Co-production and participation – alive and kicking

January 31, 2018

From a mindfulness in schools mini hackathon

Innovative methods in participation

(A personal view)

I have been reading recently that the ‘old’ ways of co-production and participation don’t work in the tech environment and they should be replaced with user centred design and design thinking. I have to disagree.

First of all co-production and participation are still considered new ways of working in some sectors in this country and overseas – in some places they have barely gained traction and can’t possibly be seen as old. Co-production and participation represent something fundamentally important, which is that end users, service users, citizens, have a voice. Ordinary everyday people, some of whom may otherwise be marginalised and excluded – get to have an influence on the very products and services they buy and consume. Hoorah for that.

I am a big fan of user centred design and design thinking – I simply cannot see that these approaches are incompatible with co-production and participation. Last year in the UK, colleagues and I led and took part in one national participation conference with young people who use mental health services, two co-production days with young people who use social care services (see earlier blog) and, in New Zealand, participation workshops in residential care and  youth justice establishments. The highlight was co-producing with over 60 children in care at an Auckland theme park. In all of these sessions we employed user centred design approaches and the outputs reflect that.

My point is that if the ‘old’ ways used by workers in the public and community sectors are not helping us design useful and delightful tech products that end users actually want and enjoy, then the methods just need a little tweak. Remember all those participation projects of the past ten years have been run by dedicated people on practically non-existent budgets, and, in the early days, in the face of opposition from bosses and managers. Though highly skilled and innovative, participation workers have not had the benefit of UX training and resources, but in my experience they would jump at the opportunity and would be receptive to working in partnership with design thinking experts.

So let’s not sit in a lofty tech tower looking down on the unfortunates who don’t know as much as we do. Share experience and expertise – the public and community sectors will be receptive and what is more the design thinking experts might learn something from them too.

Yvonne, product owner at Mind Of My Own