not only policies but processes which mean there is no longer us and them but we.

Views expressed by guest bloggers may not reflect the views of What Works Scotland

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