Dot-joining, magnetic fields and the Williams Report

We may, just possibly, be about to experience something entirely unique in arena of government and public services: the near mythical appearance of the Joined Up Dots. And the magnetic force-field which brings them together might, just possibly, be a government commission. A boggling combination of the unlikely and the improbable.

The dots have certainly been getting larger and more numerous of late. In the face of continuing budget cuts and increasing demand, the need for radical change in the way that our public services are designed and delivered is almost universally accepted. As is the realisation that with decreasing funds and increasing demand, the only resource that remains is us. Edgar Cahn’s vision of ‘no more throw-away people’ is becoming a pragmatic necessity. The market certainly won’t save us, but maybe a revitalised core economy can. That will mean a redefinition of what we mean by work, and a re-evaluation of the daily contributions that citizens make to ensure the health and well-being of their families, neighbours and communities. It will also mean a realignment of the relationship between state and citizen, ‘recalibrating power through new relationships based on trust’ as our Health Minister put it. Co-production is the means of creating that transformation.

And here’s where the Williams Report wades in. It sets out a comprehensive programme of change, covering complexity, scale and capability, governance, leadership, values and performance. The authors conclude that the problems are systemic and inter-related and that ‘urgent and radical action is needed before it is too late’. Their solution is wholesale transformation, a ‘complete overhaul of how public services are governed, led and delivered’ with public services redefined to ensure:

  • ‘A clearer shared vision and sense of common purpose between government at all levels, citizens and communities;
  • A much greater focus on co-production with citizens and communities, to identify and implement means of pursuing those outcomes; and
  • Consequently, a much stronger emphasis on enablement, empowerment and prevention in the design and delivery of public services.’

Further, the report argues that: ‘This is the only way of sustaining viable and high-quality public services. No public sector system can continue to meet growing levels of demand for high-cost responsive services from declining real resources; the emphasis has to shift to reducing demand for such services through prevention and co-production. Even if those pressures did not exist, there would be a strong case in principle for making this kind of change and reconnecting government and public service more intimately with those that they serve.’

As the authors acknowledge, co-production is not an easy option for transforming public services. It requires a radical change in the way we do things, at government level, in organisations, and as citizens, service-recipients and carers. This will involve changing both behaviours and systems. The overarching aim is shared power, shared control and shared responsibility between the state and citizens. This can only be achieved if we work together in genuinely equal and reciprocal partnerships. This is made explicit in the body of the report but disappears from view in the recommendations, along with the other half of the co-pro equation – citizens and communities. Us. The final cluster of dots.

To make good this omission, we propose that a government-supported, fully funded Wales Co-production Network is established as a member-led, peer-support group, committed to advancing the principles and practice of co-production in Wales. The proposal is based on the successful model used in Scotland but goes well beyond this to link up with Welsh traditions of co-operatives, mutuals and community. It would build on and extend the voluntary work undertaken to date by Co-production Wales and the wider co-production community and will both advocate and demonstrate co-production principles. The intention would be to help establish Wales as an ‘enabling state’, making the connections between co-production and other relationship-centred approaches such as citizen-directed support, the social model of health and asset-based community development.

The Network will campaign for and support co-production across all sectors and at all levels – strategic, organisational and individual (practitioners, professionals, carers, and service-recipients/citizens). Through asset-mapping, mentoring and partnership working we will encourage the formation of relationships of trust and reciprocity between government, public services and citizens, and develop new systems of commissioning and evaluation to support these new ways of working. Citizens will be supported to become co-producers of services, with a voice in their own lives and in their communities.

The Williams report stresses both the urgency of the task in hand and the need for an holistic approach which addresses organisational behaviour, structures and systems and enables and empowers citizens to participate fully in the design and delivery of their public services. We agree. A Wales Co-production Network could help make these aspirations a genuinely co-produced reality.

(Commission on Public Service Governance & Delivery: Summary Report, Wales Government, January 2014)

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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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