The literature on changing relationships with citizens

A key factor in changing roles for public servants is that citizens are changing too. It has been widely noted that citizens are less deferential than in the past and increasingly have higher expectations of what public services should offer. There has been a growth of what Griffiths et al call ‘assertive citizens’, who want to have a say about the services they receive (1). This partly reflects greater affluence and education levels. It is also about demographic changes such as the increased incidence of long-term health conditions about which citizens have time to develop a level of expertise.

In response to these changes some authors have written of the rise of a more consumerist public, more demanding and impatient, more insistent on the need for choice and redress in public services, less tolerant of the need for services to be rationed. Whilst ‘consumer’ is a term with a range of meanings, one interpretation is that it is an individualistic and passive perspective, in which people expect to interact with public services through the same customer paradigm that operates in the commercial sector. This can be contrasted with more co-productive approaches that recognise and harness citizen expertise and appetite for involvement so that they are a key part of service improvement.

Co-production is widely argued to be a central plank of future public services. A range of services can show evidence of improved outcomes through working co-productively, including user-led mental health services, nurse family partnerships, prisoner councils, patient care plans, and apps that facilitate neighbourhood planning (for more detail see 2). These examples highlight the potential for co-production to be individual, group or collective (3). Normatively it is argued that co-production is beneficial for citizens: it creates ‘more involved, responsible users’ (4, p.59) who are more aware of the limits of services and the pressures facing staff (5).

The workforce implications of co-production are diverse. It has been suggested that effective co-production requires a re-thinking of the roles and relationship between citizens, communities, elected representatives, practitioners and policy makers. Dialogue is a starting point for building consensus and incentivising citizens to get involved. Durose et al emphasise the importance of, ‘Incentivising citizens and front-line professionals in a way which is relevant to their values and experiences, for example providing opportunities for peer-to-peer learning’ (2). Staff need to be prepared to accept and harness the expertise of the service user, because of their health and care experience or their knowledge of the local community (5, p.53). For example, initiatives such as personal health budgets are premised on an assumption that the doctor doesn’t always ‘know best’ when people are living with chronic conditions on a daily basis (6).

Many of the evaluations of co-production initiatives have emphasised the distinctive role that professionals are expected to play. In one, the staff member is described as having ‘an eclectic role…It exhibits elements of individual coordination, personal advocacy, family support, community development and direct funding (7, p.38) In another, it is ‘part good neighbour, part facilitator, part advocate, part support worker’ (5, p.54). There are challenges for staff in responding to these new roles. One author called for, ‘a new type of public service professional: the co-production development officer’ (8). Conversely, others strongly emphasise the need to ‘[r]esist temptation to create yet another category of potential professionals’ to make co-production happen (9). At a minimum there is a need for staff training to support co-productive approaches.

The New Economics Foundation has worked with local authorities to set up a co-production forum, training manual and training modules to help frontline staff develop some of the techniques (10). A Local Authorities Research Council Initiative (LARCI) study on co-production (11) called for a need to match up senior/executive staff (who may have an ‘academic’ interest in concepts like co-production), with the middle managers who feel the pressure of targets, and front-line staff who may not have the time or head-space to engage with new research.

  1. Griffiths S, Foley B, Prendergast J. Assertive Citizens: New Relationships in the Public Services. London: Social Market Foundation: 2009.
  2. Durose C, Mangan C, Needham C, Rees J. Transforming local public services through co-production Birmingham. AHRC Connected Communities/ CLG / University of Birmingham: 2013.Brundey JL, England RE. Towards a Definition of the Coproduction Concept. Public Administration Review. 1983;43(1):59.
  3. Leadbeater C. Personalisation through Participation: A New Script for Public Services. London: Demos: 2004.
  4. Needham C. Realising the Potential of Co-production: Negotiating Improvements in Public Services. Journal of Social Policy and Society. 2008;7(2):221-31.
  5. Poll C. Co-Production in Supported Housing: KeyRing Living Support Networks and Neighbourhood Networks Research Highlights in Social Work: Co-production and Personalisation in Social Care, Changing Relationships in the Provision of Social Care 2007;49:49-66.
  6. Glasby J, Alakeson V, Duffy S. Doctor knows best? The use of evidence in implementing selfdirected support in health care. Health Services Management Centre Policy Paper 16, Birmingham: HSMC. : 2013.
  7. Bartnik E, Chalmers R. It’s about More than the Money: Local Area Coordination Supporting People with Disabilities. Research Highlights in Social Work: Co-production and Personalisation in Social Care, Changing Relationships in the Provision of Social Care. 2007;49:19-38
  8. Bovaird T. Beyond Engagement and Participation: User and Community Co-production of Public Services. Public Administration Review. 2007;67(5):846-60.
  9. Hunter S, Ritchie P. Endnote. Research Highlights in Social Work: Co-production and Personalisation in Social Care, Changing Relationships in the Provision of Social Care. 2007;49.
  10. New Economics Foundation. Co-production: A manifesto for growing the core economy. London, New Economics Foundation: 2008.
  11. Barker A. Co-production of Local Public Services. London, Local Authorities Research Council Initiative (LARCI): 2010.
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2 thoughts on “The literature on changing relationships with citizens

  1. Pingback: The ethics of the 21st Century public servant | 21st Century Public Servant

  2. Pingback: ‘It’s about being human, that’s what we need to do,’ | 21st Century Public Servant

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