In this blog that coincides with Scottish Co-production Week – #CoProWeekScot – Professor Colin Lindsay reflects on the importance of co-production for more responsive public services, and considers if there are lessons for PrOPEL Hub partners and employers interested in driving productivity and innovation in public, private and third sector workplaces.

It’s Scottish Co-production Week – an excellent initiative from the Scottish Co-production Network that celebrates how co-production puts people and communities at the heart of the support and services they’re part of. Co-production has gained significant traction in the design of Scottish public services – it’s been a long-standing priority in healthcare and is now a key theme in the ‘Scottish Approach’ to public services across a range of policy areas.

Co-production involves mechanisms that allow for the pooling of assets and resources by those agencies and professionals delivering public services and their service users (and potentially other stakeholders) to achieve better outcomes. My University of Strathclyde colleague (and former Chief Medical officer) Professor Sir Harry Burns has talked about co-production as a relationship of equals.

“Co-production is the process of active dialogue and engagement between people who use services and those who provide them. It is a process which puts service users on the same level as the service provider… Co-produced services work with individuals in a way that treats individuals as people with unique needs, assets and aspirations, but also as people that want support tailored to their needs. Services learn to work with people and not do things to them.”

At the Scottish Centre for Employment Research (SCER) at Strathclyde Business School, we have conducted extensive research on how co-production works in different settings. My own research with colleagues here at SCER and Sheffield Hallam University has focused on employability initiatives targeting single parents, which have a strong focus on collaboration and co-production as a route to building better quality and more personalised services. You can read some of our findings here.

Speaking with the local service providers delivering support and the single parents who used services, we were struck by the relationship between collaboration, co-production and innovation. Collaboration between different partner agencies with specific areas of expertise and the process of listening to, and co-producing services with, single parents stimulated: new ways of working and reaching out to partners and communities; genuinely joined-up and co-located services; and much more responsiveness and flexibility in the content of services – service providers, frontline workers and single parents spoke about having the freedom to ‘stop doing things’ that didn’t work and try new things that might work. Most importantly, single parents evaluated the services as providing a personalised approach, a sense of empowerment and the support that they needed.

We also spoke about key facilitators of co-production and innovation, including: up-front, flexible funding so that stakeholders and single parents could work together to build trust, share ideas and co-design services; governance structures that encouraged collaboration rather than competition for resources; new ways of working and managing people that supported collaborative problem-solving and shared learning; and investment in ‘boundary spanning’ jobs and roles that were specifically designed to foster partnership-working.

Our research adds to the evidence base that supporting co-production can be an important route to more person-centred, responsive and innovative public services. But there may also be useful insights for a broader range of organisations seeking to gain from innovation. Our partners in the ESRC PrOPEL Hub Project, led by Strathclyde Business School, are committed to working with businesses to improve innovation and productivity performance. There may be value in businesses thinking about lessons from collaborative public services that have successfully co-produced responses to so-called ‘wicked problems’ such as the risk of unemployment faced by vulnerable groups like single parents. Empowering ‘customers’ to co-produce their own solutions and voice their ideas; allowing frontline workers the autonomy to ‘stop doing things’ that don’t work and try something different; building in ringfenced time and space for people in different teams to learn together and learn with customers/service users… these lessons from the co-production agenda may be of value for any organisation interested in tapping the assets, energies and innovative potential of the widest range of stakeholders. 

If you represent an organisation interested in workplace change and innovation, you can find more information about the work of the PrOPEL Hub on our homepage.

If you would like to learn more about SCER’s research on co-production, you can contact Professor Colin Lindsay at: