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Coproduction and service user involvement

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Involving people who use services in the design and delivery of services can increase your impact as an organisation. Coproduction is where people who use services, and those that support them, work with professionals in an equal partnership towards shared goals (Social Care Institute for Excellence). This way of working may be especially relevant for organisations delivering public services, but coproduction can enhance the work of any organisation.

What is it not?

The term coproduction refers specifically to work with people with lived experience of the service or policy in question, rather than any citizen. Coproduction in this sense is distinctive from general participation work or partnership working between organisations.

Co-creation or co-design, where people are just involved in coming up with ideas, is not full coproduction but may be a step on the road to embedding coproduction in your way of working.

The diagram below (developed by the New Economic Foundation) can help you to understand where other forms of involvement sit in relation to coproduction.

Infographic: Coproduction and codesign leading to "doing with", Engagement, consultation and informing leading to "doing for", educating and coercion leading to "doing to"


The idea of coproduction has been around since the 1970s. It has a number of origins including academics and thinkers, and the disabled people’s and mental health service user movements. There are also references to coproduction in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View, and guidance to the Care Act 2014.

Principles of coproduction

The Social Care Institute of Excellence say that these four principles are crucial for coproduction to be done well. 

  1. Equality. No one is more important than anyone else. Everyone has something to contribute.
  2. Diversity. In coproduction approaches, it is important to proactively tackle underrepresentation and exclusion.
  3. Access. Ensure everyone can take part equally and participate fully. Accessibility might be physical, but it could also be about ways of working. Everyone should have equal access to information. 
  4. Reciprocity. Professionals or paid staff are rewarded for their input. When coproducing, people who use services are equal partners with professionals, so they should also get some sort of reward. Everyone should get something out for putting something in, building on a desire to feel needed and valued. Sometimes this could be payment or a gift, a payment in kind or an exchange.

Why is it important?

Whether you provide publicly funded services or not, there are a range of benefits to embedding coproduction in the way you work.

According to a report by the New Economics Foundation, commissioned by Mind, involving people in this way can help you develop services that are more effective at meeting need and empowering people. If this is done well, the people who participate can experience wellbeing gains, particularly if they feel more connected and valued.

Valuing lived experience and expertise is increasingly expected by funders. For example, the National  Lottery Community Fund look for initiatives to be ‘people-led’. For them, ‘people-led means involving the people who will benefit in the design and delivery of projects.’ Involving people with lived expertise in a decision making and delivery capacity may also be a way of delivering and demonstrating social value. 

Coproduction is encouraged by procurement regulations (The Public Contracts Regulations 2015 – Regulation 76 (8)):

"...contracting authorities may take into account any relevant considerations, including…the specific needs of different categories of users; [and] the involvement and empowerment of users."

As charitable organisations, it is important that we make a positive difference in what we do and how we do it. Especially if your work involves improving the lives of people who are disempowered, you can really maximise your impact by ensuring the way you work gives these people power in your organisation or service.

Case studies

  • The Basement Recovery Project works in both Calderdale and Kirklees to provide peer led recovery services to around 500 individuals a year, including community hubs and residential accommodation. The project follows on from previous activity which included a service user forum, a breakfast club, and a Christmas night shelter. The recovery project emerged from a desire to help people get well in the same community where they became unwell. It is run by people with lived experience who can also be role models for those using the service.
  • The Healthy Living Club in Lambeth, is a self-directed, dementia-centred club based in, but independent of, an extra-care housing association. The club comprises people with dementia and their carers from across the borough, some residents from the building, volunteers, and a part-time coordinator. They meet twice a week to take part in activities of their own choosing. The club used to be a dementia café funded by the local primary care trust. In the face of closure, the people using the club decided they would continue to meet and were supported by the coordinator, who agreed to work without pay until funding could be secured. It is now a vibrant place with everyone contributing to running the club and to all the decisions about how it is run, to the extent that they are able and willing to do so.
  • Macmillan’s community-led taskforces were set up to engage with seldom-heard-from groups and communities to understand sources of variation and inequalities, their impact, and how to tackle them. Adopting principles of coproduction, the taskforces work with partners to understand the root causes of exclusion and what can be done about them.
  • The Prison Reform Trust have set up a Prisoner Policy Network to ensure that the experiences and views, so prisoners drive their policy work.

More information

Last reviewed: 09 October 2019

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 09 October 2019

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