Co-production: Beyond the Buzz

"Co-production" is a popular buzz word these days. The shift toward doing things with people rather than for or at them has grown in popularity for the delivery of third sector services. 

It's been a cornerstone of the Time to Shine ethos, but what have we actually learned about its effectiveness and its challenges? 

Our local evaluator Care Connect did an in-depth analysis of these questions based on our first-round project Young at Arts. Here's a brief summary of what they found; the complete report can be downloaded at the end of this post. 

What worked 

The design of Young at Arts included recruiting "Ambassadors" to reach out to older people directly and encourage them to get involved with the many cultural activities on offer. These Ambassadors also helped to design some of the events, such as the Spring Fling. Young at Arts staff observed:  

"The ambassadors were fundamental to the success of Spring Fling. It was entirely their event and it wouldn't have been anything without their hard work and creative ideas.... They were so proud of what they had created and that feeling was a pleasure to see."

Harnessing the skills and connections of the Ambassadors both helped engage more older people in the project as well as increased the social contact of the Ambassadors themselves, so it was a win-win. 

Overcoming the challenges

Young at Arts was not able to recruit as many Ambassadors as they originally intended and those they did recruit relied on ongoing training and support. One shared that she felt out of her comfort zone at first and wondered, "Can I do it?"

With the right support from staff, however, the group flourished and was able to take ownership of the work. This finding has implications for sustainability and capacity, of course, as it is crucial to have the right staff resource in place so that volunteers can succeed. 

The role for the Ambassadors also meant providing flexibility in terms of commitment: 

"I don't want to get into things I can't get out of. I want to go when I can go." 

Demanding the same level of work and commitment that would be expected of a paid staff may be a turn-off and discourage some volunteers from getting involved. 

Conclusions

Without a doubt, Young at Arts found that involving participants in the design and delivery of the service resulted in a more well-rounded and effective service. It may require extra resource from staff, especially in the beginning, but the outcomes speak for themselves. 

"It will surpass all of your expectations and can offer a completely new and alternative thinking to your programme. Don't underestimate the power, commitment and creativity of older people."

Read the full report here

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