We need to talk about love…

“When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master— that’s all.”

I was speaking at a British Academy co-production conference at Bristol University last week and was struck by the range of meanings my fellow speakers ascribed to the term ‘co-production’. It was used in place of ‘partnership’, ‘cooperation’, ‘engagement’ and ‘collaboration’, presented as a form of ‘soft paternalism’ and as the basis for counter-terrorism strategies.

Does it matter? Well yes it does. Massively.

If co-production means whatever people choose it to mean, then ultimately it will cease to mean anything at all. One more addition to the Newspeak plague of visions, mission statements and passionately going forward with hardworking families. And the ultimate effect of Newspeak is, of course, to limit opportunities for critical thinking, for imagining the possibility of a different world.

Those of us who base our understanding of co-production on the transformative work of Edgar Cahn must heed Humpty Dumpty and regain mastery of the word. We need to share co-production’s stories of activism and humanity, the powerful theory of the core economy, our absolute conviction that every one of us has something of value to contribute, and our radical aim of social justice through shared power and shared responsibility. We need to explain that co-production is based on principles of equality and reciprocity, on relationships of trust and mutuality. In short, we need to talk about love.

So we’re going to do just that. We’re asking our CW directors, supporters and champions to tell us what co-production means to them. We’re asking service-recipients, carers, activists and citizens to share their stories. The invitation includes every one of you. And in November, along with WCVA and Participation Cymru, we hope to hold a citizen-led co-production event which gets beyond the jargon to find out what impact co-production has on people’s lives, hopes and dreams.

We’re kicking off with this month’s ‘In my experience’ piece from David Robinson, one of Co-production Wales’ champions & critical friends.  Planning for change- let’s talk about love is written in the context of the run up to the 2015 elections. (The full article is on our website; an extract is reproduced here).

It is time to tell it like it is, and tell it how it ought to be.

Public services have changed, are changing and will change more radically and more fundamentally between 2010 and 2020 than in any other decade since the 1940s.

80% of the deficit reduction strategy is staked on cost-cutting and the Institute for Fiscal Studies say that 60% has yet to reach the front line, probably more in Wales. There is no precedent for administrative cost-cutting on this scale. Demographic change is increasing need at the same time as expenditure is being reduced and many services are shrinking. In combination, these trends are creating a spiral of decline. As the remaining resources are sucked into managing the greatest needs, earlier-stage interventions are abandoned – spending on prevention fell by almost 10 per cent between 2010/11 and 2011/12 (Reeder 2013) – and more problems are becoming more difficult, when instead they might have been prevented entirely. Effective services fall into a tailspin, leading to crisis management, with inevitable consequences.

In short, cuts without fundamental systems reform disrupt and disfigure without resolving or transforming.

The [political] discussions this summer must be located in this economic context and also, equally importantly, grounded in an understanding of the society that we are becoming.

The report into management and care at Mid Staffordshire hospital revealed ‘the unnecessary suffering of hundreds of people’, ‘a lack of care, compassion and humanity’ and a ‘system which put corporate self-interest ahead of patient safety’ (HOC 2013). Three weeks later, Professor Bruce Keogh started work as the new NHS national medical director promising that hospitals would be fined if they failed to provide the best care.

Care driven by fear of punishment? The prospect is discomforting but it isn’t new. Talk to social workers, teachers, probation officers and care workers and you will find that regulations and systems, impersonal transactions and a fear of risk and reprisal shape the culture in which they all work. Public services are being reduced to a set of transactions when the real need is for a more personal relationship, for common sense and human kindness.

Now more than ever we need manifestos which challenge culture, systems and structures and which promise a more effective, sustainable and equitable alternative. [We need a government able and willing to] grasp the scale of the challenge and the importance of bold, whole system reform.

It would structure its narrative around the shared values which give our lives meaning, identity and purpose. It would align its vision with the deep-set rhythms of our daily lives, talking about opportunities and transitions and making readiness its primary goal. It would prevent the preventable and champion relationships as the organising principle at the heart of all our public services.

Then, because governments can lead and enable but cannot achieve anything alone, it would co-design, co-produce and co-locate, fostering cooperation in our communities, services and politics, and changing the structures and the behaviours that get in the way.

Finally and especially it would talk about love. We need leaders who understand the place of trust and kindness in the public realm and who consistently and deliberately design it in to service reform, rather than design it out.


David Robinson is an innovator, activist and founder of the Early Action Task Force. His policy work has been recognised with an honorary doctorate from the Open University and he was named as a Morgan Stanley Great Briton for his contribution to public life. David is also a community worker, the co-founder of Community Links and founder of We Are What We Do and the Children’s Discovery Centre. As one of the architects of the Social Impact Bond, he chairs the Social Impact Bond advisory group. Publications include Unconditional Leadership, Out of the Ordinary and the million selling Change the World for a Fiver. In short, he’s an inspiration. We are genuinely privileged to have his support in Co-production Wales.


About Ruth

UK National Teaching Fellow, 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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