Panel 16: Co-production of public services

Evidence abouts its functioning and effects

Chaired by: dr. Marlies Honingh (RUN), prof. dr. Bram Verschuere (Universiteit Gent), prof. dr. Taco Brandsen (RUN), &

Over the last years we experience a revival of research addressing the role of citizens and organizations in the production of public services (e.g. Pestoff et al 2012). Much of this research illustrates that it is no longer suitable to make a rigid distinction between those that ‘create’ and those that ‘consume’ a service, since the client needs to contribute actively in these processes. The described overlap between both groups refers to the notion of ‘co-production’. Some observe notions of co-production in which citizens are expected to voluntary participate and contribute to the provision of a service, while others refer to coproduction as a joint action between government and the community sector. Here the focus is on individuals and groups of individuals producing public services in cooperation with regular producers.

The concept of co-production has been around for decades (e.g. Ostrom 1996, Parks 1981), but has in recent years experienced a revival (e.g. Pestoff & Brandsen, 2006 & 2009, Alford 2009, Pestoff et al. 2012). The renewed interest in the notion of co-production can best be understood against the background of a search for new innovative, cost-efficient ways to provide public services, the desire to strengthen local democracy and the importance that is attached to user-generated knowledge. Only recently Pestoff (2011) positioned coproduction as a core element of New Public Governance (NPG, e.g. Osborne 2006). The growth of interest in co-production during the past ten years provides important insights into, but also important challenges for, public management. Although already a lot can be learned from the colorful palette of essays on co-production, we still need to further investigate its’ drivers, mechanisms and functioning. Moreover, we need to systematically study whether its implicit and explicit assumptions have a solid empirical ground. Resuming the expectations and assumptions concerning co-production, it seems that co-production should generate social capital, the development of new relations and cooperative behavior. Answering empirical oriented questions concerning the willingness and motivation of citizens to co-produce, the functioning of co-production and its’ effects helps to answer broader questions such as whether co-production is an applicable alternative to provide public services and whether and how coproduction contributes to public services of a better quality.

In answering these questions we should not only focus on technical issues, concepts and structures, whilst neglecting the human factor, human interactions and behavioral mechanisms, since we expect these factors to affect the success or failure of notions such as co-production. The growing interest in co-production, the number of services that refer to coproduction as the answer to provide a public services of higher quality, and the proclaimed benefits of citizen involvement, force us to take a closer look at the day to day functioning of co-production and study its’ functioning more systematically.

This panel invites scholars to contribute to this debate. It explicitly seeks empirical (comparative) papers testing the notions and assumptions underlying the motivations of citizens to coproduce, the processes, functioning and effects and outcomes of co-production. It is the ambition of the panel to get a grip on all stages of public service delivery in which co-production is in use (design and set up of a service, process of service delivery and its evaluation).

The panel could inform, and be informed by, similar existing initiatives like the ‘seminar on co-production’ (Budapest, November 2012), the SIG on Third Sector (IRSPM 2012) and panel session (IRSPM 2013), and the SG on Public Governance of Societal Sectors (EGPA). As such, the panel could be another opportunity to further establish the growing research community on co-production, acknowledging the position of co-production in the broader debates on New Public Governance, network governance, and the role of the third sector in the public domain.

As to the linkage between this panel on co-production and public management (fourth NIG subtheme); considering co-production as a (public) management reform in itself and as a core element of New Public Governance, it is evident that co-production brings some challenges for public management . Thereof questions that will be addressed in this panel (e.g. concerning the underlying assumptions of co-production and its functioning) will help to get an deeper understanding of the consequences of co-production for organizations, professionals and organizational structures.