Co-production in Practice

Here you’ll find resources and practical guides to help you implement and embed Co-production in practice:

Action Groups

Setting up service user groups is a method for involving, collaborating and co-producing.

Based on our learnings and Action Groups experience, we have developed a guide to help services set up Service User Groups.

Mystery Shopping

Mystery shopping is a method to gain insights into service user experiences and evaluate the quality of services.

These resources will help you understand and conduct Mystery Shopping in your service.

Trauma-Informed Practice in Co-production

Trauma-Informed Practice (TIP) is a way of working that accounts for the impact trauma may have had in people’s lives and is a particularly important consideration when working with people with multiple and complex needs.

We have created a practical guide to apply TIP to Service User Involvement.

Empowerment Model

Although there is agreement that empowerment is important, there are not many definitions of what ‘empowerment’ means or feels like.

Staff and volunteers with lived experience of multiple and complex needs at Fulfilling Lives South East worked with a researcher to agree what being empowered means to them.

Lived Experience Perspectives

A Peer Research project.

The Service User Involvement team interviewed women with experience of substance misuse which contributed to the Independent Review of Drugs by Professor Dame Carol Black.

Frequently Asked Questions

We understand that Co-production can be challenging.

When you’re used to decisions flowing through a managerial hierarchy, the Co-production journey can feel like being lost at sea. We have developed, tried, tested, and evolved our practices in response to the challenges we encountered along the way.

We have put together some questions and answers with a hope they will make your Co-production voyage a bit easier:

Acknowledging and being transparent about power dynamics from the start may help to prevent a divide forming between staff and volunteers. Staff members should explain their responsibilities regarding the current objective, as well any reasons why a suggestion from a volunteer may not be implemented.  Staff will be more aware of limitations and constraints imposed by the system and will have a good idea why some ideas may not be viable, e.g. they may be out of the scope of the project.

Reduce factors that contribute to real or perceived power dynamics wherever possible. For example, where a volunteer appears to have less knowledge of a topic than a member of staff, support their learning. Use an Assets Based Approach by identifying skills and specific areas of expertise that volunteers may not have shared and that could contribute to the group’s objectives; this will level up the perceived expertise around the room. Promoting autonomy and choice and placing trust in people can also contribute to them feeling more in control.  Give feedback when someone’s contribution has a positive impact or makes a difference to the service. This can be great for self-esteem and a sense of achievement. Paid staff with lived experience in a Co-production project can also create balance by breaking down boundaries of ‘us and them’.

Meeting in neutral spaces or having 50/50 representation in groups can also help. This representation also addresses imbalance at higher level of management discussions with traditional hierarchical structures (e.g. board meetings).

Ensure that service users have everything they need and give them advice on how to get started. Make them aware of the typical problems that may arise and what to do about them. Provide them with contact details for other team members so that they can ask for help where needed. Plan timings realistically.

Always state the goals and be clear on the steps needed to get there. Provide clear milestones and time limits and reflect on progress with the entire group regularly. There may be a point when an overseer needs to push the group to make a decision, or speed things along; they should have an agreed way to do this, e.g. take a vote to reach an agreement. The possibility this could happen should be communicated and agreed in advance with the group, otherwise trust could be broken and commitment reduced.

Even when implemented well, Co-production isn’t a perfect process. There are likely to be constraints and pressures that prevent total freedom when co-producing. Targets, deadlines, staff accountability and responsibility are some of the common obstacles.  It’s worth looking ahead at the start of the process to see which obstacles are likely to be encountered. This will enable you to be honest and transparent with members of the group (which serves to set expectations), plan alternatives, build in a contingency plan and be realistic about the level of involvement. These fail-safe options could even be discussed and agreed upon (co-produced) as a group. The easiest way to address this, is for decision makers to be part of the co-producing group.

If there is a project which is to be co-produced, there may be an objective that has already been decided upon. It should be made clear to everyone involved that decisions and ideas must relate to fulfilling the objective, and that personal agendas be put to the side. The ideal situation is when the co-producing group can set objectives together.

It may be worth stating the limits of what’s possible and what isn’t, and why. It may help to describe the common obstacles encountered in the Co-production process and agree on how to overcome them if they were to arise. Having values set will help guide the process.

Download: Fulfilling Lives - What is Co-production Ladder Values (PDF, 3MB)

Be clear when setting expectations and limitations from the very beginning. People can feel they aren’t being listened to if reality does not match expectations. Acknowledging someone and thanking them for their suggestion may not be enough. Go further and explain why their suggestion may not be appropriate in this case. This shows that you have listened and considered their input. If this happens repeatedly, remind the team of the objective. It may be the case that passions are running high, and the objective is being forgotten. 

Reflect, validate how they feel, thank them for sharing.  Ask whether they would like this to be fed back anonymously or whether they’d like to raise it with people involved.  Discuss the expectations of being a group member – what does “being listened to” mean for them? If necessary, discuss the difference between “not being heard” and people having different opinions. 

Explain how decisions are made. This might be necessary if a decision is made, and a group member feels their input wasn’t considered.

Wellbeing comes first – find out what is going on for them and whether they need signposting towards support. If there are barriers to engagement, is it within scope of the project to address them? Or is a review needed to determine whether participating in the project is right for the individual at that time. Find out if they understood the task and had everything they needed to complete it. Frame conversations sensitively – people with low self-esteem may be ashamed, those with trauma history may be expecting “punishment”.  Find out if they understand why their work didn’t meet the organisation’s standards. Ask whether they would like to, or are able to try again, would like support to do so, or prefer the work to be passed to someone else. Think about strategies for next time to increase the chance of success. You might like to consider ways of working with volunteers, coaching style, motivational interviewing techniques.

It’s important to know the limitations of the system you’re working within before deciding which form of service user involvement is suitable for the task at hand. It’s best not to advertise as Co-production if you are unable to hold true to your values and the Co-production ethos. Consider budget, time constraints, management structure and the flow of power within the organisation, as these alone may make Co-production unachievable and appear tokenistic. Think carefully about whether your objective warrants a co-produced way of working, as a different method of service user involvement may be more authentic. The Ladder of Engagement shows different ways of working with service users.

Download: Fulfilling Lives - What is Co-production Ladder Values (PDF, 3MB)

An organisation/service/manager that expects their staff to co-produce needs to provide the training, time and support required to do so. Staff may feel anxious about a new way of working, as a manager, listen to their concerns. Assure them they have your support. They may want to check-in more often for reassurance or direction. Let them know that is fine. Try to make sure everyone has all the information they need to do their job, but also acknowledge that it’s a new way of working and you’re all learning together. Schedule time for reflective practice sessions.  Getting together as a team can boost morale, provide an outlet for anxiety and stress, and offer a space to share concerns, successes, ideas, and strategies. Staff may be worried about how the new way of working will impact their performance. Trying something new means stepping out of their comfort zone and putting themselves at risk. It might be helpful to have an open discussion around possible challenges to help identify, demystify, and plan for adverse outcomes. Assure staff that they won’t be judged or penalised if they make a mistake. Co-production requires knowledge and training. It is the responsibility of project overseers to ensure staff are prepared before starting to co-produce.

The most effective way to reach the broadest client base is to offer a variety of communication options; in-person group, in-person 1-1, text, voice call, video call, group video call, email. For those in particularly difficult circumstances, meeting someone on their terms in a place they feel comfortable might be necessary for their contribution to be captured. Offer to buy someone cake and coffee, hot breakfast (or something similar), provide vouchers if budget allows. A huge factor in connecting with this cohort is trust. What resources do you have available? Is it possible to connect with any support workers or key workers they may have? Is anyone able to work as a peer researcher to bridge the communication gap? Are there activities or coffee mornings you could attend together? Think creatively and adapt to the people you’re trying to connect with.

Acknowledge that the term Co-production is gaining traction, but the understanding of the process and planning required is lagging behind. Challenge and educate those pushing for Co-production without the resources to do so; it is not a tick-box exercise. Let them know what constitutes true Co-production as they may not know. Inform them of the limitations you are working with and how that will impact the process. If these limitations mean that you will be consulting service users instead, inform them of this: call it by its name. Stress that Co-production cannot be done on a whim, and that staff must be trained and have the resources in order to do it properly.

An organisation should build Co-production into their infrastructure. It can be problematic shoe-horning a new way of working into an old, established system, as conflicts between the two are likely to arise. Training options, and financial and human resources should be accounted for from the ground up, with methods to measure the effectiveness of the Co-production process.



Working with people who have lived experiences of services and systems.


What is Co-production?

Learn more about our definition of Co-production, our ethos and values.

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