Learning from Innovation in Public Sector Environments


15 october 2015 - Dr. Sophie Flemig (University of Edinburgh Business School)

Blog: Word Class Workshop on Co-production of public services: design and innovation

Co-production has become a new buzzword for policy-makers and public management scholars alike. In simple (if not simplistic) terms, co-production stands for the involvement, either voluntary or automatic, of service users in the provision and production of public services. From our own research experience as PhD Candidates and Research Fellows, we – that is Katharine Aulton, Yida Zhu and Sophie Flemig – knew all too well that important academic insights rarely reach practitioners. Therefore, we were thrilled that the Business School was offering us the opportunity to bring academics, practitioners and policy makers together for a workshop in the World Class Workshop series.

With the guidance and advice of Stephen Osborne, we organised a one-day event that involved a mixture of international and “home turf” Business School speakers who engaged – and co-produced the event – with an audience of policy-makers, public service managers, practitioners and academics

Prof. Taco Brandsen (Radboud University Nijmegen) and Prof. Stephen Osborne (UEBS) opened the event with two keynote speeches that provided a framework for the following paper presentations. Taco shared some thought provoking points that were widely discussed throughout the day: When is coproduction creating public value, and when does it destroy it? Despite popular belief, Taco also cautioned that co-production was not a short-term money saving tool. Rather, successful co-production appears to be more time and resource intensive.

Stephen Osborne reacted to the tensions in the co-production debate by presenting his model of a public service dominant logic of co-production. He suggested that co-production is inherent in the delivery of public services – therefore, the real question is not whether we want or need co-production but how we use it effectively to provide the best public services we can.

This stirred some lively debate amongst our audience, prompting questions how the insights of co-production scholarship could be best presented to local councillors and public service managers, who were concerned about tightening public budgets. A key theme in our debates was whether the policy motivation for co-production initiatives was not after all driven by cost-saving motives.

Our keynote speakers were followed by presentations from Dr Johan Quist (Karlstads University) and UEBS PhD Candidate Katharine Aulton. Johan’s presentation centred on understanding the citizen sphere beyond the sporadic interaction points with public service providers, while Katharine reported on learning to co-produce and learning from co-production in health and social services – one strand of findings from her doctoral research on co-production and the design of service systems.

In the afternoon, Dr Trui Steen (KU Leuven) presented her findings on why citizens choose to actively co-produce and what factors constitute drivers of, and barriers to, citizen engagement. Dr Sophie Flemig (UEBS) cast a human rights perspective on co-production with users who do not possess full legal mental capacity. She pointed out that future legislation should learn from current challenges in co-production to bring mental health standards en par with UN commitments.

Our practitioner discussant Julie Christie, a dementia care team leader in East Dunbartonshire and PhD candidate at the University of Stirling, brought all these diverse lines of argument together and reflected on how we can translate good research into best practice. Her presentation was followed by a group discussion session that produced a multitude of insights, learning experiences, and questions for future research.

The event was rounded off by Prof. Victor Bekkers (Erasmus University Rotterdam), who summarised the findings of the FP7 research project “Learning from Innovation in Public Services” (LIPSE, www.lipse.org). Based on insights from five European countries, Victor demonstrated a matrix of citizen engagement in co-production and the state support they (don’t) receive.

As a learning experience, the World Class Workshop was an invaluable experience: We not only learned important lessons about communicating with practitioners and policy-makers, and how to provide them with the evidence they need to improve public services through co-production; Susan Keating and Charis Wilson also helped us learn the ropes of how to organise an academic workshop.

The result was greeted with overwhelmingly positive feedback and we are excited to keep the discussion going now that the event is over. Video blogs from our speakers together with their presentation slides are at http://www.business-school.ed.ac.uk/co-production-public-services/.  We are also keen to hear from you via Twitter, where you can find live tweets from the day at #PublicCoPro. Join the debate and share your thoughts and questions on co-production in public services!

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