How to do digital co-production

Alex Green

The Challenge

NPC is passionate about putting the people we’re working for at the heart of charities’ impact, but how can we do that when building digital services?

It’s pretty clear that digital is going to become an ever more important part of the services that social sector organisations offer people – whether that means going totally online or building hybrid services with both on- and offline components. But while involving users in digital development isn’t new, there’s a whole industry of UX (User Experience) professionals researching and testing digital services with users, it’s rare for this to be true co-production.

Diagram of the ladder of co-production

Instead most established UX practice is ‘doing for’ people instead of ‘doing with’ people. Design development gets done by professional, ‘expert’ teams and brought to users to be tested. This means that users get to comment on the details of user interface and workflow, but aren’t involved inĀ  the important decisions about what gets made and how it gets made. This is a huge missed opportunity to not only empower the people we’re working for, but to design and build the right services, the services people actually need instead of the ones we think they ought to have.

The Opportunity

There’s a lack of tried and tested practice for doing true co-production in digital. At the same time many organisations in the social sector are only just starting to reconsider how they might better serve their audiences online. So there’s both a great opportunity and real need for clear, tested and practical guidance alongside inspiring and honest case studies that show how others have approached and overcome these challenges.

Digital is a particularly difficult area for co-production as the barriers of technical knowledge and jargon can quickly put people off engaging. Even the thought of a page of code can bring a participant out in a cold sweat. There’s also the added challenge that digital solutions often need to work for broad audience groups who can be distant from the team building them. So there’s also a need for reusable resources to demystify and communicate concepts and new methods to include people from across varying geographies and social identities.

What might this be?

In My Best Life, NPC is already facing some of these challenges and finding ways to co-produce digital solutions with young people, but there’s a much broader sector of knowledge and needs. Addressing these might include:

  • Mapping the current and future needs of the sector for digital co-production
  • Creating a handbook of validated approaches for co-producing digital solutions with different groups of people by trialling and testing methods
  • Developing new solutions to enable as much involvement and inclusivity in co-production processes as possible
  • Collating case-studies and examples of best practice
  • Influencing the broader UX industry to embed and evolve co-production in digital

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