User and community co-production of public services: fad or fact, nuisance or necessity?

Working Paper 12 - October 2009

Co-production is rapidly becoming one of the most talked-about themes in partnership working in public services and public policy in Europe, North America and Australia. While there are various strands to the discussion, there has been no coherent approach - at government level or in the academic community - to bring together evidence on the potential, and limitations, of user and community co-production of public services and policies.

This paper sets out to explore the differing theoretical strands which contribute to current thinking on user and community co-production. Some of these strands predict very different roles – and outcomes – from co-production. In particular, theories of co-production predict that it can deliver either individualised benefits, resulting from the design and operation of public services, or more collective benefits, which result from the external effects created by each co-producing user for other actual and potential users.

However, the empirical evidence suggests that the practice of co-production is dominated by individualised co-production - where the benefits go essentially to the co-producer, as opposed to collective co-production - where the benefits go to a wider group. The implications of this analysis are that a more systematic and co-ordinated approach to collective co-production is needed if it is to go beyond largely ‘self-organising’ activities.

[Based on report prepared for the French Presidency of the European Union and presented to the Fifth Quality Conference (5QC) on Public Administration, Paris, October 2008]

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