A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
One authority is working with a national body that has developed a model of co-production that sees the users of services as co-producers, alongside professional staff, involving them not just in design but also in delivering services to their peers and communities. The approach fits easily with the values and practices of youth work, builds on good participation processes, and can be applied regardless of the nature of the provider/commissioner. Where it works well, it can help build a powerful local voice in support of the co-produced service.
The other local authority has decided that it no longer wishes to be a direct provider of services that could be delivered by other organisations, or by communities themselves, and youth work falls into this category. The authority has cut virtually all the money it previously spent on its youth service and has reduced grants to voluntary organisations. It now wants to engage communities and voluntary organisations in co-producing work with young people.
We’ve developed a definition for co-production in the second authority, based on one used by Governance International:
“Councils, voluntary and independent providers making better use of each other’s assets and resources to achieve the best possible outcomes and services for young people.”
In this model, young people are not directly involved in the co-production process (though that would be encouraged at local level) – the main partners are the local authority, voluntary and independent sector providers and potentially town and Parish Councils who may be able to bring both financial and concrete resources to support work with young people.
It certainly is not a commissioning model: the local authority is not bringing enough money to the table to be able to purchase services. The hope is that by bringing together organisations that have funding from other sources and providing a framework for planning youth provision, the total available resource can be used to meet the needs of young people by reducing duplication and focusing on agreed priorities.
It’s going to be an interesting journey, and I hope that along the way we don’t lose too many young people who would have benefited from provision if only anyone had been able to fund it. It will be important to find ways of making sure that young people are partners in co-production as well, so provision is built around their needs and includes their contribution to delivery. We’ll keep letting you know about progress through this blog.
Part of me keeps thinking back to Mark Smith’s 1983 book ‘Creators not Consumers’, and wondering why we keep reinventing the wheel.
I guess though that sometimes renaming and reframing a concept works as a way of bringing it to the attention of new audiences. And at least, unlike the emperor’s new clothes, there is something there at the heart of ‘co-production’.
Regional Youth Work Unit at Learning South West