Lauren Pennycook is a Senior Policy and Development Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust. Lauren manages the Trust’s Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project, which seeks to support Community Planning Partnerships to implement a wellbeing outcomes approach.  

‘Nothing about us without us’ is a common call to action by service users and local communities to those with power over the purse strings, proposing new policy, and delivering public services. In a bid to tackle the wicked problems of the twenty-first century, working with the recipients of services and citizens can deliver cost-effective, co-ordinated public services informed by the needs of those they are designed to support.

What does participation look like?

But while few would dispute the rhetoric, how do we engage and include those outside of our office, our formal structures, and our sector, in reality? What does equal and reciprocal participation between those with different levels of resources, capacity and accountability look like? And how do we overcome barriers such as a lack of commonality around language, expectations, and strategies employed by our partners to bring those outside, within?

There is much misunderstanding around the term co-production – it means different things to different people in different sectors, with particular connotations in academia and the health and social sectors. We at the Carnegie UK Trust define it as a way of working which recognises people as assets; includes the perspectives, skills and experiences of all – from our immediate colleagues to our unusual friends; supports people to meaningfully participate; and through which public services become change agents which facilitate people’s inclusion in society.

Merits clear, methodologies are not

While the merits are clear, the methodologies and mechanisms for facilitating co-produced public services are not. But when a co-production approach is essential, as in Northern Ireland following transformational local government reform, how can new partnerships, with new duties to improve wellbeing at the local level, be supported to work beyond siloes, sectors, and simply business as usual?

In a policy and political vacuum rendered by the lack of a Northern Ireland Executive, and experience of supporting a wellbeing and an outcomes based approach in the draft Programme for Government, the Carnegie UK Trust, through its Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project, is seeking to explore just this – by experimenting and innovating at the local level. The Trust is providing substantial financial and in-kind support to three Community Planning Partnerships – operating in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon; Derry and Strabane; and Lisburn and Castlereagh – on two twin-tracked themes of co-production and shared leadership. 

Community Places

From co-commissioning through to co-design; co-delivery; and co-assessment, the Trust has commissioned Community Places to support the project participants on integrating co-production into public services and offer citizens a different – more inclusive, enabling – role, which utilises their strengths and capabilities. At the same time, the Centre for Effective Services will be providing support on how to share leadership within, and outwith, partnership structures – to diffuse power and decision-making abilities; to maximise collective resources; and to improve outcomes which are greater than the sum of the partners’ parts. 

From cross-jurisdictional learning symposiums to workshops; toolkits; and learning modules, we’ll be supporting local policymakers and practitioners to explore what works. While our direct support is available to the three project participants, the learning captured will be available across Northern Ireland and the UK and Ireland more widely. Because when one local authority in one jurisdiction of the UK and Ireland makes progress on co-producing public services, we all benefit – from the improvement in individuals’ agency; to our local place plans reflecting the needs and aspirations of our communities; to the provision of effective and informed national public services. We’re looking forward to innovating for all; encouraging local public service providers to adopt the principles of co-production; and building on the body of good practice on co-production across the UK and Ireland. 

For updates on the Embedding Wellbeing in Northern Ireland project, follow the Carnegie UK Trust on Twitter @CarnegieUKTrust and #NIwellbeing. The Embedding Wellbeing Support Group, designed to assist members on improving wellbeing outcomes, can also be accessed here.