Before giving you the answer I want to introduce the Armchair Critic.
According to Cambridge Dictionaries online an armchair critic is; a person who knows, or says they know, a lot about a subject without having any direct experience of it. Recognise anyone you know?
So… what is the difference between co-producton and the 6 Nations Rugby Championship?
Well, one of them involves:
- a limited number of people who are at the heart of the action,
- these are the people who make the difference (the star performers),
- they practice their skills, learn new ones and hone them to perfection, and
- they work towards achieving success, together, as a team.
Surrounding the people involved in the action, you have an army of armchair critics. These are the people who talk about what is happening, and produce huge amounts of commentary and views on how things ‘should be done’.
So, that’s co-production. You can read about the 6 Nations Rugby Championship here.
Apologies if that comparison seems a bit odd. All week I’ve had to listen to one of my teenage sons (the one that plays rugby) getting very irritated by 6 Nations Rugby Armchair Critics. It did however remind me of the situation with co-production that I’ve been observing lately. It seemed to me that more people were talking about co-production than those actually doing it, a regular army of armchair critics.
However, good news. This week I went to an event organised by a group of co-production practitioners in North Wales, Working With Not To (WWNT). It restored my confidence that we are capable of doing things, rather than just talking about them.
This was an opportunity to spend some time with people who are at the heart of co-production action in Anglesey and Gwynedd. It was great to see people share knowledge, learn from each other, and do it in a co-productive way. The group is organised by Pam Luckock and Fran O’Hara, and I would recommend looking at the WWNT website for details of what they have been doing and future events.
It was good to experience what co-production means, close up, with the people who are making it happen. For any armchair critics that might be reading this, here are three things I took from the event:
- Consultation is not co-production. Just asking someone for feedback, or what they think about your clever idea is not co-production. Co-production involves treating people as equals, and expecting that they will be making a contribution to whatever you develop together.
- Service user experience is priceless (so you probably need to pay). This might be controversial but,….. if you ask someone to share their valuable experience, insight and wisdom, you generally expect to pay for it. Why should that be different just because they happen to be a user of the service they are helping to co-produce? The ‘professionals’ will be being paid, so why not the people with the ‘lived experience’?
- If you talk the talk, walk the walk. If you are going to discuss and comment on co-production, you really should apply the principles of co-production to what you are doing. Develop your strategy/guidance/method statements in a co-productive way. This might even require ‘service users’ being involved in some super-duper high level strategy meetings… now that would be interesting, and quite terrifying for some people I’d imagine.
So, if any of the armchair critics fancy getting close to the action, keep an eye on the WWNT website or Twitter, @WorkingWithNot2. Look out for one of their events and get down onto the pitch with the players (or at least into the stadium).
So, what’s the PONT?
- Theory, guidance and commentary are necessary, but it is practical action that makes the real difference.
- If you are going to talk the talk, walk the walk. Follow co-productive principles in how you develop the guidance and commentary.
- Beware of armchair critics. I will always listen to someone who has some ‘skin in the game’, before an armchair critic (no matter how much TV they’ve watched).
Here’s a picture of Pam and Fran, so that you can recognise them when you go to the next WWNT event.
Picture Source: WWNT website.
Finally, just to prove I’m not totally armchair based, I did speak a bit at the event. It was all about the lessons learnt from trying to develop Good Practice Wales, co-productively.
Here is snippet from the relevant section of the graphic minutes that Fran records, the full set will be on the WWNT website.
From the embrace of my Sunday armchair, amen to this and total respect to my dear friend Pam – and Fran.
As it happens, I am rewriting a thought piece about people needing meaning to make things happen for an employee engagement group (it ended up as a rant against chattering leadership and the crocodile tears with which it badges its sincerity – no particular target!). And meaning is for everyone involved, otherwise it is all nonsense. This is also what coproduction means to me. My brief time with Kafka Brigade and also in the private sector is teaching me much. Mary
There is a comment on this post from @Nosapience I think you will agree with.
While writing the post I was getting anxious that co-production will become discredited by the people with ‘no skin in the game’ jumping on the bandwagon and ‘giving permission’ to the rest of us to do what we have been trying to do for years.
Good to hear from you,
As Pam says, there are no experts and the more voices and assets in the conversation the better.
The more we look on people’s experiences as assets that will help improve things, the better all round.
Thank you Chris. It definitely felt like we were all on the pitch on Weds… and as coproduction tends to be, it was a little messy, intense and complex at times but the energy from 60+ people in a room wanting to talk and contribute was fantastic. Also to connect, this is huge feedback from participants, ‘I came here to meet someone I should have known already’, proving that taking a practical co-productive approach and being open to sharing our assets – whatever they may be… space, knowledge, skills, connections, energy, (and humour in your case Chris!) and even money if there happens to be some, can create change. We all part of a one big great team growing coproduction in Wales.
I think that the best things happen when things are a little bit messy and intense.
Mary who’s also commented once said to me that the a really good event should be like the best house party you every attended,…..”noisy, crowded and everyone leaves wanting more.”
That’s a fair objective I reckon.
I was great to connect with new people on Tuesday – especially those I should have know already.
Looking forward to catching up again soon.
We have a bit of an armchair problem in organisations today. Not acceptance of it, or understanding of it as an issue, but self awareness that the person in the armchair could be YOU. We seem to be surrounded by people sat in their chairs banging on about how important it is for people to participate. Blathering on about the importance and possibilities and riding the wave of popular thinking, without changing their own practice, because they are unwilling to accept that they are say in the proverbial armchair. They are the sort of people who write a ‘coproduction strategy’, a tool of the old hierarchies, used to give other people permission to do stuff!
Coproduction has to fight not to become the next armchair fad that will go the way of all fads. I’m not a believer in the concept of coproduction, I’m an old practitioner, and I have to constantly check I haven’t inadvertently, sat back in the armchair!
Once again whatsthepont on fine, insightful form. PS when I scream at the telly, the referee can actually hear me!
Screaming at the telly is a great pastime.
As good a workout as a 10K jog apparently.
Unfortunately my ‘over use of the vernacular’ does spill out when I get to visit the stadium.
One of my kids now lectures me on not opening my mouth because I embarrass him (I actually blame that on spending too much time spectating at Cardiff Blues games – they would try the patience of a Saint).
I’m with you on the armchair organisation problem, particularly where it is connected to people riding the wave of popular thinking.
I was involved in sustainable development work a while back and eventually lost my enthusiasm because it had been hijacked by the armchair mob.
That was a real shame, and I do home they don’t get their hands on co-production.
On the self awareness point – I’m wondering if it should be mandatory to go out and spend some time with practitioners? A sort of enforced ‘back to the floor’ meets ‘secret millionaire’ programme?
Also, turning that on it’s head, put service users in the board room, wasn’t there an Eddie Murphy film on the topic? Things worked out fine as I recall.
Thank you as ever,
I really enjoy your observations,
I will be listening out for you screaming on March 9th.
Reblogged this on Nosapience's Blog and commented:
Once again whatsthepont on insightful form, albeit with a curmudgeonly smudge from me added to the end.
[…] it’s not all bad news, there are reasons for hope. My experiences of co-production and working with organisations like Working With Not To make the think “there is another way”. […]