Co-production practitioners network

A network for co-production practitioners

About co-production



About the nef/NESTA programme

nef (the new economics foundation) and NESTA’s Lab have been working in partnership to deepen our understanding of co-production and how it can be applied to public services. We have been facilitating a network of front-line practitioners, whose approach marks a strong departure from mainstream service delivery in the public sector. We have also been working with a group of ‘Critical Friends’ who inform and challenge our work, and have been writing a series of publications to disseminate our learning from the programme.

The network provides a forum for frontline practitioners to discuss their work, the approach they take, and the challenges they face. For many, it is a chance to see how co-production transcends service divides, to learn from the tools and models other practitioners work with, and to contribute to the knowledge and discussions of the network. We believe that the time is ripe for co-production to become a mainstream approach to delivering public services and is the system change we need in order to shift towards more sustainable, equitable, preventative and outcomes focused public services.


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About this website

This website is one of the lasting legacies of the nef/NESTA co-production project. We hope it will become a website for practitioners, by practitioners to continue the conversations we have started. We have added some of the documents we have found most useful, some interesting case studies, evaluation tools and some of our favourite related websites. We also hope you’ll participate – and have listed below a few of the ways in which you might like to contribute to the site:

  • Set up a profile
  • Promote an event
  • Post a blog
  • Upload the latest policy guidance within your area
  • Start a forum thread
  • Reply to a question
  • Upload a short case study
  • Watch a video someone has uploaded
  • Add an evaluation you’ve had some on your organisation
  • Link to an inspiring website or video
  • Pass on the word to fellow co-producers, and anybody who would be interested and would benefit from this site


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About Co-Production

Co-production has been central to nef’s work for over ten years. We have worked closely with leading thinkers such as Edgar Cahn to advance time banking in the UK, and work to pioneer new models to unleash the assets within the core economy. As part of the nef/NESTA co-production programme we have been using a working definition of co-production:

“Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours. Where activities are co-produced in this way, both services and neighbourhoods become far more effective agents of change.”


Many other groups have also developed helpful definitions, some of which are specific to the nature of their work. The National Co-production Critical Friends uses the following description:

Co-production is a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognising that both partners have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.


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The Elements/Principles of co-production

We have outlined six elements which are the foundation stones of co-production. What is immediately clear is how much these definitions overlap with each other. co-production in practice will involve alignment with all of these features, and they are all underpinned by similar values.

  1. Building on people’s existing capabilities: altering the delivery model of public services from a deficit approach to one that provides opportunities to recognise and grow people’s capabilities and actively support them to put them to use at an individual and community level.
  2. Reciprocity and mutuality: offering people a range of incentives to engage which enable us to work in reciprocal relationships with professionals and with each other, where there are mutual responsibilities and expectations.
  3. Peer support networks: engaging peer and personal networks alongside professionals as the best way of transferring knowledge.
  4. Blurring distinctions: removing the distinction between professionals and recipients, and between producers and consumers of services, by reconfiguring the way services are developed and delivered.
  5. Facilitating rather than delivering: enabling public service agencies to become catalysts and facilitators rather than central providers themselves.
  6. Assets: transforming the perception of people from passive recipients of services and burdens on the system into one where they are equal partners in designing and delivering services.


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About nef

nef (the new economics foundation) is an independent think-and-do tank that inspires and demonstrates real economic well-being.

We aim to improve quality of life by promoting innovative solutions that challenge mainstream thinking on economic, environment and social issues. We work in partnership and put people and the planet first.

nef was founded in 1986 by the leaders of The Other Economic Summit (TOES) which forced issues such as international debt onto the agenda of the G7 and G8 summits. We are unique in combining rigorous analysis and policy debate with practical solutions on the ground, often run and designed with the help of local people. We also create new ways of measuring progress towards increased well-being and environmental sustainability.

nef works with all sections of society in the UK and internationally - civil society, government, individuals, businesses and academia - to create more understanding and strategies for change.

Co-production and the Core Economy

nef’s co-production work sits within the Social Policy team

Within social policy we aim to find ways of achieving sustainable social justice: a fair and equitable distribution of natural, social and economic resources between people, countries and generations.

What kind of welfare system will help deliver this? We can no longer rely on continuing economic growth to yield more taxes to pay for ever-expanding public services: growth in the developed world is ecologically unsustainable and human well-being depends on living within the limits of the natural environment.

Instead, we must get three interdependent 'economies' - the resources of planet, people and markets - working together. A welfare system that is fit for the future will give priority to preventing needs arising in the first place, make better use of human resources that are currently under-used and under-valued, and tackle the underlying causes of inequality.

We can’t rely on the market economy to grow to produce more and more public services, because growth in the developed world is outstripping the carrying capacity of the planet. We can’t grow the natural economy – we can only hope to save it from failure. But there is a third economy that we can grow: the core economy of human capabilities. The core economy is made up of all the resources embedded in people’s everyday lives – time, energy wisdom, experience, knowledge and skills. And in the relationships between them – love, empathy, watchfulness, care, reciprocity, teaching and learning. Human resources are ‘core’ because they are essential to society and to the market economy: for raising children, caring for people, feeding families, maintaining households, and building and sustaining intimacies, friendships, social networks and civil society. These are largely uncommodified functions, routinely ignored and often exploited. They can flourish and expand, or weaken and decline, depending on the conditions they operate in. They can grow if they are recognised, valued, nurtured and supported.

This is where co-production comes in. As Britain has built its welfare state over the last 60 years, we have abandoned the potential of human capabilities. People have become passive, powerless, unskilled and apparently ignorant service users and patients, needing things put right for them by paid professionals. For a sustainable future, we must kick the habit of passively consuming services and reclaim our capabilities. This means becoming co-producers of our well-being.


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About NESTA

NESTA is the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts - an independent body with a mission to make the UK more innovative.

We believe innovation is vital to the UK’s economic competitiveness and ability to respond to major social challenges. We invest in early-stage companies, inform and shape policy, and deliver practical programmes that inspire and equip others to solve the big challenges of the future.

The Lab: Innovations in public services

Our public services face unprecedented challenges, made more urgent by the impact of the current economic crisis. Traditional approaches to public service reform are unlikely to provide the answers we need.

NESTA is applying its expertise to find innovative ways of delivering our public services. More effective solutions at lower cost will only come through ingenuity. Our Public Services Innovation Lab is identifying, testing and demonstrating new ways of responding to social challenges and delivering better public services.</>


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