Co-Production Roundtable - Networking in the UK

On 19th November 2020, Public Square helped convene co-production practitioners, experts and academics to share their experiences and discuss the state of co-production in the UK

Following on from a public event we organised in July for people new to co-production, in November we organised a roundtable event with representatives from co-production networks around the UK, as well as freelance practitioners and academics.

Those present were asked to discuss what the co-production landscape looked like from their perspective, explore what was meant by co-production in different sectors, and explore whether an English Co-Production network might be a helpful addition to attendees’ own networks.

Attendees mentioned a growing appetite for co-production within statutory and public health authorities. However, a lack of understanding of what co-production looks like in practice and an unwillingness to relinquish decision-making power are slowing the growth of the practice. There is also a risk that co-production can become co-option if those people who need support are being asked to do the things they need. On top of this, Covid-19 has heavily affected the work of many attendees, with programmes put on hold or funding lost. Once the crisis is over, social care and housing were identified as two sectors open to exploring co-produced approaches, and where this could drive much-needed change.

Continuing on from previous conversations held throughout the sector, attendees also explored the idea of an English Co-Production network. Public Square sought out those who had previously been involved in these discussions to ensure as many voices from the sector were included as possible. Susan Paxton, Head of Programmes at the Scottish Co-Production Network, and Noreen Blanluet, Lead Consultant for the Co-Production Network for Wales, shared their experiences of starting national networks. Raising the profile of the networks and wider field of practice was important in both cases to attracting the attention of government and civil servants, as well as eventual funding. However, the landscape is patchy in what remains an emerging field practice, and a gap still exists between government policy and implementation. There was also a recognition that these networks at present are mostly made up of practitioners, who have the time and appetite to engage beyond a local level.

On whether and how to approach an English national network, most attendees agreed that this should build on what momentum and networks already exist, rather than operating from a centralised or London-centric core. Some national networks in the past had been large but sector-specific, only covering health for example. Attendees also recognised the tension between the practice itself being a grassroots, bottom-up, localised activity, but the power and decision-making structures it was trying to affect operating on a national scale. Similarly, others mentioned how local networks would organically spring up and die off, without the knowledge and experiences they generated being recorded anywhere.

In this context, it was suggested that a national network of networks might be a useful focal point to act as a repository for knowledge and provide a platform for the sector. Given the current funding landscape, this would need to be grown from what already exists, such as the Co-Production Collective, to help build momentum. Those present suggested we continue these conversations into 2021.

This roundtable was convened by Democratic Society as part of our Public Square local democracy work. The event was hosted by Kevin Ditcham, and facilitated by Alex Zur-Clark and Mat Basford. Participants included:

We did our best to convene a broad range of co-production practitioners from networks across the UK to this event, but if you missed out on the discussion and would like to be involved in future, we’d love to hear from you! Please get in touch at team@thepublicsquare.org.uk.

This roundtable follows a large public introductory event on co-production we organised back in July 2020. Our written reflections from that event can be found here, or if you prefer you can watch the recording from the event below.

A look-back at our Co-production: Democracy in Action event in July 2020

If you have any thoughts, comments, questions, or would like to speak to the team, let's discuss below!

We do not support Internet Explorer. Please use a modern browser for a better experience.