What is co-production?

The NESTA and New Economics Foundation (nef) working definition of co-production suggests that:

Co-production means delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours. Where activities are co-produced in this way, both services and neighbourhoods become far more effective agents of change.*

Similarly, the national Co-production Critical Friends Group suggests the following definition:

Co-production is a relationship where professionals and citizens share power to plan and deliver support together, recognising that both partners have vital contributions to make in order to improve quality of life for people and communities.**

At the beginning of the ‘What could a co-production lab be for Leeds?’ research project, the Leeds City Lab partners attempted a local definition of co-production based on our initial understanding of the concept:

Co-production involves establishing a process in a time and place in which people who have some common stake in a project, idea, or place are willing to cross boundaries (organizational, disciplinary, spatial, power) that might normally divide them. These kinds of boundary crossings create potential to discuss issues that matter, uncertain of what will come out of this sharing. Participants put their own ideas at risk, committed to doing so in an egalitarian way that rejects the use of power, and instead commit to communicating with compassion, intimacy, and honesty – exposing vulnerabilities which can unearth the hidden strengths in shared understandings.

To go alongside both the national Critical Friends definition and the Leeds City Lab local definition, the Critical Friends Group suggest values and principles below which show how quality and depth of co-production can be achieved:

  • Sharing power
  • Equality and partnership
  • Changing the way the whole system works
  • Being accessible and inclusive: this might include paying people for their time, or valuing their contributions in another way
  • Encouraging reciprocity and mutual support between people
  • Using assets and resources and recognising what people already contribute
  • Being open and transparent***

Leeds City Lab has been imagined as a kind of of ‘third space’ between the public and private spheres^ in which co-production involves equal partnerships amongst various actors. The Leeds City Lab aims to be a vehicle for bringing together these actors to experiment with localized decision-making, sharing research, policy-planning and other activities that seeks to avoid the typical split of either bottom-up or top-down approaches.
Find out more about examples of co-production activities here.

There is a whole wealth of research conducted on co-production by NESTA and the NEF – read more by clicking on the links below:

The Challenge of Co-Production: How equal partnerships between professionals and the public are crucial to improving public service

Public Services Inside Out

Co-Production: Right here, Right now


* Boyle D and Harris M. 2009. The Challenge of Co-Production. How equal partnerships between professionals and the public are crucial to improving public services. NESTA.London. p11

** and *** Joseph Rowntree Foundation, think personal act personal and New Economics Foundation. 2013.

^ Routledge, P. 1996 The Third Space as Critical Engagement. Antipode, 28: 399–419