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The C words

What do we really mean by community, consultation and co-production? Keith Edwards minds his language.

We’re all adept at jumping on a ‘good’ word and using it to show us in a better light. Take the word community. Someone pointed out to me long ago, it gets called up to pretty-up a vast range of ideas and initiatives, and not all on the side of the angels.

We may be okay with community development, community policing even community regeneration – sometimes – but the community charge still reeks of injustice 35 years after the death of the poll tax it instantly and universally became known as. Ultimately, the power of benign words to wrap up excrement is limited

The word consultation poses a different problem; how genuine is the opportunity being offered? Put another way, you can be in at the start with real chances to shape things or almost an afterthought, being told about decisions already taken. Next time you’re asked for your views try and work which end of the spectrum the offer is pitched at.

A very topical ‘C’ word is co-production which goes further than the best consultation and is not just about sharing ideas but sharing power. Here there is some confusion over definition. It’s 10 years since the Essex Review was proclaimed as an example of ‘Co-pro’ but perhaps that was more accurately described as collaboration – a point made to me by Joy Kent some time ago, though it’s taken me a while to agree with her.

My Damascus moment came when working with two housing associations on genuine co-production reviews of their sheltered housing services and witnessing the transformational results, first with Tai Tarian and more recently with Pembrokeshire Housing.

Pembrokeshire has around 230 sheltered properties in Haverfordwest, Milford Haven, Narberth, Pembroke Dock and Tenby. The association wanted to address a number of challenges including:

  • responding to the Aylward Review recommendation that the criteria for older people receiving Supporting People funding should be based on need rather than age or tenure
  • anticipating changes to local authority commissioning of Supporting People services for older people
  • managing service changes already underway including the end of live-in sheltered scheme managers
  • meeting the expectations of residents whilst balancing this against unmet need of other residents and the wider public.

Co-production is based on the premise that people using public services (and the frontline staff who support them) have invaluable insights on what works best and what could be improved.

The project began with asking the question ‘what does a good life look like for you?’ This opened the conversation on how services can give people autonomy and help them build on the ‘assets’ in their networks, families and communities. In turn, this meant the resources of the association could be better targeted, provide better value for money and raise resident and staff satisfaction

The process involved engaging with all residents on a ‘listen don’t tell’ basis, followed by a series of workshops driven by what residents, supported by scheme managers, wanted to see happen to the service in the future. This led to a report with recommendations which the association took on board. It is captured best in the words of a senior manager:

‘We were able to redesign the service and start a trial at one of our sheltered schemes. Tenants will continue to be involved during the trial to help us review and tailor the service before we roll it out across our other schemes in 2018.’

Keith Edwards was project consultant in partnership with Noreen Blanluet

You can find out more about Co-production at coproductionnetworkwales.wordpress.com/

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