Co-Production: learning from Lucie Stephens (part 1 of a series of posts)

A few weeks ago, I was invited to MaRS for a talk by Lucie Stephens about co-production. I'd never heard about co-production before, and I'd never heard of nef (new economics foundation) either. So I didn't know what to expect.

I was so inspired by Lucie's talk at MaRS, and I had the opportunity to meet up with her a few days afterwards to ask her some questions. I shared what I learned on our internal blog, and wanted to share them here, too. But first, I wanted to give a bit of an overview of co-production, and then get into what I've learned about it over the past few weeks.

Co-production: a working definition

Our team at CIWC has been exploring design thinking and other methods/processes for solving complex problems. Co-production is a way to design and deliver services for communities, with communities. Here's a bit of background on Lucie's/nef's definition of co-production.

Co-production is about empowering people who have a need for a service/program to co-design it alongside professionals (e.g., from the government), and co-deliver it as well. It's about sharing power, in the truest sense; rather than consulting at people and delivering a program to them, co-production seeks to build solutions alongside the people who need them, and build programs with them.

Six elements of co-production

There are lots of things that might look like co-production, but nef has determined that when co-production is happening, these six elements are always present.

  1. People as assets. nef believes there are three parts to consider in our economy: the environment, the financial markets, and (what's most abundant), people. The traditional sense of economics was based in scarcity; gold is scarce and therefore highly valued, but traditionally, people/human resources aren't valued as highly because they might not be as scarce. nef believes in focusing on people as what they call the core economy, and one of the principles behind it is that people all have something to contribute, and therefore should play an active role in the community's well being.
  2. Building on assets. Another principle behind co-production is building on our abundant assets (people), and finding the opportunities where they might make the best use of their skills. It's about leaving no one's talents behind.
  3. Mutuality. Co-production happens when there is a true partnership occurring between professionals and the end users of something. It's not a partnership in the traditional sense, where professionals (government) are still just consulting at people; rather, there's a true reciprocity of expertise and wisdom shared, and each person brings equal levels of value to the equation.
  4. Networks. Another element inherent in co-production is the ability to transcend boundaries - to work between networks and diverse populations to make sure that where linkages can be made, they are, so that the best outcome/service can be achieved.
  5. Blurring distinctions. This speaks, again, to mutuality, and goes a step further. Where in traditional service delivery models, the professionals develop and deliver services, in co-production, there might be solutions created where users are delivering services, too. There's a blurring of titles or traditional hierarchy in co-production where power is shared more evenly.
  6. Facilitating. Another important thing that happens in co-produced scenarios is that the participants are truly empowered to make decisions for themselves. In co-production, each user that's part of the system has a stake in the outcome, and if something were to go wrong, it's OK - it's a matter of coming back together and working out a solution.
During the MaRS talk, and at the co-production meetup this past Tuesday, Lucie gave several examples of where co-production has worked in the UK, and then took a few questions from the participants. I'll end this blog post here so you can digest some of the fundamentals of co-production.

As well, you can learn more about co-production on nef's website, and download this publication by nef that gives a more detailed overview of this method: Co-production - A manifesto for growing the core economy.

I will get into some examples of how co-production is being used, and some of Lucie's answers to our questions about co-production, in a follow up blog post.


  1. Hey meznor, glad you liked Lucie Stephen's talk on co-production. You might be interested in our next speaker, Molly Harrington, leading a conversation on Public Sector Innovation. Check it out here: http://inthepubliceye.eventbrite.com/

  2. I'he read your blogs , all are awesome and i am willing to book mark your site