This is going to be a bit personal. A) I am big fan of social innovations and co-creation is one of the best social innovations in my opinion. B) I consider myself to be a civic activist. I run my own non-governmental organization. I know quite few other NGOs in Slovakia and I dare say, a lot of co-creation happens at this level of society. But mostly, c) I am also a university teacher and a researcher so I am not going to write anything like “Yeah, the research from LIPSE—the research project sponsoring this project—has confirmed what I have always thought!” and be more factual with my thoughts.
As has already been discussed in this blog, co-creation happens when citizens are invited to initiate and design public projects or services with governments and public organizations to solve problems facing them. But what if citizens are not used to participate in such projects? What if they are not used to participate at all? I am talking about the case of Slovakia, where historical state and governance traditions influence the process of co-creation a lot. The dominance of the Communist Party’s political power over all subsystems of public administration did not support involving citizens in policymaking for a long time. After the end of the communist era in 1989 and the onset of independence in 1993, third sector started to bloom in Slovakia. This opened up the opportunity for citizens to group and express their opinions on public affairs.
During the last year we spent quite a lot of time investigating co-creation initiatives in Slovakia and one of the conclusions is that social innovations in public services provision are often initiated by third sector organizations, mostly civic associations (five out of ten cases studies observed in our research). Even in cases where the idea came from citizens (e.g. students of architecture who wanted to improve housing for Roma citizens), the support of NGOs is there: one NGO provided know-how on how to work with this particular group (it took nearly a year to earn the trust of Roma citizens and started cooperation on housing building). Another NGO provided know-how on microcredit financing system and helped to implement it in the project.
On the other hand, the risk is that demonopolization of public services and alternative service arrangements with NGOs as service producer is perceived by the public officers as a threat (conclusion based on organization’s experience from negotiating with authorized government representative for civil society). This puts NGOs in an unfavourable light form the governments’ point of view. But co-creation should not be seen as a ‘total solution’ replacing existing services. Instead we should consider co-creation initiatives as alternatives for existing public services or as additional services to the existing public services.
The LIPSE research project was an impulse to start investigating more co-creation initiatives in our conditions and it only confirmed the fact already stated: NGOs are key players in social innovations. Mostly we identified co-creations in the sector of environment and green tourism but also in the social and community development. Our research in the Banska Bystrica region has shown that the NGOs bring social innovations into society even without realising it (only a few of the NGOs were fully aware of the potential of co-creation and they try to implement it in each of their projects). By initiating the co-creation initiatives they also invite citizens to participate which they do more willingly than when asked to participate by governments (46% of Slovaks trust in NGOs, but only 17% trusts in governments, according to an agency research in 2014). Indeed, it is a good NGO that co-creates as it seems that in Slovakia this can be the way for wider spreading of the co-creation and citizens’ participation.
In a future entry I will focus on citizens’ direct participation and discuss a tool of participatory budgeting that could empower co-creation from this perspective.
*Dr. Maria Svidronova is affiliated to the department of Public Economics and Regional Deparment, Matej Bel University. With her colleagues (prof. Juraj Nemec and prof. Beata Mikusova Merickova) she participated in the research on co-creation and social innovation in Project Learning from Innovation in Public Sector Environments (more at http://www.lipse.org).