What is Co-Production?

Co-production relates to many of this blog’s themes, such as the local economy, mutuality and community assets.  I’m grateful to Mark Woodhead for introducing me to co-production.  The New Economics Foundation has published a free ebook “Co-production: A Manifesto for growing the core economy“.  If you want to know more about co-production, this paper is a good place to start.

The Core Economy

My aim is to explore co-production’s relationship with some of my key themes and particularly the local economy.  You will note the term “core economy” in the subtitle to the NEF paper and this is a good place to start.  Edgar Cahn, in the forward to the ebook, writes:

Alvin Tofler reminds us of the obvious in his question to Fortune 500 executives: “How productive would your work force be if they were not toilet trained?”

Although the core economy is the foundation for all economies, people often take it for granted.  The relationships between people and families in a locality generate the assets underpinning other economies.  The core economy is essentially mutual.  In an ideal world, people find a role where they can offer and receive support to and from others.

The non-toilet trained workforce may be an amusing picture but it effectively illustrates the value of contributions to the economy we don’t value because we don’t see them.  When we meet someone in the marketplace we don’t have to ask ourselves whether they have been toilet trained.

Who Contributes?

It clearly has a feminist dimension because women provide much of the core economy.  However, it is certainly not restricted to women because everyone contributes in some way to the core economy.  Older people, particularly after retirement, make significant contributions.

People undervalue the core economy, the primary source of economic value, in comparison with the local marketplace where financial transactions take place. Even more so when compared with the activities of the corporate executives we hear so much about; those captains of industry to whom we owe so much.

The core economy is the source of many community assets but these assets are infrequently measured in financial terms and usually not at all.  Where the core economy is weak, communities might experience higher crime rates, for example.  They have a weaker local marketplace because a thriving neighbourhood marketplace depends upon the core economy.

Page 12 of the NEF document mentions three central factors that account for the failure of the delivery of public services.  These perhaps illustrate how a strong core economy supports local economic activity, including but not restricted to financial transactions.

Relationships Deliver Public Services

Relationships deliver just about everything.  They are fundamental to the marketplace but the market cannot do everything.  Neither can centralised bureaucracies.  The more people know like and trust one another, the greater the chances are they will look out for one another.  The marketplace can deliver goods and services but these do not include the core goods and services delivered by the core economy.

The story was the public sector provides the welfare safety net; the voluntary sector identifies holes in the net and fills them.  Co-production suggests the core economy provides the safety net and public services make a massive mistake when they attempt to replace local relationships with bureaucratic solutions.

Relationships Between Professionals and Their Clients are Mutual

Of course, too often professional-client relationships become dependency relationships. The teacher needs her pupils as much as they need her.  When her pupils are autonomous learners, she benefits from being a part of a dynamic learning environment.

When my doctor told me I needed to lose weight, he depended on me to collaborate with the health service for my benefit.  The next step might be for me to share my experience of losing weight with others, so that they too can lose weight.  No-one’s ever asked me to do that!  But think of the benefits to the health service if patients shared in support for other patients.  The NEF document provides several examples of exactly this type of thing.

Social Networks Make Change Possible

Centralised bureaucratic models of service provision, where professionals plan and deliver services, erode relationships within communities.  The same social change that has led to the loss of local marketplaces have also eroded essential social networks.

The aim is not withdrawal of public services so much as remodelling them on mutual lines.  Just as the retail co-operative movement transformed local economies between the mid-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, so mutual approaches can transform health and social services, policing, education and just about everything.

So, that’s a brief introduction to co-production.  What do you think?  How can we learn to make best use of the core economy to support local people and build a marketplace?

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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The Internet and the Social Economy - Community Web Consultancy - April 27, 2016 Reply

[…] those elements not described as business are missing.  It is community activity, sometimes called core economy, that builds relationships and supports local […]

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