Care Council Co-pro Expert Classes

Help us transform our social services!

By popular demand we’re running three more Expert Classes covering the what, why and how of co-pro, particularly in relation to the implementation of the (potentially radical) Social Services and Wellbeing Act. Book via the Care Council Hub.

Cardiff, 22 February, 9.30 – 16.00

Cardiff & Vale College, City Centre Campus, Dumballs Road, CF10 5BF.

Llandudno, 8 March, 9.30-16.00

Venue Cymru, Promenade, Llandudno, LL30 1BB.

Carmarthen, 15 March, 9.30 – 16.00

Halliwell Centre, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Carmarthen Campus, SA31 3EP.

Hope to see you at one of the sessions…if we get this right we could kick-start the revolution!



A twinkling light in the endless gloom…

Those of you who know me are probably aware that my levels of cheery optimism are generally sufficiently off the scale to irritate all comers and lead otherwise sociable folk to cross roads, hide behind pillar-boxes or find a pressing need to walk backwards very quickly as I approach.

Avoidance tactics have not been necessary of late, however. My cheery optimism has been replaced by deep gloom, existential angst and a tendency to hunch over the computer muttering expletives at social media updates. That includes kittens, a baby who chortles at ripping paper, and a weasel in a hand-knitted jumper.

BUT!!! Last week there was a little flicker in the dark, a momentary sparkle of hope that just might ignite. So I thought I’d share it with you lovely people in case you too are beyond the reach of kittens, babies and weasels.

On Friday a collaborative of very nice folk* (and me) sent a paper to our splendid Director of Social Services Albert Heaney, at his invitation. The paper is called ‘Measuring the Mountain‘ and it proposes a truly co-productive approach to evaluating Wales’ Social Services and Well-being Act.

The Act is a corker. It makes co-production mandatory, valuing citizens as equal partners in the design and delivery of services. So we thought it would be appropriate to move beyond the heady delights of KPIs, targets and outputs, and evaluate the impact of the Act through a Citizen Jury, informed by hundreds of ‘what matters’ stories collected by citizen-researchers across Wales. The icing on this particular very delicious cake is that the meaning of the stories will be determined by their authors through a brilliant bit of kit called SenseMaker. So no organisational bias, no pre-determined agenda, and no gaming. Just the real experience of real people.

And, as a way of leveling the playing field, we’ve proposed using time credits to formally acknowledge the work of the citizen-researchers and Jury members. Time credits work on a simple hour for hour basis: participants receive one time credit for every hour of volunteering, to be spent on an activity of their choice, gifted to others, or used informally for exchanges with friends and neighbours. Their use leads to more equal partnerships and a greater sense of reciprocity and community. Plus time credits are recommended by the Act. Perfect!

We reckon this could be a game-changer. A gazelle-like leap beyond transactions and outputs to focus on the spirit and soul of the Act. How deeply lovely would that be!

* The very nice folk are: All in this Together (the co-production network for Wales); All-Wales Forum of Parents & Carers of People with Learning Disabilities; All-Wales People First; Cartrefi Cymru; Co-production Wales; Cynefin Centre (Bangor University); Disability Wales; the Office for National Statistics; RCTInterlink; Social Co-operation Forum; Spice Timebanks; Swansea University School for Social Care Research; WCVA & Participation Cymru; Wales Public Services 2025; Welsh Institute for Health & Social Care.

Things can only get better… sunshine, lollipops and hand-knitted bathers

Co-production Wales newsletter – special summer issue!

Anyone out there remember the profound horrors of the hand-knitted bathing costume? I had one in beige and green stripes. No-one asked me if I wanted one in beige and green stripes – choice wasn’t a big thing in 1950s childhoods as I recall – it simply appeared one year and hung around until I thankfully grew out of it. The moment it came in contact with sand or water (rather prevalent at Barry Island as it happens) it became clammy, cold, sand-filled and itchy. The absolute antithesis of comfort, functionality and chic.

Anywayoop, yesterday I was mulling over the state of the world, as you do, and the fact that everything seems to be getting worse rather than better. Then I remembered my knitted bathers – a perfect example of things getting massively better. Which put me in mind of the SS&W Act, and the WFG Act, and the decrease in homelessness in Wales since WG decided to do something about it, and the declining use of plastic bags, and the glorious Welsh football team, and the end of right-to-buy, and the wonders of our costal path and a record number of Blue Flag awards for our beaches… AND, best of the best, all of you lot, the people who have inspired, supported and helped create the Co-production Network for Wales. Massively better and then some.

So this final CW Newsletter (the next issue will come from the new Network) is dedicated to you. Get out the deckchair and knotted hankie and enjoy a jamboree of ‘things that have got (and are getting) massively better’ – starting with an introduction to our new team.

Here’s the link…

And an au revoir from me… I’m stepping back from co-pro work for a while (but will doubtless continue to pontificate loudly from the sidelines at regular intervals). Thank you for an amazing and uplifting five years. May the sun twinkle upon you unto the fourth generation. 


Happy hols!

A guinea pig led co-pro future for Wales

Morning All!

Thought you might need some cheering up in the midst of all this gloom and despond. And rather too much Boris. So here are the latest updates from the co-pro community and the Co-production Network for Wales to cheer you up…

First off – to a background of heavenly choirs – we are absolutely delighted to introduce our new Network Director Mark John Williams and Network Co-ordinator Judith Nubold.

Inspired by his younger brother who has Down’s Syndrome but who leads ‘an extraordinary life’, Mark’s commitment to transformative co-production and social justice shines through in everything he does. He was previously Inclusion Manager for Cymryd Rhan, a north Wales social care provider for disabled people, people with learning disabilities and older people with health conditions. He’s also worked as a freelance trainer & facilitator and has a superb range of skills, including, Asset-based Community Development, Person-centred Planning, Circles of Support, Learning for Leadership, story-telling, film-making and community music. Mark’s experience and expertise will help ensure that ‘an extraordinary life’ becomes a possibility for many more people in Wales.

Like Mark, Judith is committed to co-production and to the radical ambition of the Network itself. She has a hugely impressive range of skills and knowledge – both academic and practical. A study of public policy and the politics of resistance, combined with extensive volunteering, have convinced her that co-production can change our relationships, our economy, and our political system for the better. She brings this contextual understanding to her role, along with proven abilities in research, project co-ordination and administration, most recently at Cardiff University and Spice.

In the job description we asked for people who could influence and inspire, people who could work collaboratively and methodically in pursuit of transformational changes in power-relations. We wanted organised doers, good talkers, and fantastic dreamers. We wanted experience, expertise, and commitment. Mark and Judith tick all the boxes and, with your continuing support and input, will enable us to create a ‘Wales where everyone is valued as a contributor to the common good’. They’ll be in post from September.

Many thanks to them for taking on this collective challenge – they will make a formidable team.  

We had over 60 expressions of interest in the two jobs, and an exceptionally strong shortlist of seven candidates for each of the posts. Our sincere thanks to everyone who applied. We very much hope that you will stay involved with the Network and work with us to transform public services in Wales.

How’s about an all-Wales time bank? A proposal for a cross-sector, cross-party ‘Solution for Wales’ event in September…

The wonderful Maria Gallagher (Public Health Wales, 1000 Lives) has been looking in to the capacity of time banking to embed co-production. She’s come to the conclusion that it is the most high-impact, direct and effective way of bridging the gap between people and services, capable of transforming power relations and of ensuring that co-pro doesn’t just become another variant of consultation. She’s suggested that we hold a one-day event in September to discuss the possibility of setting up a government-funded all-Wales time-bank. A radical idea if there ever was one!

And in one of those serendipitous moments which appear to follow me round like a small friendly herd of Peruvian guinea pigs, Edgar Cahn and his partner Chris Gray contacted me to say that they might be able to visit us again in September and would that be useful. Indeed it would! So they will and they are and they’ll provide the expertise and knowledge to help us make this extraordinary vision a practical reality. It’ll be a public event on September 22 or 23 in Cardiff. We’ll send out more info asap…

A complementary currencies & co-pro think-tank session

And with the guinea pigs working overtime, a chat with Mark Drakeford (not at all like a herd of etc except in terms of friendliness) led to his proposal to hold a small WG-focused think-tank session with Edgar and Chris to discuss the Wales time-bank idea and to consider complementary currencies more broadly. He’s also reaffirmed his absolute commitment to co-pro and the Network and will continue to champion the cause in every way he can. Good-oh.

And lots more positive news to come in the next mail-out…

with dots joining up and Wales Co-ops leading the collaborative charge and ABCD training in Wrexham and Talwrn talking about a national co-pro conversation focusing on the SS&W Act and updates from our next Network Steering Group meeting. And more guinea-pigs than you can shake a carrot at.

Rock on!


Ruth (Co-production Wales)

Oh what a beeee-ooootiful morning!

The Co-production Network for Wales officially launched itself on to an excited world (50,000 twitter links during the day – awesome!) on 26th May in Welshpool. The start of something very special…

Fabulous contributions from the 90+ attendees; enthusiasm, radicalism and innovative creativity in all directions. Stunning presentations from Spice, Community Lives Consortium, Monmouth Council, Bron Afon Youth Forum and NPT Homes. Plus our shortlisted candidates (down to a hugely talented 14 from over 60 applications) helping to facilitate the morning planning sessions with intelligent gusto.

And Edgar Cahn in person, all the way from Washington, inspiring us all with his belief in Wales and the Network: ‘you are the cutting edge of the world’.

If you want to re-live the delights of the day, or enjoy them for the first time, here’s the Storify that the amazing Adrian Osborne put together, and techno wizard Dave Cook has put the celebratory video up on Youtube. Happy viewing!

So now we just have to make it happen. With the emphasis on we – currently a 1000+ strong collective of co-pro supporters and practitioners.

If you aren’t already signed up, please join us now and encourage colleagues to sign up too: Co-pro Network mailchimp list. In the next couple of weeks we’ll be sending round information from the event planning sessions, video links and general updates. We’ll also be looking for partners to work with us on specific work-streams…please have another look at the Network proposal and let us know if / how you’d like to get involved.

And, should you need a bit more encouragement, here’s the quote from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that Edgar used at the launch:

Frankl used to say that the way to find meaning was not to ask what we want from life. Instead we should ask what life wants from us.

We are each, he said unique: in our gifts, our abilities, our skills and talents, and in the circumstances of our life. For each of us, then, there is a task only we can do.

This does not mean we are better than others. But if we believe we are here for a reason, then there is a tikkun, a mending only we can perform, a fragment of light only we can redeem, an act of kindness or courage or generosity or hospitality, even a word of encouragement or a smile, only we can perform because we are here, in this place, at this time, facing this person at this moment in their lives.

Together we can make this happen!

Thanks all.


Joy & Bliss updates…

A plethora of delights for your delectation…



A collaborative start for the Co-production Network for Wales


26 May, 9.30 registration, 10.00-4.00, Welshpool Livestock Sales, Welshpool SY21 8SR

Getting funding for the member-led Network (thank you Big Lottery) has involved a whole pile of people (i.e. you) who’ve given their time, shared expertise, enthusiasm and resources, persuaded others, written policy papers, made legislation, and inspired us all by their commitment to co-productive ways of working. Now we need to carry on as we’ve begun, working together to transform our public services. This event is the first step.

If you want to be part of a co-produced Wales, please come along and…

  • CELEBRATE the people and organisations who have inspired and supported us over the past four years with presentations from 8 – 80 year-olds, citizens, professionals, government officers & AMs, from Wales and the world.
  • PLAN Work with us to develop our membership & governance strategy and identify opportunities for collaboration across the proposed Network activities.
  • RECRUIT Meet the shortlisted candidates for our Network Director & Co-ordinator posts, and get involved in this informal stage of the selection process.

Presenters include… our patron Edgar Cahn, Powys Young Carers, NPT Homes sheltered housing residents, Spice timebanks, 4Cs Young Commissioners, Bronafon Youth Forum.

HOW DO I BOOK A PLACE? Tickets are free. Booking form and more details are on our Eventbrite page.


2. CELEBRATORY VIDEO – help us make a noise!

With the help of the lovely Dave Cook from WCVA we’re hoping to create a celebratory video with extracts from just some of the hundreds of messages of support we’ve received over the past few years. This will be shown at the Network event and posted up on YouTube.

ADD YOUR VOICE by sending a 30-second message of support/celebration – spoken, written, sung, danced, drawn. Easy peasy!

  1. Use your phone, or computer or a video camera to record your 30-second contribution.
  2. Write ‘Celebratory video’ in the email subject box.
  3. Write the name/s of the contributors and the organization (if appropriate) in the email – we’ll include this as a caption.
  4. Email it to Dave – – by Monday 16th May.
  5. If it’s too large to send, let Dave know and he’ll give you access to our Event Dropbox.

And then when we are all old and grey and our great-grandchildren ask us what we did in the great Co-production Revolution, we can, with modest pride, show them the video.



NETWORK DIRECTOR & NETWORK CO-ORDINATOR: For a Wales where everyone is valued as a contributor to the common good

Just a week to go to the deadline!

For an information pack and application form please visit

Please tell everyone you know (including yourself) and encourage people to apply.


and in case you are wondering how you can support a continuation of joy and bliss, here are some suggestions…

  • Share this information with others
  • Come to our launch event
  • Contribute to the Celebration Video


Stay involved by adding your name to our 1000-strong list of supporters via this direct link:

As individuals we are relatively powerless. Collectively we are unstoppable!


PS and for a final burst of joy, here’s a quote from our acting CMO Chris Jones:

I am keen to support co-production as a systemic approach across Wales”



A co-production Network for Wales!

We’re launching the member-led Co-production Network for Wales!

[let trumpets sound / maidens swoon / lambs caper / hearts lift / joy be unbounded]
As you probably know, we (Co-pro Wales, WCVA, Cartrefi Cymru) have received Lottery funding to develop a Co-production Network for Wales. Our collective aim is to help transform our public services by embedding co-production as the primary approach to commissioning, design, delivery and evaluation in Wales. Our patrons are Edgar Cahn and Julian Tudor-Hart. Inspiration personified!

And at some point over the past three years YOU helped to make this happen.
You might have signed a petition, written a letter of support, persuaded a colleague, researched a report, commented on the proposal, attended an event, given a presentation, organised a workshop, bought us a cuppa, encouraged us or inspired us. Many of you simply got on with it and, against all the odds, made co-production a reality.

Now we need your help to ensure that the Network is truly a collaborative venture.
We need to:
• tell people about the Network and encourage them to become members
• find people who would like to apply for the Director and Co-ordinator role
• work together to develop the outcomes and activities agreed by the Lottery
• build effective partnerships in relation to the core work-streams (see diagram below)
• establish the Members’ Forum at the heart of the governance process.

An urgent request…
Right now we don’t have any paid staff – we hope that they will be in post by September – so are reliant on the co-pro community (that’s you!) to help make all of these things happen. Soooo…

Please can you do three things today:
1. Spread the word: pass on this email, talk to colleagues, friends and neighbours, tweet and post and help us create a buzz…
2. Help us find a fabulous Director and Co-ordinator: forward the job information below to all and sundry – including yourself!
3. Stay involved: we’ve come a long way in the past four years. Please stick with us and continue to be part of this transformative social movement…we’ll be in touch very soon with more information (and requests!).


for a Wales where everyone is valued as a contributor to the common good

With three year’s funding from the Big Lottery Fund, a partnership of agencies (Co-production Wales, WCVA & Cartrefi Cymru) want to appoint two really special people – a Network Director and Network Co-ordinator – to build a new membership organisation that will help to ensure that co-production principles are at the core of Welsh public services and make a real difference to people’s lives. Are you committed to working alongside people (doing with rather than doing for or doing to) and to the principles of equality and mutuality that underpin co-production? Have you the ability to influence and inspire? Have you the ability to work collaboratively and methodically in pursuit of transformational changes in power-relations? Are you an organised doer as well as a good talker and a fantastic dreamer? Then one of these jobs could be for you.

For an information pack please visit the Cartrefi Cymru careers page:

For an informal discussion, please contact Rick Wilson on 01792 646640, Adrian Roper on 02920 642250 or Ruth Dineen on 02920 227726 (after April 25th).

Network celebration, planning & recruitment event – 26 May. Get it in the diary!
Our pre-launch celebration, planning & recruitment event will be in Welshpool on 26 May…numbers are limited by space and funding but we’ll do our very best to ensure that all our key partners and co-pro champions are able to be there. Invitations will be sent out in the next week or so.

Future planning / thinking / partnerships…
Once we’ve recruited our exceptional staff, the next step is to co-create an active, mutually-supportive community of practice, able to inspire, energise and influence others. Then we change the world – starting with Wales. The original Lottery proposal is on our website.
We intend to link up with partners for all of the core work-streams in order to extend our collective capacity and to encourage collaboration rather than competition. Our work-streams include:
• a citizen’s network to build confidence, capacity and influence
• an academic network to help develop the evidence base, and an evaluation model, and to support the use of co-productive research methods
• an asset map of co-production in Wales – people, projects, know-how, skills, training, mentoring and prospective partnerships
• case-studies – getting people’s voices heard, telling our stories and sharing the evidence
• resources, tools and techniques – creating an open-source resource of literature, videos, and practical tools to support co-production in practice
• commissioning model – co-produced commissioning and commissioning for co-production; creating a model that works for us all
There’s more (see the original proposal) but that’s probably enough excitement to be going on with. If any of these areas of work interest you, please let us know…we hope to have a list of current and potential partners set up for all of our work-streams by the start of September.

Seeing is Believing – co-production catalogue from Wales
Just a reminder of some of the fabulous co-pro initiatives that are already happening in Wales: the Co-pro Catalogue was launched by the Health Minister in December. We hope to keep adding new case studies and people’s stories as evidence of the transformative impact that co-production can have on individuals, communities and services. Heartwarming stuff!

As individuals we are relatively powerless. Collectively we are unstoppable.

Thank you for everything. Here’s to the next three years!
Ruth and the Co-pro Wales Board:
Nick Andrews, Swansea University
Jan Balsdon, The Wallich
Ben Dineen, Spice Innovations
John Hallett, Cardiff West Communities First
Jenny O’Hara Jakeway, Powys Carers
Simon James, RCT Interlink
Joe Powell, All-Wales People First
Adrian Roper, Cartrefi Cymru / Wales Social Co-ops
Rick Wilson, Community Lives Consortium / Wales Alliance for Citizen-Directed Support

Reasons to be (very very) cheerful


Launch of a member-led Co-production Network for Wales!

…to help transform our public services by embedding co-production as the primary approach to commissioning, design, delivery and evaluation in Wales.

[let trumpets sound / maidens swoon / lambs caper / hearts lift / joy be unbounded]

At some point over the past three years YOU helped to make this happen.

You might have signed a petition, written a letter of support, persuaded a colleague, researched a report, commented on the proposal, attended an event, given a presentation, organised a workshop, bought us a cuppa, encouraged us or inspired us. Many of you simply got on with it and, against all the odds, made co-production a reality.

The Co-production Network for Wales is the result. The Lottery are funding us – Cartrefi Cymru, Co-production Wales, WCVA – for three years (subject to confirmation). And it simply wouldn’t have happened without you. Heartfelt thanks from us all. Continue reading

Of hope, despair and domestic goddesses…

Several things happened earlier this year: the Big Lottery Network proposal unexpectedly ground to a halt (though it might revive); we had a decidedly lukewarm response from the First Minister to our collective Open Letter; one Cabinet member decided to ban the word ‘co-production’; one thought it was just another term for well-being; and the irreplaceable and deeply fab Noreen departed for pastures new.

Which led me to wonder whether to give it all up and return to my former life as a domestic goddess, sweet-toting granny and pub ranter (although I have managed to keep the latter going even at my busiest).

On the one hand we have over 120 organisations and individuals – from all sectors and at all levels – offering compelling reasons why co-production should be the primary approach to public services in Wales. We’ve got think tanks, policy wonks (rather like weebles I imagine), social innovation gurus, improvement agencies, funding organisations, academics, practitioners, community groups and the Scottish Government heralding the glories of co-production. We had a growing body of evidence and a ton of real stories from real people living real lives in real places.

And on the other hand…? On the other hand, as my revered Uncle Cyril would say, we have a bagatelle of diddly zip. And faced with a daily dose of diddly zip I rather lost heart.

Then a ton of serendipitous things occurred which made me realise that, in spite of the diddly-zippers, co-production is continuing to thrive in Wales, and co-production champions are continuing to work their socks off in all directions.

So, in case you too had succumbed to despair, here’s a small selection. I give you: Maria Gallagher & Wayne Jepson (PHW), Adrian Roper (Cartrefi Cymru) & Heulwen Blackmore (Welsh Government), Nick Andrews (Swansea University)Rhian Huws Williams (Care Council), Jackie Shacklady (Integrated Community Nursing, Monmouth), and the massed members of Time 2 Meet in Swansea.

  • Maria & Wayne are both modest and magnificent. Over the past few months they have set up and/or funded: a Learning in Action project (with WCVA) which is supporting 5 new co-pro initiatives from across Wales; a series of Co-pro Train the Trainer workshops (with NEF) to spread the word and inspire the world: and a collection of co-pro case-studies (with us in CW) due to be launched in the autumn at a ‘Real Evidence, Real People’s Stories’ event (Carnegie are helping us with that).
  • As well as being a connector, innovator and radical, Adrian helped us write a Section 64 bid for a Citizen’s Network proposal; he’s also the initiator of our Health & Social Care Integration open-space event later this month (Wayne has sorted out the funding for that); and, along with Heulwen, he’s organising a ‘What’s the Narrative’ event at the end of July to help bring together the various gleaming and co-productive bits of the Social Services & Wellbeing Act in to one glorious whole.
  • Apart from being a permanent joy in my firmament, Nick recently organised a superb Simple but not Simplistic conference to share the outcomes from the JRF project he’s been working on. His co-researchers – from residential care homes – were there too, telling their stories through songs, poetry and images. Co-pro at its most powerful.
  • Rhian invited me to speak at the Getting in on the Act Care Council conferences, which led to an invitation to speak at Doing Things Differently, the Social Care Providers conference. And that meant that I met a whole pile of social care professionals who instinctively ‘get’ co-pro. Given half a chance, they will grab this opportunity with both hands and transform the world. Rhian’s also helping us with the Integration event, and has offered to look at how co-production could be embedded in training and review programmes.
  • Just a 5-minute conversation with Jackie will set you up for the week. She’s a force of nature, heading up an integrated health & social care team who are changing the way they work with older people in their community – shifting from tasks to outcomes, and from eligibility assessments to co-productive relationships. And it works!
  • When Leighton Andrews (not previously known as a fan of co-pro) asked to see co-production in action, we suggested that he visit Time 2 Meet  in Swansea. He did. Expect a Damascene conversion any day now. Time 2 Meet is awesome. It’s a social network organised by adults with learning difficulties, their friends and families and the staff who support them. They run 24 activity groups and regular events for their 448 members, and have volunteered over 5,000 hours in the past year.

And finally, the lovely Mark Drakeford continues to champion co-production as ‘one of the most exciting opportunities we have to bring together the knowledge, experience and contributions of those who work in our public services and those who use them…recalibrating power through new relationships based on trust’.

Thanks to all of them, and all of you for inspiring me all over again. In shed loads.

I’ve decided to do my best to maintain the random grannying and pub ranting, but the domestic goddess option will have to wait. It’s a tough choice but somehow I know it’s the right one.

Bob Rhodes (LivesthroughFriends) writes…

I’ve worked in human services all my career – with kids with problems; with kids and adults with mental health problems; with kids and adults with lifelong disabilities; with people who, often as a result of the institutional abuse and neglect they have experienced, have been stuck with ‘extremely challenging’ reputations; in and with devalued and impoverished communities – and can assert, without reservations, that none of the above has been successfully assisted to a better life by service interventions alone. Indeed, reinforced by the experiences of every working day, I would assert that too many folk who are dependent upon the good offices of public services alone are in a lonely and vulnerable position. Over 40+ years I’ve learned that there are few circumstances that cannot be remedied or at least much ameliorated when our service response, as John Seddon so aptly puts it, is ‘person-shaped’, and primarily concerned with helping each person to describe and pursue their ‘them-shaped’ solutions in the context of their family, friends and associations – that is in the context of past, present and to be forged relationships, in other words their social capital. Indeed, until not too long ago, this would have been explicitly a description of social work; and then the foundations of social work resided in the taking of a case history rather than completing a predetermined assessment of needs and deficits where the need to demonstrate fairness in determining relative entitlement has, quite unintentionally, priority over helping people make the best of their situations.

There can be few circumstances that are not made worse if we don’t take time to get to know what each person, family or community really wants by listening in order to understand, don’t support them to take power and responsibility, and don’t recognise and utilise the power of relationships and the social capital inherent in them. Listening and critical friendship are, for me, at the core of the co-production relationship. This is equally the case when your partner on the journey is an individual or a community.

Public services systems are, in the main, not concerned with listening, let alone challenging thinking and generating multiple possible solutions. They pay lip service to self-determination, autonomy and the abundance of gifts, talents, ingenuity, tenacity, resourcefulness and energy that still, despite our ever more pervasive consumer culture, inhabit our communities; and then systematically continue to contaminate civil society (that is, citizens acting in voluntary association) with mechanistic assessments and standardised solutions that are reinforced with arbitrary penalties for non-compliance. John O’Brien has dubbed this approach Cogworld. Indisputably, the imposition of the market on public services has been a major factor in this dysfunction, promulgating the dangerous myth that public services and institutions are both there to do our living for us.

It is not many years ago that Social Work was statutorily described as a profession that assists people – in the contexts of their families, friends and communities – to address and resolve the challenges they are confronting in consequence of disadvantage, poverty, ill-health, disability and so forth. The role is defined as enabling, educative and, as Al Etmanski so succinctly says, ‘supplementary and complementary’ ensuring that power and responsibility lies essentially with the citizen. Today, should you be exploring the possibility of a career in social work, the advice from agencies like Skills for Care frames the job fundamentally differently:

‘As a social worker, you would provide advice and support to vulnerable individuals, families, and those living on the margins of society. You would also be responsible for helping them to get access to the services they need to improve their situation and well-being.’

‘A social worker is expected to assess, review and maintain records of specific cases, all within certain timeframes whilst achieving set standards of care and providing service users and their families with the help they need.’


There is nothing more disabling and demoralising, as I see it, than being identified as a member of the devalued part of society that the next generation of social workers are being trained to ‘fix’.

Time was when citizens who come together with a common goal of improving or ameliorating some aspect of their lives, in their neighbourhood or on a wider basis, might solicit a grant from their community (administered by their local authority) in order to benefit that community. We are now at the stage of commodification of services where citizens can only bid, in competition, to provide services that have been previously specified by someone else, the Commissioner, who, it stands to reason (?), knows best. If Commissioners  are really impressed with your idea they may ask you to write a specification for  a competitive tender for the provision of your idea and then permit you to bid for it if your little association meets pre-tender requirements which may include having a strong balance sheet, secure financial history and insurances for millions of pounds. The Commissioner is, however, just as likely to take your idea, mangle it, compromise its principles, let that contract, and tell you that what you have promoted is being done. The simple idea that it could be sensible to keep what resources we can flexible and back great initiatives that can demonstrate the support of the people or communities they are designed to help seems just too simple?

In Wales, people who are deficit assessed to be entitled to social care can have a Direct Payment. The Direct Payments system has a stated purpose. It is about restoring control and choice to citizens but, in the large majority of situations, even the most peremptory of enquiries leads one to the conclusion that the notion of trusting citizens and their potential to utilise resources far more effectively than standardized service solutions was bureaucratized out almost immediately and often in advance of implementation. When challenged the administrators invariably quote the mantra that system must be accountable to the taxpayer. This, for them, is the end of the matter rather than the opening of a detailed discussion about what taxpayers really want from the care system and how they account for the taxpayer’s money that they both consume and expend.

At LivesthroughFriends we’ve learned over long careers that just about everyone has gifts and talents, the need to contribute, and gnawing desire to really take control of their own situation. As we’ve turned our principles into purpose and learning by doing action we’ve been helped by so many others on the same journey – those of us who see so much more value in what folk can do and contribute who may label ourselves a co-producers, time bankers, network/circle builders, ABCD’ers, Local Area Coordinators, promoters of Self Direction and Individual Budgets, Systems and Creative Thinkers, and so many others who we see as strengths-based thinkers and doers.

Over the years we’ve borrowed, stolen and now and again conceived some clear practice principles and a Framework within which journeys may unfold:

LivesthroughFriends’ Core Principles

  • The people who are going to benefit from our work and those who love them are active commissioners of what we do based on what matters to them.
  • We make decisions together based on knowledge not opinion – if we don’t know we find out and attend to creating lots of possibilities.
  • We make progress together through learning what works – “experiment, rather than plan.”
  • We are supplementary and complementary.

LivesthroughFriends’ Framework

  • Ask HOW ‘you’ want to live? Help people vision the life they want to live.
  • Be Supplementary & Complementary.
  • Strengthen/build reciprocal relationships and social capital – who is going to muck in?
  • Become expert at effective and creative thinking, generating possibilities & problem-solving.
  • Help folk contribute to and receive from and build ‘community’.
  • Remember – it’s a journey – not an episode.
  • It’s not (only) about the money! Never start with the money!
  • Your job is to show another, better way whenever that is required.

Thanks and acknowledgements are due to far too many individuals and organizations to list but must include the folk at PLAN, GoMAD Thinking, Vanguard Thinking Systems, ABCD Institute, The Centre for Welfare Reform, and so many more – especially the people who have helped us help them.

~ Bob Rhodes, Co-Director, LivesthroughFriends

Holding our leaders’ feet to the fire – make or break for co-production in Wales?

I once asked the indefatigable David Robinson (Early Action Task Force / Community Links / Changing London / Childrens’ Discovery Centre / We Are What We Do) for his top tip on making change happen. His reply?

Hold your leaders’ feet to the fire.

This was unexpected. David is diplomacy, tact and sweet reason personified. His approach is asset-based, appreciative, reciprocal. This transmorgification into Cruella DeVille was somewhat shocking.

But we think he may be right.

Eighteen months ago we sent an Open Letter to Welsh Government asking for co-production principles to be placed at the heart of our public services. This was signed by 256 organisations and individuals from the Wales co-pro community, and 25 letters of support were received from co-production experts from the UK, USA and Australia.

We received a really positive response from the First Minister which acknowledged that co-production was an ‘imperative’ in the design and delivery of sustainable social services, and outlined legislative and non-legislative approaches for ’embedding co-production …at the heart of our work’. He also committed the government to ‘ensuring that people across Wales have a genuine opportunity to shape the services they need’ and welcomed the contribution of the co-production community to meet this challenge.

That contribution has been forthcoming. In spades. In fact, in spades, shovels, trowels, hoes, hods and pitchforks. From citizens, service-recipients, carers, advocates, communities, service professionals, academics, government officers, Assembly members and ministers.

We have, collectively, helped to build an active and knowledgeable community of practice in Wales, internationally acknowledged and often world-leading. We have, collectively, run conferences, seminars, workshops and meet-ups. We’ve spoken about co-pro, written about co-pro, tweeted and emailed, visualised and animated co-pro. We’ve shared assets and evidence, made connections, supported each other, collaborated with each other and worked our massed socks off to help transform our public services – to ‘restore warm humanity as the driving force for public services, rather than compliance with increasingly centralised and de-personalised processes and systems’ as our director Nick Andrews so eloquently put it.

The outcome has been a slow but sure shift in the direction of transformative co-production, the first tentative steps towards a realignment of the relationship between state and citizens based on trust, on equal and reciprocal relationships. We have a potentially radical Social Services & Well-being Act, a National Outcomes Framework, a Prudent Healthcare strategy underpinned by co-production, a co-produced Future Generations bill, growing interest in the possibilities of co-produced commissioning, and a Co-production Implementation Group chaired by the CMO. And we have an opportunity to establish a Co-production Network for Wales and a support-base of over 120 organisations and individuals who are working with us to make that a reality.

So what’s the beef? Why do we need to hold feet to fires?

Well, we think we are at a tipping point – and it could go either way.

Although much has been achieved to date, there is a change in the language being used by Welsh Government. Co-production is being discarded in favour of partnership, engagement and collaboration. The principles outlined by Edgar Cahn are being glossed over or omitted from key documents. The experience of the international co-production community suggests that any dilution or substitution puts the entire enterprise at risk.

Co-production is about strengthening the core economy, re-energising service users as active and confident citizens, willing and able to share power and responsibility with the state. It’s about equality, reciprocity and social justice.

Co-production is the common purpose necessary to create collaboration between citizens and government, and between providers of services; it is the common purpose that citizens can (and do) accept and embrace, thus enabling true engagement to happen, leading to purpose-filled participation. In a sincere attempt at transformational co-production, collaboration, engagement and participation are all necessary, but in the absence of a common purpose they are simply not sufficient.

Today we have sent a second Open Letter to Welsh Government. It contains two requests:

1. We have asked for an unambiguous statement about the place of co-production in Welsh Government’s public service strategy, legislation and commissioning, underpinned by a shared understanding of the term.

2. We have asked for formal support for Co-production Wales’ proposal to establish an independent, member-led Co-production Network for Wales.

The Open Letter and full list of the 120+ supporters, are on our Media page, along with extracts from their letters. We asked people to explain why they were supporting both co-production and our Network proposal. They make a compelling case.

Equally compelling is the range and number of responses. Supporters include: the Bevan Commission, Public Health Wales, Royal College of Physicians, Aneurin Bevan Health Board, Welsh Institute for Health & Social Care, Care Council, British Association of Social Workers Cymru, Wales Centre for Equity in Education, Disability Wales, All-Wales People First, Monmouthshire, Cardiff and Gwynedd Councils, Community First Clusters in Cardiff East, Pontypridd and South Ebbw Fach, Wales Alliance for Citizen-Directed Support, Wales Public Services 2025, Wales Co-operative Centre, Social Firms Wales, People & Work Unit, Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats, Early Action Task Force, New Economics Foundation, NESTA Innovation Lab, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Young Foundation, the Scottish Co-production Network / Scottish Community Development Trust and the Scottish Government’s Joint Improvement Team. And numerous third-sector organisations…

On one hand these are cheering times. However, our shared aspiration – to embed co-production at the heart of our public services – can only be achieved if the Welsh Government and its citizens work together, with a sense of common purpose based on relationships of trust and reciprocity. Without explicit and unambiguous support for co-production from our government, transformation will remain piecemeal. Without the willing participation of citizens – as service-recipients, carers, advocates, professionals and academics – it will be tokenistic and ineffective.

Either way, change will be unsustainable, and the consequences of a failed social contract between Welsh Government and its citizens will be catastrophic. We will be left with ‘an unsustainable system and citizens who will have to fend for themselves’. (Anna Coote, Head of Social Policy, New Economics Foundation)

Please add your kindling to the fire in any way you can: share widely on social media, tweet our politicians, re-blog or send this on to colleagues, friends and interested parties, start a conversation, sing a song, create a graphic, make some noise.

Help us show that we stand united for real change in public services, and for equality, reciprocity and social justice.

We simply cannot afford to fail.


How’s about a Co-production Network for Wales?

Making co-production the primary approach to public service commissioning, design, delivery and evaluation in Wales is the polar opposite of an easy option.

It requires a permanent change in the way we do things, at government level, within organisations, and as citizens, service-recipients and carers. A change to both behaviour and systems.

We’ll need to convince politicians that they should share power and collaborate with others rather than dictate. We will need to convince those at the top of organisations that hierarchical leadership is not the best way of doing things. We have to encourage front line staff to see co-production as a return to the values that brought them in to the service in the first place, rather than viewing it as a way of cutting staff and budgets, and as a risky dismantling of professional boundaries. And we have to build new relationships with citizens so that they feel valued and respected, confident enough to become active participants and willing to work alongside professionals as experts through experience.

It’s all so exceedingly unlikely that one is inclined to stop trying and take up tax-disc collecting instead.

Except… many of you are actually doing it – often at the leading edge of co-production practice – and many more of you are taking your first co-productive steps, and a whole host of you are wanting to know more. Which means that there is a way, and a will.

However, there are a host of barriers en route.

We are not good at sharing what we have learned, and have yet to establish a compelling body of evidence for the efficacy of co-production in the Welsh context. We have few resources, no central source of information or experience, few opportunities to learn from each other or to break down the barriers between silos and sectors. And we are not yet sufficiently able to influence government policy and the funding decisions that follow.

We think, and we know that many of you think, that if we are to become an effective and influential community of practice we need to develop and sustain an active, mutually supportive co-production community in Wales. We believe that this could be achieved through the establishment of an independent, member-led Wales Co-production Network.

We intend to apply for Big Lottery funding to make this happen. If we get support from Welsh Government, WCVA, Participation Cymru and the CVCs, the Lottery will consider funding us (Co-production Wales) on the basis of a sole solicited tender. If we get letters of support from others in the co-production community, that will strengthen our case considerably.

We produced our first draft proposal last February. Since then we’ve been getting feedback from the co-production community in Wales and beyond. And here’s a link to the result: Network Proposal Overview2 Oct14.

Please read it and share it and respond to it. Let us know what you think and how it could be improved.

And then, if you agree that a Co-production Network for Wales could benefit all of us, please write us a letter explaining why you are supporting the funding bid, and what difference the Network could make to you and your organisation.

Letters should be addressed to our chair Rick Wilson, but can be sent directly to me by October 31st 2014:

Thank you!

Co-producing the behemoth – NHS Wales

Now here’s an interesting thing…fresh from his appearance in the code of the Social Services & Well-being Act, the glorious Edgar Cahn pops up again in our Health Minister’s introduction to Prudent Healthcare:

The idea of co-production is today one which is widely and approvingly quoted. That is not to say that everyone uses the term in an identical way. Here in Wales, the dominant strand is that which draws on the highly-influential work of Edgar Cahn. At its ethical core lies the notion of reciprocity – the give and take which creates the social bonds that hold us together in a common life and which relies, for its vitality, on the innumerable individual encounters in the services we use. The purpose of those encounters has to be emancipatory – always aiming at fostering and promoting the autonomy and capacity of the individual, rather than undermining it.

Prudent Healthcare is intended to save the NHS in Wales. It is based on five principles.

  1. Do no harm
  2. Carry out the minimum appropriate intervention
  3. Only do what you can do
  4. Promote equity on the basis of clinical need …and
  5. Remodel the relationship between user and provider on the basis of co-production.

Principles 1 to 4 focus on the behaviour of health professionals and on a medical model of health. The application of these principles will certainly encourage a more thoughtful and effective use of resources, including staff resources. This is clearly important. But it’s simply not enough. Despite their merits, these principles on their own will not lead to equality and shared responsibility – the core ambition of Prudent Healthcare.

It’s possible to work with each of these first four principles and still retain existing power relationships – internally, with partners, and between those who provide healthcare services and those who use them. The NHS can become more prudent and yet remain compliance-focused and bound by risk-adverse systems, many of which actually undermine human relationships.

Only principle 5 ensures culture change, refocusing on people and relationships, and embracing the social model of health in all its complexity.

And only principle 5 offers the possibility of transforming the NHS from an organisation which treats ill people into an organisation which works in equal partnership with citizens to improve the health and well-being of all of us.

  • Co-production will increase the ability of NHS staff to do no harm and to carry out the minimum appropriate intervention, since they will become aware of the needs, hopes and assets of patients, and the community assets, formal or informal, which might be available to support them – and the NHS.
  • And if the workforce are included in the co-production approach, decisions about what you can do will be based not simply on established clinical hierarchies, but on the equally vital skills and attributes of communication, building trust, empathy and compassion. In other words, they will be based on all of the capabilities and potential that staff possess.
  • Co-production also offers the possibility of ownership, engagement and buy-in – from staff, statutory and third-sector partners, communities, patients and citizens. Mark Drakeford concurs:

This sense of shared and joint decision-making is the opposite of the cold managerialism which has played its part in the history of social democracy, as well as being the dominant strand amongst the privatising and marketising right. …Co-production is achieved by amplifying the collective voice of users as well as by the choices each of us makes. No user of public services ought to be left as an isolated individual but should be enabled to link with others. We have given insufficient attention so far to the contribution that third sector, user-led, organisations can bring to the practical delivery of the co-production principle.

There’s another reason why we should place co-production at the heart of Prudent Healthcare – the need to align culture and practice across both health and social care. Co-production and personal outcomes underpin the Social Services & Well-being Act, and will be embedded in the regulations and code of practice. The Welsh Government intends to make personal outcomes the foundation for integration, and the cornerstone of regulation, assessment and improvement in social care. Speaking at the National Social Service Conference in July 2014, the then Deputy Health Minister said:

We must make our commitment to a new relationship with people a reality… looking not just at what they need but what they can contribute, building on people’s strengths and abilities… and involving people in the design and delivery of services. The National Outcomes Framework sets the foundation.

Integration requires the NHS to make a similar hearts and minds commitment.

An assertion. If we collectively rise to the challenge of co-production, it will increase the impact of the other principles of Prudent Healthcare. If not, we risk business as usual, albeit with some additional tick-box tasks. At worst we risk the collapse of the NHS. 

So best we collectively rise!

This post is taken from an essay in the Prudent Healthcare e-publication which was launched today. ‘Co-producing the NHS: putting people in the picture’.

A link to Mark Drakeford’s introduction is here:

Love – a dangerous game?

One of the great pleasures of having a blog is the opportunity it provides for pontificating, monologues, and general grandstanding. The opposite of co-production in other words (and I suspect that’s part of the charm too!).

So you can imagine that, except in the most exceptional circumstances, I’m not much inclined to offer up this space and your lovely, perspicacious and radical selves to A. N. Other. That’s a democratic step too far. However, the time has come and the most exceptional circumstances have presented themselves in the form of a modest and unassuming (so far so like me) young man (so far so not like me) called Dave Horton.

Dave runs a organisation called ACE – Action in Caerau-Ely – based in a sprawling suburb of Cardiff where he, and his family also live.

What he, his colleagues, and community members have achieved over the past couple of years feels almost miraculous. Some 90 community groups set up and run by community members; over 24,000 hours of volunteering given by the community for the community; volunteer Community Ambassadors helping support individuals to have a voice and to make a contribution; mentoring and befriending schemes run by the community; huge increases in health, happiness and well-being; a community-designed health strategy; stronger networks, less isolation and a community where people really look out for each other.

Two days ago, Dave sent me a response to our We need to talk about love series. I thought it was awesome.

So here it is, in full. With love.


The characteristics of love – a dangerous game?         

The recent blog articles on the theme of ‘we need to talk about love’ got me thinking about the nature of love, and whether we’re ready to have our lives overturned by it…

First of all, what are we talking about in our context when we talk about love?

It seems to me that those of us attempting to pursue values and practices of co-production might be committing ourselves in some form to the following principles, and that these principles might be understood as characteristics of love:

  • We want to move across the boundaries that exist between us and others and to listen to, and value, those with different experiences.
  • Together we want to identify common needs and to work in solidarity with others to meet these needs.
  • We want to develop relationships in which everyone receives what they need and in which everyone is able to make a contribution that is valued.
  • We want these relationships, and our co-operative efforts, to transform our society into one that is more just and equal.

These characteristics of love require us to be alongside others, particularly those we have traditionally relegated to the role of ‘service users’ or ‘customers’.

But there is a vulnerability associated with this coming alongside, and this is precisely what our current emphasis on professional boundaries in service provision has been established to protect us against. Relationships based on love will involve an honesty regarding our own needs and weaknesses. We may find ourselves investing our energy and emotions only to experience rejection and disappointment. It will mean, at times, sharing in the pain and loss of others (because we are no longer in a position to ‘keep our distance’). At some point we will be confronted with the need to challenge injustices and inequalities that are being suffered by our new brothers and sisters. Once on this route, we will be setting ourselves against current power structures and vested interests. This will surely end in tears! An insight from the Christian faith is that love is intimately linked to risk and to suffering. Love is a journey that more often than not ends at a cross of some sort because it disrupts the very nature of society.

There is an alternative to love, of course, and that is to maintain a safe distance.

In short, it is to stay where we are currently, to maintain the distance between the professional and the ‘service user’ or ‘customer’, to remain in a world of care which is characterised by the language and relationships of the state and the market, its targets and care plans, its bureaucracy.

But if we reject the bureaucratic model, what might this coming alongside others mean for us?

For George Lansbury, Labour leader 1932–1935, it meant refusing to move from his constituency, Bow, to the more comfortable suburbs. In his own words: “I would sooner be here in the Bow Road where the unemployed can put a brick through my window when they disagree with any activities, than be in some other place far away where they can only write a letter.” (Holman 1990:86) Lansbury was a committed socialist. He understood that to love in a way that transforms society involves a ‘coming alongside’; for him this meant living alongside his people, and it involved vulnerability and risk.

So, although we probably should talk about love, I’m not sure it’s really such a good idea! It could be a very dangerous game. After all, our predecessors have spent years creating professional structures, policies and procedures to protect us from risk and to ensure we can do our 40 hours and return home relatively unscathed.

Love runs the risk of transforming our society but could well turn our own lives upside down in the process. On the other hand, it could be a great adventure – our highest calling as human beings.

Who’s helping who? Challenging professional boundaries…

We’ve met a lot of inspirational people since we first got involved in co-production. Nick Andrews is definitely one of them – a permanent source of joy in our firmament and a member of Co-production Wales’ Board of Directors. Formerly Planning Officer for Older People’s Services in Swansea, now seconded to Swansea University’s Older People and Ageing Research Network (OPAN), Nick is co-production personified. His work in residential care homes with My Life Cymru provides a moving affirmation of  Dame Cicely Saunders’ pledge:

You matter because you are you, and you matter to the end of your life. We will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully, but also to live until you die.

In a piece for our We need to talk about love series, Nick talks about the dangers of the term co-production being misused to ‘cover up what is essentially a cost-cutting exercise’. Instead he argues for co-production as an opportunity to restore warm humanity as the driving force for public services, rather than compliance with increasingly centralised and de-personalised processes and systems.’

An extract from Nick’s article is below – the full text is on our Media & Publications‘ page.


Who’s helping who? Challenging professional boundaries in social care services.

One of my favourite quotes by the theologian Martin Buber is ‘all real living is meeting’. Please note that Buber’s understanding of the term ‘meeting’ is much richer than the idea of putting a group of people together in a room or placing nurses and social workers in the same office, which is commonly assumed to result in integrated practice. I’m sure many people will share my experience of being in meetings where no one actually met, where each person had their own agenda and the purpose of the meeting was to get this across – to win the argument.

For Buber, ‘meeting’ is about genuinely connecting with other people and being changed in some way by the process. In order to explain this, he talks about two ways of relating to people and the world which he calls I-It and I-Thou. In I-it relationships, the person is detached and unaffected. In I-Thou relationships, the person is attached and vulnerable.

In his seminal book ‘Dementia Reconsidered – The Person Comes First’ Tom Kitwood talks about his experience of seeing how people living with dementia were dehumanised through receiving emotionally detached task based I-it care:

‘A man or woman could be given the most accurate diagnosis, subjected to the most thorough assessment, provided with a highly detailed care plan and given a place in the most pleasant of surroundings – without any meeting of the I-Thou kind ever having taken place.’ (Kitwood, 1997)

In contrast, genuine co-production facilitates and nurtures the development of I-Thou relationships between all parties and thus begins to challenge the prevailing understanding of professionalism and professional boundaries. [I-Thou relationships are at the heart of a project] I am currently co-ordinating in Wales, underpinned by evidence from Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s programme A Better Life – for older people with high support needs.

A Better Life has identified seven key challenges for social care services:

  • We all need positive images and balanced narratives to challenge ageist assumptions. Old age is not about ‘them’, it is about all of us.
  • We all need to make the effort to see and hear the individual behind the label or diagnosis, taking into account the increasing diversity of older people as a demographic group.
  • We must ensure that all support is founded in, and reflects, meaningful and rewarding relationships. Connecting with others is a fundamental human need, whatever our age or support needs.
  • We need to use the many assets, strengths and resources of older people with high support needs through recognising and creating opportunities for them to both give and receive support.
  • We must all be treated as citizens: equal stakeholders with both rights and responsibilities, not only as passive recipients of care. We must also have clarity on what we can reasonably expect from publicly-funded services and what we will need to take responsibility for ourselves.
  • The individual and collective voices of older people with high support needs should be heard and given power. We must use a much wider range of approaches to enable this.
  • We need to be open to radical and innovative approaches; but we also need to consider how, often simple, changes can improve lives within existing models.

These challenges are not always about the big things: ‘often it is the simple things that bring the most pleasure (and the lack of them can bring a sense of sadness and loss) and services do not always seem to be very good at delivering ‘the ordinary’’. (Blood, 2013 p13) Most significantly, the challenges call for a different way of working, fundamentally different from the world of emotionally detached and compliance-focused task based care. This world and its impact is summed up nicely by Edgar Cahn:

‘The world of helping others in need is now built around one-way transactions… and with the best of intentions, one-way transactions often send two messages unintentionally. They say: “We have something you need – but you have nothing we need or want or value.” And they also say: “The way to get more help is by coming back with more problems.”’ (Cahn, 2004)

In contrast, a study of what people living with life-limiting conditions value in a social worker highlighted the important of humanity, friendship and reciprocity. And in a series of recent learning events involving older people, carers and front-line staff, I have been struck how many people feel that current regulation and guidance is risk averse, restrictive, and at worst destructive of human relationships.

For example, workforce regulation states ‘the inappropriate use of touch is not permissible’, rather than ‘the appropriate use of touch is fabulous and to be encouraged’. This is a particular issue for people living with dementia, who often have to express themselves and connect with others through feelings and emotions. Front-line staff talk have talked about feeling guilty when they do little kind things that are not written in the Care Plan, or receive small gifts of appreciation; older people have been ‘told off’ (in the name of health and safety) for pouring tea for others in day services, and carers have been made to feel that they no longer have a role when the person they love goes into a care home.

At the heart of co-production, is an understanding that everyone has something to contribute and that exchanging these contributions is enriching for everyone concerned.

I am reminded of the work of Jean Vanier, who established the L’Arche Communities in learning disability services. Vanier did not see his role as caring for people with learning difficulties, but rather sharing his life with them and being open to receive and learn from them as much as to offer them support: ‘I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes’.

This is an important message for social care practitioners and agencies.

We need to open our ears, our eyes and our hearts to the people we work with, which might involve sharing our vulnerabilities and concerns and allowing ourselves to be changed by genuinely ‘meeting’ with them in truly co-productive relationships.


Update from the network event – hurray for radicalism

Well what a fantastic Co-production Network event organised by Monmouthshire County Council yesterday in Chepstow! The short and engaging presentations from environment and sustainability-themed groups from across Monmouthshire and Torfaen showcased a range of co-productive initiatives and good practice – and covered the whole spectrum, from forward-thinking local-authority initiated ones to grassroots movements now grown into partnerships with local councils, via social enterprises working with both communities and councils.

Very inspiring indeed.

Co-production Wales had a short session at the end of the event to update the network attendees on progress, particularly regarding the funding bid we are putting in so that we are able to fully support the network. My question to the audience was “what does the network need to be or do in order to best support you?” Reassuringly, the answers indicated that we are on track with our vision for the network (which was born out of an event back in 2012) and that it is still valid.

Most excitingly, the response was enthusiastic to our revised and radicalised definition and principles of co-production: “our aim is social justice, and the permanent shift of power from state to citizens – nothing less”. There is a manifest desire for clarity about when co-production is happening and when it is not; for the term *not* to be co-opted and diluted by misuse; and for it to remain radical and game-changing.



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.

29th May – Public Health Wales Stakeholder Engagement Event

Circulating this, just in from Public Health Wales:

“Public Health Wales invites you to attend a Public Health White Paper stakeholder engagement event on the 29th May from 9am-11am in the White Room at Jolyons, 10 Cathedral Road, Cardiff. Parking is available behind the building in Sophia Gardens. Our apologies for the short notice of this event- we are working to a very tight timetable.

The aim of the event is to open up discussion on the content of the White Paper, giving public health colleagues and stakeholders the chance to view/ contribute to the Public Health Wales draft response. There will be a short presentation from each of our thematic leads and this will be followed by a ‘World Cafe’ discussion where people can choose to stay at one table to discuss one aspect of the White Paper if they wish, or alternatively migrate around a number of tables of interest. Feedback will be recorded at each table and used to inform the Public Health Wales response.

If you would like to attend can you please contact  so we can get an idea of numbers in advance of the event. The response will be shared with stakeholders for information from Mid June.”


Some more information about the Public Health White Paper (follow the link for the consultation documents):

“The ‘Listening to you – Your health matters’ White Paper sets out a series of proposals for legislation to help further improve and protect people’s health and wellbeing in Wales.

Start of consultation: 02/04/2014
End of consultation: 24/06/2014

The proposals cover a range of public health issues, including action to reduce the harms to health caused by smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity. They provide a set of practical actions which, when combined, aim to have a positive impact on health and wellbeing in Wales.We published a Green Paper in 2012 on the need for a Public Health Bill, which showed broad support for legislation to further improve health and wellbeing. This White Paper builds on that and outlines how we are responding to the main messages received, both through the proposals in this White Paper and the Future Generations Bill.

The White Paper sets out how we will take steps to:

  • improve health over the life course through proposals to address the important public health issues of tobacco, alcohol misuse and obesity;
  • build community assets for health through proposals to strengthen the role of Local Health Boards when planning and delivering pharmaceutical services, and to improve provision and access to toilets for public use; and
  • improve the regulation of certain types of procedures such as cosmetic piercing and tattooing.”

Meeting of the Co-Production Network in South Wales: 21st May

We are delighted to share the date of the next meeting of the Co-Production Network in South Wales: 21st May in Chepstow, from 13.00 – 16.30pm. (Thank you to the fab team at Monmouthshire County Council for organising and hosting!)

The venue is the Drill Hall, Lower Church Street in Chepstow (NP16 5HJ).

The programme includes a fantastic line-up of local projects with an environment and sustainability slant, from Monmouthshire and Torfaen community groups and council:

  • Vivien Mitchell from Transtition Monmouth talking about Community Climate Champions – a partnership between local transition towns, energy agencies, renewable installers and Friends of the Earth groups working with MCC.
  • Hazel Clatworthy from MCC – Eco-Open Doors – a project of the Community Climate Champions that enables people to visit and chat to homeowners with renewable energy and other sustainable features.
  • Allison Cawley from Melin Homes – Powering up Communities First – works with the community and schools to show how simple behaviour change in home energy usage really can keep pounds in pockets.
  • Kate Burton from Garnsychan Partnership – Keeping good things out of landfill.
  • Simon Morgan of Bron Afon Community Housing – Pollinator Street, Bron Afon’s journey championing pollinators.
  • Nicola Bradbear from Bee Friendly Monmouthshire – an alliance of organisations with concern to improve Monmouthshire’s environment for bees and all insect pollinators.
  • Alison Howard from MCC – Community Food Growing – license to grow.
  • Andy Karron – Gwent Wildlife Trust – local wildlife sites-engaging with landowners to preserve and enhance South East Wales wildlife rich grasslands.

The afternoon will start with Helen Nelson from Cynnal Cymru talking about The Wales We Want, the national conversation underpinning the Future Generations bills. What a line-up! Hope to see you there.

The event is free (thanks to MCC) but reserve your place via Eventbrite.

A People’s Commission for Wales: WCVA responds to the Williams Report

Just in case you hadn’t seen it yet, we’d like to bring the following publication to your attention. The Wales Council for Voluntary Action (WCVA) has published a brief but punchy paper in response to the Williams Report, arguing that while the Williams Report pronounces itself in favour of co-production, its “how to” is still sorely lacking in innovative and indeed co-productive practices.

“Co-production is the new mantra but co-production is not just about the public sector and its structures, leadership training and targets. The public sector has still to embrace the ‘co’ in co-production and fully recognise this is not a new word for partnership or a new management theory for government. The ‘co’ is the people and recognising and mobilising their contribution as assets is still absent.”

“Co-production is now at a crossroads. It will not work without mobilising, recognising and rewarding people and their contributions alongside those of the statutory services. Putting people at the centre means there is not one right way of doing things and no universal delivery mechanism, except to start with the energy, passion, creativity and strength in communities and build from there.”

Another emphatic nudge to the public sector to “be brave enough to start a conversation that matters“. (~Margaret Wheatley)

The link again to WCVA’s report page for reference.