Co-Production and Co-Creation in Public Services: Resolving Confusion and Contradictions

Co-Production and Co-Creation in Public Services: Resolving Confusion and Contradictions

Paul Waller (Brunel University London, Uxbridge, United Kingdom)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/IJEGR.2017040101
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Publications continue to affirm that there are no agreed definitions or conceptual frameworks for co-production and co-creation in relation to public services. Consequently, across and within academic and grey literature lie many examples of confusion and contradictions. These hinder insightful discussion and explanatory research. This paper argues that underlying this muddle is a failure to be clear about the nature and structure of public services. The commonly used “service to customers” model from commerce is a misleading oversimplification. To re-frame the discussions on co-creation and co-production, a model is developed of a generic multi-actor, multi-instrument system that helps to identify the real issues associated with governmental and non-governmental actors combining to achieve a social outcome. The system can be assessed in terms of relationships (e.g. degrees of openness and collaboration) and the role of technology (e-government). The essential role of the government is determined to be policy and system design.
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In 19th century London, fire engines needed 22 people to manually pump the water for the hoses. Rather than take a bus-load of pumpers with them, the firemen used to recruit them from the crowd of onlookers at the scene, literally crowdsourcing. Pumpers were paid one shilling for the first hour and sixpence (half a shilling) for subsequent hours. Was this co-production, or co-creation, or contracting-out, or outsourcing, or citizen participation, or volunteering? Was this a public service, an open government service, or public sector innovation? Was the fire engine owned and run by the city government or a private company under a private finance initiative? Did any of this matter?

Jo and Nabatchi (2016) sum up the published work on co-production in public services from the study group of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences on the subject, concluding that there is a need for a clear definition, and frameworks and typologies, to make sense of the concept of co-production in public services as a foundation for explanatory research. They argue that much work has focused on individual cases, like the one above, that do not provide a universally consistent definition and model.

Voorberg et al. (2015) carried out an extensive literature review on “public co-creation and co-production with citizens”. In half of the cases reviewed, citizens took the role of co-implementer, in contrast to being a co-designer or initiator of a venture. However, they found that co-creation and co-production frequently were given similar definitions, and challenged the lack of conceptual clarity arising from this. Similar points continue to be made (Meijer, 2016; Osborne, Radnor, & Strokosch, 2016).

Consequently, this paper aims to resolve the uncertainty around co-production and co-creation in relation to public services. To do so it will combine concepts from the political sciences concerning public policy design and implementation, and from system and network modelling. The core argument is that a failure to clearly articulate the nature of “public services” underlies the many confusions and contradictions in the discussion of co-production and co-creation that appear not only in academic work but in “grey” publications by governments, think tanks and international bodies. Where specific confusions and contradictions are discussed, citations will not generally be given: the issues are pervasive, and singling out individual authors would be unfair. This paper will use hyphenated versions of the words co-production etc., though they appear commonly unhyphenated in literature.

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