Connecting, sharing and being kind – A recipe for coproduction...

Coproduction is on the up, there’s no doubt about that. More than ever, public services are venturing into new ways of engaging with people. It’s such an exciting time; now we can stop talking about if we coproduce and start talking about how we do it well.

I feel like we’re still a long way from realising the full benefits of coproduction. We are seeing a lot of action, but seeing action is different to feeling change. For me, a lot of this comes down to people having the bravery to strive for depth rather than breadth when it comes to engaging with people and creating change.

How can we reach this deep change? I don’t know the answer, but I think we might get closer to it if we dare to be brave in the ways we connect, share and show kindness.  

In saying that we need to connect, I don’t mean that we need to do more networking or build more links – I mean that we need to connect on a human level, to focus on all the things that we share in common rather than the few things that separate us. We have to stop talking about ‘patients’ and ‘professionals’ as if they are different things and stop splitting communities from organisations as though they exist independently of one another.

If we could do this, we’d create a more equitable starting point for conversations where all voices in a room are valued equally not prioritized by category or title. ‘Patients’ or ‘Service Users’ aren’t widgets on conveyor belts and ‘Professionals’ aren’t wonder-working robots. We are all human beings with gifts and imperfections, in some moments we’re experts in others we’re novices, sometimes we’re confident other times we’re vulnerable. If we could connect on these terms, we’d radically change how we come together to collaborate.

We could also radically change the way we connect by sharing more bravely. Public services across the UK have an abundance of assets and an abundance of challenges. They’re all separated out into labeled boxes, owned by certain people, sectors or organisations who are generally terrible at sharing them. To realise the benefits of collaboration at a deep level, responsibility needs to be shared; A&E overcrowding won’t be solved for as long as it’s the responsibility of emergency department consultants alone, the housing crisis won’t be solved for as long as it’s the responsibility of home builders alone.

So much coproduction is still done on terms where ownership is still held firmly in the hands of one person or one organization. We’ll feel real change when the agenda is shared, when assets and challenges are collectively owned.

Foundations for that sense of collective ownership require a basis of positive regard between collaborators. We need to start with the belief that most people set out each day wanting to do a good job and trying to make things better. They do that within the constraints they face, within the beliefs they hold and within the remit they have been given. Radical kindness is holding this in mind, even when we vehemently disagree with someone.

When we focus our attention on slandering a government minister or villainizing an organizational decision, we are part of creating unfertile ground for meaningful collaboration and dialogue. We polarize debate, cut off discourse, and probably hurt people’s feelings. Today alone I’ve seen abusive tweets from well-meaning senior clinicians to government ministers and I’ve heard stories of hardworking public servants being hit with placards by well-intentioned protestors – that’s just not OK. It’s unkind and also highly ineffective; it drives a wedge between people and makes collaboration between decision makers, workforces and the general public incredibly hard.

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t call out bad decisions or unjust action, but we should think about how we do it in a way that isn’t hurtful to individuals or the scope for future collaboration; kindness can help us do this skillfully.

While concepts of connection, sharing and kindness might be simple in theory, the realities of fundamental change are complex and can feel uncomfortable. To learn through the journey, we want to hear your stories of brave connection, brave sharing and brave kindness. Our next three blogs will take each topic in turn and will integrate what we’ve learned on each topic through Co:Create, our triumphs and failures, along with yours.

We can’t wait to hear from you!


Emma Ward