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CitizenPoweredCities: Co-producing better public services with citizens

The partnership between the OECD and the non-profit organisation Governance International has shared with the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) 50+ international case studies on how public service organisations, in particular at the local level, harness the skills, capabilities and energy of citizens to achieve better outcomes. You can use these case studies to explore why and how many governments in the OECD co-commission, co-design, co-deliver and co-assess public services with users and local communities, use evidence-based results and create pathways towards CitizenPoweredCities.

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When Dr. Catherine Needham wrote the first co-production case study in 2010 on a highly effective peer support model for mental health in Arizona for Governance International, co-production was still a new concept for many public managers. By 2016, the situation has changed dramatically. More and more governments recognise that service users and communities know things that many staff commissioning and delivering public services may not, and can help enormously to improve outcomes. For example, by co-producing services together with young people, Surrey County Council more than halved the number of NEETs (young people who are not in any type of education, employment or training) from about 1000 to 429 over a period of two years. As our 50+ case studies show, citizens can take different active roles in public services to improve outcomes, and not just be a passive recipient. According to the Four “Co’s” of our Co-Production Star model, these include:

1) Co-commissioning is about public sector organisations working with citizens and people that use public services to identify, prioritise and finance public outcomes. The Surrey case study shows the change management process required to shift towards co-planning and co-prioritising key outcomes with young people and local communities. The participatory budgeting scheme of the City of Recife illustrates an area-based approach to give local residents and disadvantaged groups in particular a voice in setting local priorities. The London Borough of Lewisham successfully used crowd-funding in 2010 to co-finance public fireworks at Guy Fawkes Day on the 5th of November.

2) Co-design is about public service organisations and citizens designing better public services or effective community initiatives to solve ‘wicked issues.’ The Esther approach to healthcare in the County of Jönköping, and the highly creative ‘Kids tell pros what to do’ in the City of Umea, both from Sweden, are inspiring examples of user-led service design. In the London Borough of Lambeth, the Living Well Collaborative involved 30 people with providers of health and social care services, service users and caregivers to design a new service offer for mental health.

3) Co-delivery is about citizens or service users and public sector organisations acting together to improve outcomes. For example, in the City of Florence, more than 1800 citizens have been working with the non-profit organisation Angels of Beauty since 2010 to improve green spaces and the built environment in Florence. Another impressive example is the mentoring programme of the Swiss Cantons of Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft for school leavers who are having difficulties finding an apprenticeship or placement: 70% of mentees who are supported by a trained mentor with job experience and good professional networks find an apprenticeship or placement each year. Co-production goes beyond just volunteering, for example, with forms of peer support which allow people who need support also to act as co-producers helping others. The community health trainer scheme in Manchester trains and employs people from disadvantaged groups so they can help others achieve behaviour change to improve their health. A similar peer support scheme in Austria trains young offenders who have caused a serious driving accident to contribute to the driving lessons of young learner drivers to persuade them into changing their attitudes and behaviour. 

4) Co-assessment is about public service providers working with citizens as monitors and evaluators of public service quality and outcomes. The Department for Public Administration and Innovation in Italy piloted a project with the non-profit organisation Cittadinanzattiva to get citizens to evaluate the quality of urban infrastructure and local services. Co-assessment converts complaints management, which is typically seen as dealing with negative citizen feedback, into a more constructive dialogue to co-design better solutions to deal with problems identified by citizens. 

In brief, the case studies show that co-production already exists in all public services with a citizen interface, ranging from community safety to health, housing, social care and transportation. And co-production is not just about “talk-shops” – it often involves citizens doing really important activities which contribute in major ways to the effective delivery of services. Furthermore, it is important to note that the Governance International case studies included in the OPSI also focus on other public management and governance issues such as quality management, open government, the equalities agenda and sustainability – indeed, good governance overall.

Of course, not all forms of citizen engagement are about co-production. For Governance International, “co-production is about professionals and citizens making better use of each other’s assets, resources and contributions to achieve better outcomes or improved efficiency”.

It is important to differentiate co-production from partnership working, as both concepts involve very different public management and governance issues. Whereas co-production is a form of citizen engagement, as defined above, partnership working refers to forms of co-operation between organisations, not people.

Of course, co-production is not a goal in and of itself. Government does not have to intervene in all citizen or community activities nor do – or can – all citizens co-produce for better public services at all times. But the co-production case studies in the OPSI show that it is an interesting and effective alternative service model to “create private and/or public value in the form of either outputs or outcomes,” in the words of the Australian scholar John Alford.

So what is the evidence that citizen-powered public services leads to better results? Some of our case studies have strong evidence:

  • A recent evaluation of the Community Health Trainers in the UK shows that of nearly 1000 trainers, 34% came from the most deprived quintile of the population and a further 22% from the second-most deprived quintile (Royal Society for Public Health, 2013). The path-ways of over 48,000 recorded clients of the programme in the UK encouragingly show that 28% were signed off after completing the full personal health plan.
  • Performance data from the Wiltshire Community Speedwatch Scheme (CSW) in the UK shows that in December 2015, there were 140 Volunteer Teams active across Wiltshire and Swindon Counties with 765 volunteers carrying out regular speed checks on local roads. Wiltshire Council estimates that this represents 14,076 hours of volunteer-led speed reduction interventions between September 2013 and January 2016 with a monetary value of £112,608. Since September 2013, 44,910 warning letters have been sent to drivers identified by CSW volunteers as having exceeded local speed limits, and police officers have visited 4,211 homes to provide ‘words of advice’ directly to drivers who are either excessive speeders or repeat (three time) offenders. The whole ethos of CSW is to educate drivers and to avoid fines, red tape and the need for CSW volunteers to appear in court as witnesses. Figures released in 2014 show that fatal and serious injuries associated with road traffic accidents (RTA) in Wiltshire had reduced by 35% when compared to the average between 2005-2009; the average for Great Britain during the same period was 22%. UK Government figures published in 2013 show that the total cost of serious and fatal RTAs in Wiltshire was £115,799,270, which indicates the importance of this local scheme.

In other case studies, the impact of the co-production approach is supported by qualitative evidence. For example, in the Umea case study on co-produced performances by schoolchildren and professional artists, a parent stated: “When Kulturverket was introduced at my children’s school, things started changing. The project took the focus off their illness…especially for xxx, this has meant a lot. His text was the starting point for creative work in the classroom, and eventually turned into a film. I can only say that what Kulturverket did with my children is one of the most beautiful things that happened to us in an otherwise very dark and difficult period.

The case studies also show that co-commissioning, co-design, co-delivery and co-assessment of public services can be promoted and developed by the public sector to provide an integrated cycle of co-production. Although some co-production can be found in most services and in most places, it is often sporadic, unsystematic and underappreciated. The Co-Production Star toolkit developed by Governance International provides a step-by-step approach for this transformation process, and to make the most of the potential which co-production can offer:

Map it – explore existing and new forms of co-production

Focus it – prioritise activities with the highest impact

People it – use strength-based approaches

Market it – in order to bring about behaviour change

Grow it – within your organisation and local communities.

In the public sector, we’re used to asking citizens ‘what do you need?’, but less often ‘what can you do?’ New digital technologies, as well as demographic change, mean that this must now change. Public service organisations, and particularly local authorities which are close to citizens, now have the opportunity to identify the skills and capabilities of their citizens and match them to work with other people to solve problems. The concept of the CitizenPoweredCity rejects the current ‘deficit approach’ and builds on the huge resources that we already have among our service users and in our communities, but which we are still underutilising. Our 50+ co-production case studies which have now been added to the OPSI show you how to bring the power of citizens to bear on improving outcomes – in other words, making the CitzenPoweredCity a reality.

CitizenPower can help governments improve the quality of life of our citizens – now is the time to learn from good practices elsewhere and how you can harness them!