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Co-production: Learning from successful experiences of co-production outside the CoP

In our last blog, we discussed how Community of Practice (CoP) members are involving clients in service delivery, advocacy and decision-making. This blog draws on the webinar held on 21st January 2021, where we continued to explore co-production highlighting the experiences of organisations from outside of the CoP. Lessons from the global South were introduced at the webinar in a fantastic presentation from Prof. Diana Mitlin from the University of Manchester.


Diana posed a question about co-production and whether it was most accurately viewed as an unequal partnership of civil society and government, much like ‘riding a tiger’, or the mutually beneficial relationship of the Red-billed Oxpecker and the Rhino.


Lessons from co-production initiatives across the global South suggest that co-production is more often a bumpy and dangerous ride with the Tiger, but with serious efforts to build productive and reciprocal relationships between partners. A number of issues and case studies were highlighted during the discussion.


Invited in, what next? Spaces for co-production need to be crafted and clearly defined, due to the inherent power imbalance between grassroots organisations and government. In Pakistan, the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) was established in the early 1980s to address a water and sanitation crisis in one of the largest low-income settlements in Karachi. The project mobilised residents of Orangi to improve lanes through the construction of covered sewers. As Diana explained during the webinar, OPP established the Urban Resource Centre to mediate political relations with city authorities and build the capacity of community members to drive change.


Who pays for what? Co-production can help to reduce the cost of services and increases the impact of public investment, as demonstrated by OPP. Grassroots organisations, such as the Namibia Shack Dwellers Federation, have established women-led savings schemes to enable small scale lending within the community and collective contributions to settlement upgrading. Savings create an important way for communities to improve water and sanitation to individual plots of land, while also providing a means to mobilise communities for collective action. Diana explained: the objective of the federation was “to demonstrate that low-income organised communities have a capacity to collaborate effectively with the state to address common problems, and that policy making should be open to influence by citizens”.

Amplifying voices. Grounding co-production in the realities of low-income communities is vitally important to amplify and not silence voices of disadvantaged communities. Holding meetings in community venues rather than town halls; ensuring that local residents/service users play an active part in conversations; and using neighbourhood savings to mobilise communities are all tactics which strengthen co-production. These approaches are used by global networks including Slum Dwellers International and the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights and is being developed in the UK by Greater Manchester Savers.


Collecting and using data. Many grassroots organisations have unique access and insights into the communities they work with. This has proved to be essential during the Covid-19 pandemic, with groups working with homeless people and those living in urban informal settlements helping to contain the spread of the virus. Data collection and use enables organised communities to demonstrate their needs and priorities to those in power, and advocate for change. For example, the work of the Community Organisation Resource Centre (CORC) on community-led enumeration and mapping makes it harder for city authorities to overlook informal settlements. Data is a powerful tool.


Some conclusions and a way forward…


In her presentation, Diana reflected on the particularities of implementing co-production projects during (and after) a global pandemic. Among her considerations, she argued that: a) co-production could offer a cost-saving alternative to the current governments’ funding crisis; and b) community-led mobilisations and organisation are likely to be key to making the most of the current moment. What do you think? You can check what Stuart Hooper from Exeter Homeless Partnership recommends and share your thoughts in our forum discussion.


To conclude, Diana said that the most successful co-production experiences have some things in common. They build relations and alliances; they build legitimacy around those who are marginalised; and they build and amplify the voice of those marginalised people.


In our next webinar, we will be talking about secure and stable housing. Stay tuned for more updates from the CoP soon!


The CoP team

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