Co-operative solutions for citizen-directed support

Went to an inspiring event at the Senedd today, organised by the Wales Progressive Co-operators and supported by Age Concern Cardiff; one of a series of presentations across Wales by John Restakis from Canada, author of Humanising the Economy (New Society Publishers, BC, 2010).

Mark Drakeford AM and Vaughan Gething AM were in support at the pre-event event where we were treated to great eloquence combined with conviction, evidence and practicalities, and lots of synergies with co-production. Exciting stuff!

John focused on the commitment to service user control written in to the Social Services (Wales) Bill and looked at ways in which those intentions might be realised through a co-operative model. He argued that, as it stands, the bill does not clarify what is meant by user-control, and that simply improving access to information will not address current power imbalances or give service-users a voice. Suggesting that access to information was a baseline, he used examples from northern Italy and Canada to show the capacity of social co-ops to bridge the gap between providers and users, offer responsive flexibility, encourage reciprocity and ownership, and deliver effective services.

I found the parallels between co-production and co-ops particularly compelling: both build a sense of community, both transform people from passive recipients to active participants, both improve service-users’ sense of wellbeing, both increase providers’ job satisfaction, and both deliver more relevant and effective services. Given the strength of the co-op tradition in Wales, a model of service delivery which combines of the best of co-ops and co-pro (co-prop?) could offer a perfect fit or reciprocity and mutuality.

John was asked about the barriers to co-operative ways of working. This was the less cheering bit. The challenge is to persuade those with power to share it. (Think I’ve heard that before somewhere!) He suggested that an ‘adamantine determination‘ was needed on the part of politicians, plus great leadership, plus massive mobilisation of stakeholders to keep the pressure on those who can make the changes.

At the pre-event event, a question was raised about the extent of political will – how are we doing on the adamantine-blancmange spectrum? As Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Mark responded that the ideological battle is being won but the political will which could turn intentions into reality is not yet in place.

Let’s keep the pressure up – through advocacy, evidence, creative collaboration and endless repetition of the fact that we can do so much more collectively than we can individually: “to transform society and to lift all of us together”.

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About Ruth

UK National Teaching Fellow and Honorary Research Fellow at Cardiff University. Founder of Co-production Wales (All in this Together), co-pro trainer and consultant, working to make co-production 'the way we do things' in Wales. And having a ball!

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