Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Why charities should look to private business for inspiration...

As much as it pains me to disagree with her, (and at the risk of upsetting my 666th follower on twitter - for she has that dubious honour), I find myself at odds with Deborah Allcock Tyler's view of looking to the private sector for models and ideas in her column of Third Sector Magazine on 12th April 2011 (prĂ©ci’d = charities are better at what they do than private business is as what it does, so we shouldn’t bother to see what we might learn from them that might benefit us) - surely we should be open to cross sector discussions, especially when some of their management practices put ours to shame (take a closer look at McDonalds), they have happier employees who are less likely to take them to tribunals than us, and have a workforce who are valued better by their employers based on more of ours expecting to leave our sector in 5 years than theirs...

just as there are some 'bad charities', and these are the exception to the norm, there are some 'bad businesses' who are the exception - it’s just a shame that they're mostly in the finance industry...

And surely, we’re both faced with similar challenges: dealing with recession, government expecting us to do more to strengthen society, managing costs, supporting our people – why does there seem to be such an engrained cultural resistance to exploring and addressing these together in the third sector/civil society?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Is co-production the key to a more equal and equitable society?

OK – so, some background first:
Its increasingly argued (and accepted) that the root cause of the causes of most of the ills in our society are due to inequality (

Separate to this is the increasing interest in the delivery of public services through what’s called ‘co-production’ – the concept that as the recipient of services, it’s better to do ‘with us’ than ‘to us’; after all, surely as a patient we know best what treatments or care packages we’ll be more likely to engage with?

Last week I participated in one of the co-production road shows that Nesta are running ( As well as being a nice opportunity to reflect on some of the work and thinking I’ve been doing around this over the last year or so, it was also a nice opportunity to catch up with someone I’d not seen for 7 years since moving away from Cambridge!

Anyways – in one of the sessions the idea was floated that coproduction = equality. After mulling this over for a bit, I think I agree. For Coproduction to truly work, all parties involved need to be able to respect each others’ experience and knowledge as being equally valid to their own, and also positively reciprocate to manifest that respect and build the trust that’s needed in such a relationship/dialogue.

I then started to think that the coproduction arrangement would also be more equitable in that it has to ensure fair and appropriate access for everyone to be able to engage with it, depending on their circumstances – after all, in a society as diverse as ours, one size won’t fit all, so it’s only just that people be treated equitably according to their need.

So – on the face of it, coproduction isn’t just about creating a 'revolution' in public service delivery and better empowering us, the recipient of public services, it’s also directly contributing to tacking the inequalities that affect us through starting to shift our collective mindsets through our starting to view those around us being as equally important to us in determining what the best courses of action should be.

Sounds great so far, but wait… most public services are increasingly sub-contracted to private companies to deliver – and they’re likely to be very resistant to the idea of coproduction as a delivery model owing to the costs to them that it will involve. But surely with commissioning moving more to an outcomes based model, coproduction can only be a good thing for them as pilot studies show that coproduction generates better outcomes? (and if they need further convincing, apparently Nesta are already working on the business case for it as well…)

So – coproduction: not just a better way to deliver public services, but a model that contributes to our becoming a more equal and equitable society!

Of course, the co-operative movement has been using this approach already for a few centuries; maybe I’ll write a companion piece to this on that angle next...

(and special acknowledgement in this blog to for encouraging me to write this up)