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Is co-production the same as collaboration? Am I co-producing? If not, should I be?



Like collaboration, co-production is another buzzword you are no doubt hearing a lot about. It has been used to describe different things in different settings and definitions vary. Here, let’s think about the ways co-production and collaboration are similar and how they differ. Then tackle which approach suits what kind of situation.

So, what is co-production?

Co-production is a process where providers and/or professionals and users share responsibility for the creation or improvement and delivery of products, services or knowledge.

It is a term that is often co-opted and applied to different settings and, in some instances, misappropriated by being used to describe many kinds of stakeholder engagement.

What about co-design, UX design and co-creation?

Co-design and experience-led (UX) design involve stakeholders in the design process. Improvement programmes benefit from the user perspective but seeking user input isn’t the same as co-production. Neither is a user-created service ‘co-production’.

The last one to throw into the mix is ‘co-creation’, a term that is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘co-production’ to describe the whole-life cycle of design and delivery. But ‘co-creation’ is also a term that is used more broadly in management/economics circles, where end-users play a central role in creating value, e.g. to come up with new product lines. The term ‘co-creation’ has also been borrowed to describe participatory arts practice.

So, how is co-production different from collaboration?

Co-production is a form of collaboration. Whilst the user experience is important in the creation or improvement and delivery of products, services or knowledge, a whole-life equal relationship with the user is an essential ingredient of co-production, not collaboration.

Co-production involves co-producing with users. So, if you were trying to improve an exercise programme for example, you would co-produce with the current and potential consumers of a class. If you were going to improve the programme collaboratively, consumers should be involved, but they needn't necessarily share responsibility for developing and delivering the programme with providers and/or professionals.

When should I seek to co-produce?

Co-production has the power to transform the design and delivery of products, services and knowledge. To be successful, it requires time and action by all those in the relationship. All parties need to be equal and be prepared to share power and responsibility. Time, resources and support are needed to enable co-production. Where these conditions can exist then creating/improving and delivering in this way should be pursued.

Next time on the blog, a break from terms and definitions! You know what collaboration is, what it’s for, have developed a collaborative mindset, and want to collaborate. If you need help finding potential collaborators, the next blog is for you!


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