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Wednesday, 21 September 2011

22. The Co-productive Council

I’ve been doing some work with the excellent Prof. Tony Bovaird lately on co-production and it prompted me to think about what a co-productive council might look like.   First, however, a few words about co-production as, if you didn't know, you might have thought it was all about making movies...

 Co-production in Public Services

Co-production is an idea that is certainly gaining traction. There are probably too many definitions but a good place to start is where the phrase was first used:
The term ‘co-production’ was coined originally at the University of Indiana in the 1970s when Professor Elinor Ostrom was asked to explain to the Chicago police why the crime rate went up when the police came off the beat and into patrol cars. She used the term as a way of explaining why the police need the community as much as the community need the police.(new economics foundation, 2008: Co-production: A Manifesto for growing the core economy)

The New Economics Foundation and NESTA describe it this way:

Co-production is a new vision for public services which offers a better way to respond to the challenges we face - based on recognising the resources that citizens already have, and delivering services with rather than for service users, their families and their neighbours. Early evidence suggests that this is an effective way to deliver better outcomes, often for less money.

A great summary can be found here.  This overview by Tony Bovaird, Elke Löffler and Frankie Hine-Hughes, highlights how the concept can be broken down to apply to different aspects of the service delivery cycle such as co-planning, co managing or co-assessment.

For a really interesting example of a whole Council approach take a look at Lambeth Council.  They have recently defined themselves as a 'Cooperative Council and are seeking to underpin all of their service delivery with the principles of co-production.   A white paper was produced and a special commission set up to work through the proposals before the approach was agreed - there is plenty of material to look at.

Can Local Democracy Be Co-produced?

In many ways this sounds like restating the question about whether representative and participatory democracy can work in tandem or even be combined.  In some ways it is but in some ways, however, applying the debates around the co-production of services to the co-production of policies and decisions opens up a new perspective on some old problems.  Start thinking about politicians instead of professionals, citizens rather than service users and policy cycles rather than service cycles and I think there definitely something new to be had.

Borrowing from Bovaird et al, the benefits of co-producing democracy can be stated as follows:
  • citizens know things that many politicians don’t know
  • ... and can make a policy more effective by the extent to which they go along with its requirements
  • ... and have time, information and financial resources that they are willing to invest to improve their own quality of life and into helping others
  • … and have diverse capabilities and talents which they can share with politicians and other citizens
  • … and can engage in collaborative rather than paternalistic relationships with politicians, with other citizens and with other members of the public
The Co-productive Council

Adapting the principles of the co-production of services, then, it is possible to imagine a Council that co-produces its democracy.   

Like the ideal of co-producing services, where initiatives can take place at every stage of the service delivery cycle, the co-productive council would have in place co-productive activities at every stage of the policy and decision making cycle.  So, borrowing again from  the model by Bovaird et al, it is possible to conceive of a co-productive policy making process:

Co-defintion of problems – e.g. area forums, community conferences, petitioning

Co-formulation of options – e.g. co-option of public onto scrutiny committees, community / user consultation

Co-decision making – policy juries, referenda, online deliberation

Co-implementation – (see co-production of services!)

Co-evaluation - co-option of public onto scrutiny committees, area forums

This simple framework might be the starting point for identifying gaps and looking at what areas might need to be developed if a council is to be truly co-productive.

One final thought, a co-productive council would also be one where councillors, like the Chicago Police, would get out of their metaphorical patrol cars and onto the metaphorical beat.  Although this is of course what many, if not most, councillors do already.  It seems that the foundations for a co-productive council may already be in place.

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