when I was out in LA I managed to fit in a catch-up lunch with John Thackara, whose book In the Bubble was a real source of inspiration for me when it was published a couple of years ago. Our conversation turned from sustainable design to communes, as we turned over the question of what tools and support people need in order to make it easier to share resources. Wannastartacommune is an inspired site, from its name to its content, on this question.This isn’t about ethereal or abstract debates about the principles of coproduction, but rather, simple legal, technological and practical issues that might enable groups of older people to pool assets in order to make them go further, for example.
And so to the bulk-buying project that has grown out of our Just Coping work in SILK. We’re currently working with the Digital Inclusion Team at CLG to business case an idea from our workshops with residents of the Parkwood Estate in Kent to make it easier for people to club together to buy stuff they need – simple, but genius, and it has the potential to make everyday life much better.
I was mentioning this project this morning when I met up with the new economics foundation. They are doing some fantastic work on coproduction and sharing resources. This pamphlet, by their new head of social policy Anna Coote, is a piece of original thinking that connects up the agenda around sharing resources for environmental and social reasons. nef are building a really interesting set of projects exploring different aspects of how to put coproduction into action. Just a few examples of this include:
Work on alternative currencies. The picture on this blog is of the ‘Lewes pound’ – an currency that John Thackara alerted me to, and designed to incentivise Lewes residents to shop locally. L from nef also told me about other areas who are developing alternative currencies, not only to support local businesses, but also to facilitate timebanking and to put a value on non-monetary resources people can contribute to their communities – for example Brixton should be getting their own pound later this year.
Work on procurement and commissioning models. There’s an essay about nef’s work with Camden on this issue in the pamphlet I’ve been editing for IDeA – will post this up once it’s launched at the end of March. Other councils such as Kirklees are also trying to find ways of embedding the principles of coproduction into the way in which they commission services – no mean feat. This is the detail where the devil resides. If we don’t get it right coproduction will remain a thinktank idea rather than a practical agenda.
Work on measuring value and impact. There are various models out there for measuring impact at an individual level – not least the stuff on ‘my metrics’ that J and I wrote about in Journey to the Interface – but the real prize will be in helping local councils and other public service organisations measure value from coproduction models in new ways. There’s a real tension between trying to monetise or turn everything into numbers to make measurement easier, and asserting that some value just can’t be converted in this way. Again, nef’s work on the social return on investment is pretty advanced here, but there’s lots more to be done.
Work on the core values of coproduction. One of the things we discussed this morning is the fact that it’s too easy for the underlying value system of coproduction (about mutuality, respect, recognition) to get lost in its translation to a ‘mainstream’ political agenda – see for example what has happened with self-directed support, which too often is simply seen as individual budgets. In my view, the only way we can come up with a credible and authentic account of what coproduction means is to draw on emerging practice across many sectors, from housing to social care to policing. How can we connect people together who are pioneering in this field, in order to give them even more rocket fuel to keep going?