Co-producing challenging conversations

4 min readDec 2, 2020

While thinking about what co-production could like in a community planning process, I read this article on “what neighbourhoods in London will disappear next?” featuring Brixton, and discovered that where I currently lived was once home to Chinatown.

We should be mindful of the fine line between trying to preserve a community in aspic and letting it be destroyed by external forces. We should look at what makes communities resilient and how we can help them navigate and influence the changes they experience.

Why is this relevant to co-production? Because co-production can’t be about everyone’s views and ideas being co-delivered, nor should we only be confident of applying it on issues where there’s already a consensus.

So instead how do we mobilise people to be able to adapt to influences — methods, behaviours and beliefs — from other systems — cultures, fields & organisations — be it from new communities coming into a neighbourhood to new consumer behaviours that disrupt their sector?

Adaptive leadership argues that you need to help people navigate through the uncertainty and discomfort the change, or rather the loss/es that they might experience. But what this technique argues is necessary is not making it comfortable for people to cope with change, but to tolerate the discomfort and help people distinguish between what is really critical to preserve and what they can expend of during the period of change.


Some of the most adaptive cultures I’ve seen are:

Foundations like ECF who have rethought how to use investment in a way that supports not just individual organisations or projects but the ecosystem through their concept of the Ideas Camp and nudging projects into wanting to work with others to create networked collaborations.

Councils like Lambeth have not only responded to the financial & social pressures that all local authorities face, but conceptualised how it wants to reinvent itself and the relationship it has with the residents & communities it services, through turning it services into cooperatives and defining cooperative behavioursthat its staff will adopt.

Neighbourhoods like Totnes are not only putting in practice community-based solutions that help tackle local and global issues, through becoming a Transition Town, but are leading the way for other towns in this network and inspiring neighbourhoods nearby to innovate new forms of democratic participation.

People aren’t afraid of change but of the loss that it may create. I’ve seen various types of resistance to change in myself and others, as well as work avoidance techniques.

What might the design principles for co-producing a strategy that affects different communities?

  1. Be clear on why you’re involving people and what influence they’ll have so they feel they can contribute in a way that influences the plan
  2. Build on insights & discussions people are already having on strategic issues so that they feel that their views have been taken into account
  3. Work with people, groups & communities where they are so that as many people can contribute to the plan
  4. Work through trusted partners to engage communities so that people trust how they’ll be involved
  5. Bring together different types of stakeholders to inform the plan to enable people to understand the different factors influencing change
  6. Develop the capacity of communities to engage in the planning
  7. Show how people and their insights are informing the plan to encourage other people to get involved
  8. Focus on methods that build pragmatic consensus so people feel they’ve been listened to while understanding decisions will need to be made on what to prioritise across different issues

Would be great to hear how others have involved communities effectively in strategic planning and what principles you’ve used to guide the process.




Head of Policy Design, Scrutiny & Partnerships @newhamlondon #localgov Co-founder of #systemschange & #servicedesign progs. inspired by @cescaalbanese