The Co-Production Approach: How We Placed Community Voices At The Heart Of Program Design

The co-production approach is widely used in the for-profit sector. GlobalGiving tested the approach in a series of nonprofit workshops in Tanzania. Here’s what we learned.


The Big Question

In 2018, GlobalGiving received a grant from the National Lottery Community Fund (formerly the Big Lottery Fund) to research what a capacity building program for Disabled People’s Organizations (DPOs) in Tanzania should look like. The National Lottery Community Fund’s vision of ‘people in the lead’ of their own development aligns with GlobalGiving’s mission to transform aid and philanthropy to accelerate community-led change. We wanted to test: Is the co-production approach an effective methodology for participatory program design?

What We Tested

Co-production is when all the people involved in a particular activity or piece of work come together to contribute in a meaningful and equal way to the process and outputs, based on their experiences, knowledge, and skills. The approach is widely used outside the international development sector, for example in healthcare, and is increasingly popular with development practitioners because it recognizes that power dynamics can restrict or enable the contributions of certain groups. However, while co-production as a theory is well established, there is less consensus on how to implement it in practice.

Why It Matters

There is growing awareness within the international development sector of the need to #ShiftThePower to those development affects most—local communities and their organizations. You will find references to ‘local’ solutions, ‘grassroots’ change, and ‘bottom-up’ approaches on the websites and brochures of many development actors. Sadly, this is often the extent of their commitment. GlobalGiving wanted to test how a commitment to community-led change could be embedded in research and program design so as to discover practical, replicable methodologies for shifting the power to communities.

In other words, how can development actors put their money where their mouth is to promote community-led change?

Our Method

Our first step was to hold a workshop in Dar es Salaam to ask key national-level DPOs our two research questions:

  1. What is the current capacity of Disabled People’s Organizations in Tanzania?
  2. What should a capacity-building program for these organizations look like?

We collected valuable data, but we realized the workshop was more of a ‘consultation’ than co-production, as we were driving the format and questions for the session. We struggled to shift the power in the room, particularly because we were viewed as a ‘funder.’ Participants expected us to direct the session as typically happens at these events. The workshop also didn’t involve regional and grassroots organizations, and we discovered that the national organizations cannot always represent these groups as they do not necessarily know what is happening ‘on the ground.’

We decided we could do better. In November, GlobalGiving held four regional workshops across Tanzania and invited a diverse group of stakeholders, from individuals doing great work around inclusive education to regional chapters of the national DPOs. We partnered with a DPO co-host in each location and designed the workshop outlines in advance with their input.

The workshops were facilitated in partnership with our co-hosts, conducted in Swahili, and were designed to give participants the freedom to discuss topics they felt to be the most important. GlobalGiving directed the sessions as little as possible. We asked participants to identify their priority areas for organizational capacity development, and to then chose their favorite idea for increasing capacity and discuss how this should be delivered. Alongside the workshops, we conducted a literature review, an online survey which received over 100 responses, and key stakeholder interviews. Overall, 109 people from 80 organizations participated in workshops in 5 regions of Tanzania.

The Ultimate Outcome

The result of this co-production process was 17 capacity development ideas designed solely by DPOs, as well as substantial data on the key strengths, challenges, and priorities of DPOs. This data formed the backbone of the situational analysis report we presented to the National Lottery Community Fund, and we are excited to be able to say that the capacity-strengthening initiatives suggested in the report were genuinely co-produced in partnership with the people and communities that a capacity-strengthening program would affect.

Make It Yours

There is a reason many sing the praises of co-production but few properly attempt it—it is not a quick or easy approach! Co-production demands time and resources, and therefore a funder that appreciates the added value the approach brings. Co-production also demands critical reflection on the part of the delivery organization: question where the power lies in your chosen approach and if this is the best way to amplify community voices. Nonetheless, the co-production approach helped us to understand what Disabled People’s Organizations and their communities would want from a capacity building program, and we think that makes it worth it if you are truly committed to community-led development.

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Featured Photo: HeroTREEs Carbon Off-Setting in Tanzania by APOPO vzw

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