Coproduction: Working in equal partnership with people

Co-authored by Ben Whalley (Head of Operations at Gaddum) and Mel Safari (Director at LinguaGM), Radical Commissioning Leads for the Greater Manchester VCSE Mental Health Leadership Group

Last week  was National Coproduction Week.  Beginning in 2015, the week was established to concentrate our focus on the amazing and transformative possibilities that can be achieved through true coproduction.  The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) defines coproduction as being “about working in equal partnership with people using services, carers, families and citizens. Co-production offers the chance to transform social care and health provision to a model that offers people real choice and control”. Central to coproduction principles is the “Lived Experience” (or sometimes referred to as “User”) Voice.  Lived Experience is, quite simply, someone who has had experience of the issues being delivered.  This could be someone volunteering at a community café who has been isolated until they came into contact with the place they volunteer.  Or it could be someone who has previously been in prison, working with people leaving prison to make connections back into their community and engage in meaningful activity.

At the catchily named Greater Manchester Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise Mental Health Leadership Group (GM VCSE Mental Health Group), we are all people working in leadership roles across a variety of Greater Manchester VCSE organisations who provide support, advice, guidance and other interventions across communities in our area.  Working with and frequently employing people with lived experience of the issues we exist to address, we have worked closely with commissioning organisations to ensure that the Lived Experience voice is communicated and heard as decisions are being made about the services that exist to support people who need them.

But what does coproduction mean for each of us?

For the person: For the individual experiencing an issue, coproduction is about the person having faith that “there’ll be no decision about me, without me”.  Whether this is around care and support, a place to live, the kind of relationships to have or working and volunteering opportunities – research has shown consistently that individuals who are empowered to participate and have control over their autonomy achieve more lasting, meaningful outcomes.  It also means opportunity – to change things for others by sharing their own story, working with others experiencing the same thing they did or participating in their local communities to make things better for people (such as volunteering or campaigning).

For the people delivering services or making the decisions: Coproduction in delivery and commissioner organisations often requires challenging conversations and a degree of culture change.  This is because services have traditionally been commissioned and delivered by people to people.  This isn’t fair to say of all organisations, and most are on their way towards a more coproduced mindset.  Think Local, Act Personal (TLAP) have many coproduced resources, and one of the most powerful and clear ones on coproduction is the Ladder of Participation.  You can see a short, five minute explanation of the ladder here.  As with the benefits for the person however, research shows that organisations that are closer to coproduction principles deliver more appropriate services, with better outcomes and have a happier, more skilled and better retained workforce.

 The NHS Long Term Plan commitment focusing on ‘doing things differently’ throughout the healthcare system, encourages collaboration among people, primary care, community services, commissioning as well as between services and trusts. The NHS also promotes coproduction in mental health care through personalised care plans, which give people more control over their health and care.  Overall, the NHS Long Term Plan’s pledge to ‘do more to develop and embed cultures of compassion, inclusion and collaboration across the NHS and across the VCSE sector’ means that coproduction in mental health commissioning is vital and work towards being more achievable.

Benefits for people, services and commissioners involved in coproduction:

One of the key recommendations of The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health is the development of evidence-based approaches to coproduction amongst community of peers, is a positive experience both for people with experience of mental health problems and those involved in mental health commissioning and provision.  Coproduction contributes to a sense of shared identity and purpose among all involved. Developing and enhancing skills and employability.  Improving relationships, understanding and power balance between people who use the service and service providers.

Since its inception in November 2017, the VCSE Mental Health Leadership group has become an integral part of the Greater Manchester Mental Health structures. The VCSE Mental Health group sets out to build the evidence on coproduction including examples of positive practice, to improve local strategic decisions about, and the provision of, current and future mental health services for children, young people, adults and older adults. This includes people who are not in contact with mental health services, because of existing barriers to access or for other reasons.

Our future plans and input are set to support commissioners and the wider system in end-to-end coproduction, providing guidance and tools for coproduced commissioning, practical recommendations for each step and ways of measuring the effectiveness of the process. This is to include key coproduction principles for creating measurable standards, identifying the existing evidence gaps and increase examples of positive practice with the VCSE sector.

Radical commissioning definition:

The Department of Health Defined commissioning as “the means to secure best value for local citizens”.

“A new, realistic, and smarter approach to investment in the society.”

Today we face new challenges. Our resources have changed. At the heart of the new ways of working is human connection. As radical commissioning leads our focus is to support develop communities to grow their core capabilities.

Radical Help creates a new vision and a radically different approach that can support us all, working towards our most and shared potentials across GM, not to manage needs but to coproduce and build on strengthening our excising structures, culture and capacity.

Coproducing a standardised approach alongside innovative grassroots responses, placing, services and those with lived experiences at the heart of commissioning. As part of the coproduction commissioning cycle, members of the community to be involved in planning, designing and implementing evaluation frameworks.

So… we’ll keep marching forward on our collaboration towards coproduction and best value for everyone.  If you want to get in touch, you can contact this blog’s authors and GM VCSE Mental Health Leadership Group’s Leads for Radical Commissioning: and