About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Three pledges for Co-production Week

As part of Co-production Week (2-6 July) Health Lab is making three pledges to embed co-production more deeply in the way that we support innovation to flourish in health and care.

Co-production (by which we mean “delivering public services in an equal and reciprocal relationship between professionals, people using services, their families and their neighbours”) is an important part of our history and origins as a team.

Our original People Powered Health programme supported local areas to use co-production to improve health and wellbeing for people with long term conditions, and shared examples of good practice through a co-production catalogue. The learning from this programme has informed many of the principles which now underpin Health Lab’s work and vision.

Over recent months, we’ve been exploring in more depth the ways that power and health play out in systems and in people’s lives. This was the key theme of our annual Future of People Powered Health event, is central to our 7 wishes for the NHS on its 70th birthday and is the focus of a recent blog series from citizens and people working in frontline roles in health and care.

We’re committed to continuing to embed the principles of co-production into the way we work, and to championing and supporting this way of working to become mainstream across health and care. The following three pledges represent some of the ways in which we’ll focus our efforts to continue learning and improving:

Pledge 1: We will collaborate with critical friends, for challenge and support

Co-production is about stepping outside of your existing assumptions and recognising that diverse perspectives, and specifically those of lived experience, can create more appropriate and more innovative ways of working.

We’ve been inspired by many examples of people and organisations who are bringing co-production to life in their work with communities, such as Touchstone and Healthy n Happy. We are working alongside critical friends so that we can support each other and keep stretching our thinking and ambitions. We want to make sure that meaningful co-production is not only a feature of the design and delivery of programmes, but shapes the way we make decisions, carry out our work, and engage with the wider world.

Pledge 2: We will support the innovations we back to build co-production into their work

The practice of co-production evolved from conversations about the relationship between people who deliver public or charitable services in a professional capacity, and those who access those services in order to receive care or support. We want to find more ways to bring this to life in the work of the innovations we support, including through programmes such as Accelerating Ideas.

For example, as part of British Lung Foundation’s Integrated Breathe Easy programme, older people lead local planning groups and represent users on the national steering group. They are supported to play key roles in the IBE groups, including chairing and providing secretariat support, and are encouraged to take local operational decisions, lead the further development of groups, and shape new activities such as community engagement events.

Pledge 3: We’ll actively look for ways to support people to overcome the barriers to participation

At its best, co-production leads to more equitable and effective systems and services, because all voices are valued equally, and people have the opportunity to make meaningful choices and decisions. However, it’s important to recognise that the playing field is often uneven, and there can be many barriers which prevent people from participating as fully as they might like to.

In our work supporting frontline teams in Greater Manchester as part of the 100 Day Challenge, representatives from health, social care and the voluntary sector worked together to help members of their local community to reduce their risk of getting diabetes. The team’s ethos was about working with people based on their personal strengths and interests, rather than seeing them as a problem to be ‘fixed’, and a starting point was trying to understand what barriers might get in the way when someone decides they want to makes changes to their health or lifestyle. Beginning with this conversation was a valuable way to unpick assumptions about the kinds of information and support that people want or need, and to acknowledge and address the anxieties that can also arise when we start to work in a way that’s different to our usual professional culture and norms.

As a result of starting with this conversation, the team developed an approach to outreach and engagement that drew from the strengths of community development, lived experience and clinical expertise. Throughout the challenge (and beyond), the team ran informal community drop-in events which provided opportunities for people to meet others with similar experiences, talk about their personal priorities or concerns, and learn about a diverse range of local opportunities that could support them to work towards their goals (these included local social clubs and activities, community-led health and wellbeing programmes, volunteering opportunities, sources of information about food and cooking and access to health check-ups).

Key to the success of these events was choosing a well-known and loved neighbourhood venue rather than a medical environment, running sessions at various times of the day and evening to suit different people’s schedules, and recognising the importance of 1-1 outreach to support and encourage those who may not initially feel confident about attending.

We’re inspired by examples like this, and by the positive outcomes that have been achieved as a result. We recognise, however, that we are still on our own co-production journey and that there is much more that we can do to embed co-production in our own work and through the work we support others to do. We will continue to listen and learn about the barriers (both practical and intangible) which affect people’s ability to participate, and take steps towards dismantling these barriers wherever possible.

We would love to hear your views on these pledges and the actions that you are taking to bring co-production more meaningfully to life.


Katy Rutherford

Katy Rutherford

Katy Rutherford

Head of Programmes and Impact

Katy was Head of Programmes and Impact in Nesta's Health Lab.

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Louise Foreman

Louise Foreman

Louise Foreman

Programme Manager, People Powered Results

Louise was a Programme Manager in the Health Lab.

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