Last month the National Lottery Community Fund hosted a virtual breakfast to discuss all things co-production. Hosted by Laura Furness, Head of Funding at the National Lottery Community Fund, the panel consisted of Winston Allamby (Community Partner, Fulfilling Lives Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham), Helen Phoenix (Head of Customer Collaboration, South Yorkshire Housing Association) and myself (Learning and Impact Associate, Fulfilling Lives). This blog is intended to shed light on some of the key messages and discusses co-production using the analogy of baking a cake: a theme which came up during the session.

So what do we mean by co-production? In A Meeting of Minds, a report published by The National Lottery Community Fund last year, co-production is defined as “creating, delivering, improving and evaluating services jointly with people who will use them and stakeholders like local authorities, charities, frontline staff, funders, or academics”.

Now for the co-production cake…

The recipe: Whilst there may be several recipes to choose from, you tend to get the same key ingredients. As one of the attendees of the session explained, when it comes to co-production the key ingredients are love, passion, resilience and patience. The people involved need to be the ones who love what they do – wanting to making a difference to the lives of those the work affects. Systems are complex and multifaceted and change is never immediate so stakeholders must be resilient and patient. Things might not always work out as excepted but being flexible and creative in your approach will support the work you’re doing.

The method: You can’t just have co-production in a singular slice of the cake: it should be inherent to what we do and therefore in every single slice – like the filling! As Winston described, it should be the “thread” that runs through services, their practice and policies and research and evaluation. This is where some may fail at co-production – it cannot be ad hoc involvement of stakeholders; you can’t pick and choose when to ‘do co-production’ based on your own preferences.

Cooking time: Co-production takes time to do well – you don’t want an undercooked cake. People need to be invested and committed to the process. Don’t let COVID-19 push co-production to the bottom of the list, we must persevere in times of crisis and as Helen explained, it’s up to us to keep pushing the co-production agenda. Stakeholders and services must be recognised as assets and working in a strength-based manner will help during these times. Take time to do co-production well, it will be worth it.

Who gets a slice? Well, you need your allies (so you’ll probably share the cake with them) but don’t always go to the usual suspects. As Helen explained, people are hungry to make a difference but when the same people are involved time and time again co-production often does not work as well. Stakeholders should not be selected based on their job titles but because of their commitment to the work. This means power can and should be delegated to those who are genuinely invested. Who can represent the service or voices of your community? Pick them!

Eating the cake: Unfortunately, if someone doesn’t like the type of cake you’ve made, chances are they won’t eat it. Find your allies and build a movement: this can be a critical driver of the process and a form of support along the way. The more allies you have, the easier it might be to convert the ‘anti-cake eaters’.

How does the cake taste? No one wants bad cake but regardless of the outcome, make sure you build trusting relationships as you go and that you foster a safe and supportive environment so that if the cake doesn’t taste too good (or something hasn’t gone as well as you thought), you are able to discuss this openly – reflect and learn from one another. Together, we can bake a better cake.

A recording of the session can be watched here.