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What co-production means, our projects and how to get involved.

Co-production is a way of working that recognises everyone has a contribution to make and all input is valued equally; in other words everyone has assets to bring to the table.  Co-production is an asset-based approach to public services, that enables the professionals providing, and people engaging with services to share power and responsibility, and to work together in an equal, reciprocal relationship.

It creates opportunities for people to access the support they need when they need it, and to contribute to positive change in the nature and the way services are provided.


There are a number of definitions of co-production. Although they may vary considerably, they’re all underpinned by a set of values and principles. We define co-production as:

Co-production is the process where providers/professionals and stockholding citizens equally share a whole-life responsibility for the creation and delivery of products, services, or knowledge. Co-production is underpinned by the principles of equality, diversity, access, and reciprocity.

Co-production is underpinned by four main principles:

1. Access

Co-production needs to be accessible if everyone is going to take part on an equal basis. Everyone should have the same opportunity to participate in a way that suits them best.

2. Diversity

Ensuring that a project is comprehensively inclusive and representative of the community can be challenging, but it is vital to the co-production process. Diversity takes precedence over equality and co-production should strive for maximum inclusivity.

3. Equality

It is fundamental to co-productive practice that no one group or person is more important than any other group or person. 

4. Reciprocity

This rather obscure word has been defined simply as, ensuring that people receive something back for putting something in, and building on people’s desire to feel needed and valued.

Unlike other forms of interaction that citizens may have with us, co-production is about blurring boundaries between professionals and those who engage with our services.  It’s about a whole life, equal involvement in the development of a service, product or idea. 

Whole-life involvement means from the beginning to the end i.e. joint development of an improvement to a local service, designing together new projects, and the joint management of an improved or new service.  We like to say: ‘imagining, planning, and managing together.  This means that through co-production our officers transition from being providers to facilitators and citizens who draw on services may become active partners in the management of the service.

As all input is valued equally it follows that contribution of skills and knowledge should be rewarded. Co-production cannot exist without the firm foundation provided by all these underpinning principles.

The continuum of interaction

The continuum describes the relationship between the various kinds of interaction. It is often represented as a ladder, staircase, or spectrum.

Step 1. Those who draw on services do not have input and may be subject to coercive penalties if they do not follow the rules.

Step 2. Citizens are helped to understand the service design and delivery so that they may draw on it effectively.

Step 3. The service provider informs people who use services about the provision and detail of how it operates, including what decisions have been made and why.

Step 4. Citizens who use services may be asked to participate in surveys or meetings. There is no power to affect real change at this step.

Step 5. Citizens are given various opportunities to express their views.  Service providers may also allow some influence over decision-making.

Step 6. People who use services get involved in designing them. They have genuine influence at the design stage only.

Step 7. People have an equal working relationship; those responsible for services and those who use them alike. They plan, design, and deliver together.

Step 8. Citizen-led projects and services and seek support from professionals in terms of advice, guidance, and available resources.

All eight steps represent some form of interaction, with different power relationships at each level. However, collaboration in some form only exists in part of the continuum.

What makes co-production different?

Sometimes it is difficult to spot the difference between co-production and other types of interaction. Our top tip is to look for whether citizens who draw on services and professionals seek to work together as equals as much as possible throughout a project or initiative – and respect the unique contribution that each can bring.

People co-producing should feel that they have shared responsibility. It’s about the providers of a service doing things with people - not doing things for or to them.

Doing to

  • The citizen has no choice or control
  • No participation
  • The citizens may feel helpless
  • Loss of community

Doing for

  • The citizen has no choice or control
  • Limited participation
  • Cared for - not involved
  • Skills and knowledge wasted

Doing together

  • The citizen has choice and control
  • The citizen actively participates
  • The citizen is able to contribute skills and knowledge
  • The community develops

It can’t have escaped your notice that there are a whole host of specialist words linked with co-production.  We’ve made this short information film that helps to define the most common words used in co-productive practice.


Video transcript

If you have an asset, you have something to contribute, whether you are a citizen or a professional. Professionals bring expertise and knowledge drawn from formal training and continuing professional development. Citizens bring lived experience and their own set of skills and expertise, equal to those of the professionals.

Co-design basically means coming together (experts and citizens) to create something that helps meet a need or solve a problem. If something is truly co-designed all parties are equally involved in the process.

Commissioning is the process by which health and care services are planned, purchased and monitored. Commissioning comprises a range of activities, including: assessing needs, planning services procuring services monitoring quality.

Citizens and decision-makers, or people who use services and service providers work together to plan, design and deliver a service which works for them all.
Th’e approach is value-driven holding to the maxim: ‘those who use a service are best placed to help design it.

Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical value systems, national origin, and political beliefs.

Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical value systems, national origin, and political beliefs.

A facilitator helps a group to work together better, understand their objectives, and plan how to achieve them. The facilitator remains neutral, meaning they do not take a particular position in proceedings.

All co-production processes involve some form of mutuality, a two way relationship between individuals, carers and public service professionals and between the individuals who are involved.

Reciprocity’ is a key concept in co-production. All participants have currency and contribute their own social capital to the developing project. As with any transaction they get a return for investment. This could be opportunities, recognition or training.

The word Stakeholder basically means any individual or groups who are positively or negatively impacted by a project, initiative, policy or organisation. They could be internal or external to Oxfordshire County Council.

We are looking for co-production to have a major positive impact on Oxfordshire services. Authentic co-productive practice will create the right conditions for
transformative service delivery and improve lives for people who use services.

Transparency is about making the way a decision has been arrived at, publicly visible. In addition, individuals should expect that anything said about them, shouldn’t be done without them.

What we’ve tried to do with this presentation is to share some reasonably simple definitions of technical words. Specialist language, like this, is useful when
communicating ideas and concepts with colleagues working within the same discipline. Specialist words aid precision and understanding in this arena.

However, technical language can be meaningless to someone not familiar with the field of co-production.

These technical words become nothing but jargon and jargon is a barrier to successful co-production.

We leave you with an additional word - Cobiquity. It was made up by Oli Williams in 2010 and incorporated in the report of his research into co-production.

His tongue-in-cheek definition has resonance. Too many people are mixing-up specialist words that have specific meanings and describe particular practice, which can only serve to confuse or distort meaning, inhibiting co-production.


If you’re interested in getting involved in co-production you’ll find more information on our Co-production Oxfordshire page.