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Does co-production depend on leadership style?

Co-production implies change. Change can happen in many wonderful, difficult and varied ways. The model below describes some characteristics of change and how they vary with management style and the time available for the change:


Dunphy and Stace’s contingency model of leadership and change (1993)


Co-production, according to the model, must fall in the top left quadrant. Leadership needs to be collaborative and consultative, sufficient time is needed, and the people involved in the co-production are ideally “up for” the change.


In my time leading a Learning Disability Forum, I too often experienced change conditions that just didn’t help. Large-scope consultations (“tell us what you think about this 40 page strategy”), large scale (“we need to reach as many people as possible”), and time-limited (“please tell us what you think before next Friday”).


So, some tips:


1) Leadership style needs to be collaborative and consultative. Use circles of chairs for focus groups, and sit among people; don’t stand at the front. Ask questions, and more questions. Listen intently, take notes, double-check you have understood.

2) Stick to small-scale changes. Co-producing a leaflet, the design of a garden, an activity schedule or the next menu in the café will be more meaningful than consulting on an entire strategy that has taken a team of managers 6 months to write. In fact the latter example is not co-production at all. It is rubber-stamping. You cannot expect people coming in “cold” to a broad and varied strategic plan to give detailed opinions in a 20 question survey.

3) Co-production works best when all participants want broadly the same thing. If there are opposing factions on the co-production team, whilst this might produce some “interesting” discussion, the chances of true co-production are slim.

4) Plan ahead and make time. A tight deadline means that leadership has to become more prescriptive and dictatorial in order to push things through. When time is plentiful it becomes easier to get people together, to explore many different options, have disagreements, work through them, and come to consensus and conclusions.

5) There is no place for dictatorial leadership. If a directive leadership style is needed because of lack of time, the need for radical change, or widespread opposition… well good luck to you (!), and don’t pretend that co-production is happening in this kind of environment. Be honest about why co-production is not possible, and do what you have to do.

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