The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

What is co-production? Moving from theory into practice

How does co-production happen? Finding solutions, collaboration, empowerment and sharing responsibility.

I have considered previously how research indicates that co-production is powerful. However, I am constantly thinking more about what this really means ‘on the ground’. In the first post of the new year, I will explore some thinking about what this means to me as we continue trying to deliver the best outcomes for young people and their families, set against an increasingly challenging national landscape.

Evolution of thinking

During the festive break I found some time for reflection and further thinking – something we often find significantly lacking in the hectic day-to-day SENCO existence.  The more I thought about what co-production was, the more I thought about why and how and what is the label about? 

Co-production requires a relocation of power into the hands of families and young people

We are all guilty of being absorbed into cultures and language use; certainly, I have been many times during the last two decades. On reflection, I believe it’s more important to think about how we find solutions. Working together as part of a solution-focused partnership is more important than creating and labelling a term. After all, ‘good practice is still good practice’?!

What is co-production?

In endeavouring to answer this question, I explored the term further. It appears that co-production has historical roots in civil rights and social care in the USA. In the UK, usage in healthcare and social services has come to indicate a model of service where user consultation facilitates effective delivery.

Collaborative co-production requires that users are experts in their own circumstances (which families often are) and capable of making decisions. Professionals need to move away from being fixers to being facilitators (I wrote about SENCO skills over a decade ago with specific reference to this).

For this method to be truly transformative, co-production requires a relocation of power into the hands of families and young people. This requires the development of relationships with front-line professionals who can facilitate such partnerships, which in turn necessitates training for the professionals to be empowered to take on such a role and support families.

Other voices

To develop my thinking, I asked for some other opinions.

Claire Ryan is a parent who I’ve collaborated with previously. Here’s her response.

For me, co-production is a partnership based on trust and respect. It can only be achieved by being aware of, and if necessary, addressing the following.

  • Power imbalances will set any co-production up to fail. Working together to identify and remove any barriers is a powerful way to set the tone for any joint working.  
  • Identifying individual skills and what their desired roles are. Roles shouldn’t always be about a job title; parents have key skills which should be utilised in order for everyone to feel they are valued and respected as an equal part of the team.
  • Desired levels and methods of involvement. Co-production doesn’t always mean equal workload, or how the work is carried out: it is about fairly and appropriately sharing the work involved, using various methods if necessary.  
  • Jointly identify outcomes and goals of what is being co-produced. Co-production is about working together towards a joint goal, which all involved can fully invest in.
  • Finally, and most importantly for me, respect all input in whatever form it is presented. Co-production isn’t about who does the most work, who is in charge, or even about individual achievements. It’s about being a team. It’s a joint effort which includes and involves everyone. It is also an excellent method of assessing and reflecting on your flexibility, adaption and inclusive practices.   


Through these discussions I was also able to engage with @BarnsleySEND. Here are his views. 

When I first heard the term co-production it was in relation to special educational needs and/or disability (SEND). I don’t remember which service it was or from which document/policy I read or heard it referenced but it sparked a real interest that has grown and grown over the last three years.

After about 10 minutes of searching the term online, I came across The Parable of the Blobs and Squares. I was hooked and have gone on to read a substantial amount about co-production. Truth is, the guiding principles, beautifully voiced by Brian Blessed in the video, are as far as I really needed to research in order to build a model of co-production around my local SEND services (the process) and Barnsley SEND families (the context).

On a personal level, I found the true meaning of co-production really easy to understand. ‘Death by theory’ is often the safe zone that many people of limited talent rely on. Co-production like many other wonderful concepts is more about desire and bravery than theory and measurement. Stop weighing the pig and just feed it…and all that jazz!

The way I have interpreted co-production/co-responsibility/co-design into a model of creating true parental voice is nothing like the bastardised version I see in local authority documents and policies, antiquated parent ‘participation’ or tweets from executive leaders/anyone who lists their number of years’ experience before anything else.

I would love to work with open minded people and initially explore the point that almost all other countries refer to co-production as co-responsibility. I know that in the SEND parent ‘participation’ world there has always been a willingness from parents to share responsibility, but maybe our cultural obsession with production is what is stopping it from working?


So, what can we actually do?

As regular readers will know, I always try to be very practical and realistic: what can we do to improve outcomes and lives of young people and families? These initial conversations towards the end of the last year prompted me to open discussions with PIPS and Elly Chapple, where we thought about developing an event to discuss what co-production meant to parents/carers and professionals, as part of our developing thinking.

To this end we established our Working Together Conference, where we have tried to draw together parents/carers and professionals who have all had successful outcomes for young people by joint working and collaborative approaches. (See the draft programme.)

Watch this space for further thinking about the value of co-production as a term

The event doesn’t presume to showcase co-production. We have established a varied programme with over half the sessions led by parents/carers explaining how positive outcomes have been realised from working together. 

During the event we hope to gather delegate’s views on the sessions and their own experiences to try and develop a deeper understanding of the power of joint working and collaboration, and maybe even understand what co-production means to others in the system.

In essence, watch this space for further thinking about the value of ‘co-production’ as a term versus the intent of collaboration and joint working. One thing I am sure about: in the current climate partnerships are essential for success, however we term them.

Further Reading

What is co-production? by Alba Realpe and Professor Louise M Wallace on behalf of the Coventry University Co-creating Health Evaluation Team

Co-production in promoting resilience – what does this mean for schools?

Co-production in primary schools: a systematic literature review by Marlies Honingh, Elena Bondarouk, Taco Brandsen

A Co-production model: Five values and seven steps to make this happen in reality



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