What is co‑production?

Co‑production is a way of working where people come together in an equal partnership to create something new, or make changes to an existing situation.

Co-production is based on the idea that change works best when it involves the people it affects, exploring together to find a way forward that everyone can be part of.

Co-production is increasingly being talked about for the value it can add in healthcare, social care, mental health services and organisational development.

What is the difference between co-production, co-design and co-creation? We’ve summarised the key points below but in many cases, the difference is small. In our experience, when it comes to collaboration, what you do and how you do it are a lot more important than what you call it.

We think that if you do them well, all these approaches have merits. Our advice is to focus on what’s possible for you and what will make the biggest difference to the people involved.

Co‑production – a comprehensive approach to making collaborative change that prioritises power‑sharing, inclusiveness and openness. Especially popular in health and community settings, but gaining traction elsewhere.

Co‑creation – similar to co‑production in that it is a thorough, end-to-end approach. Generally used to describe inviting people to take part in an existing change process (rather than collaborating in creating a new process) – although we would argue that co‑production can include this as well. Often used in commercial and academic settings.

Co‑design – collaboratively designing products or services in an open and inclusive way. Sometimes viewed as its own thing and sometimes seen as one of the four components of co-production (along with co‑delivery, co‑governance and co‑evaluation). Popular in creative and digital development.

Starting out with co-production can be hard. One reason is that definitions vary wildly, making it difficult to get everyone on the same page before you begin. In reality, co-production is different wherever you do it, so the only way to find out what it’s going to be like for you is to start trying things out and seeing what works in your context. That’s why we help people to explore the opportunities in front of them, reflecting on what works and building new plans as they go.

We’ve found that the benefits and advantages of co‑production are similar to other approaches to collaboration (if they are done well):

  • More effective, widely accepted and long-lasting change
  • A more efficient change process
  • Services that are more suited to people’s needs
  • Improved wellbeing and social connections

The benefits in detail

The essential components of co-production

We have produced a list of what we think are the essential components of co-production, developed collaboratively over the past 5 years:

  • equal
  • inclusive
  • open
  • human
  • transparent
  • creative
  • positive
  • action-focused
  • thorough
  • iterative

Find out more about the ‘components of co-production’