SPECIAL ISSUE BLOG SERIES: Blog 2 – Co-creation: the new kid on the block in public governance

Special issue blog series on strategic management of the transition to public sector co-creation

Ansell and TorfingChristopher Ansell and Jacob Torfing

In our recent article in our special issue on Strategic management of the transition to public sector co-creation, we reminisce briefly about the time when bureaucracy with its hierarchical command structure and emphasis on compliance with written rules was the only game in town. This was understandable, since the public sector was tasked with solving simple problems through large-scale provision of services such as schooling, health care and social welfare. This task called for exploitation of the bureaucratic forms of organisation propagated by industrialisation.

Then, from the 1970s onwards, the criticisms of the public sector for being inefficient and delivering poor services and failing governance solutions started to grow and the public sector was confronted with the question whether to ‘make or buy’. As a result, we saw the expansion of quasi-markets where public and private service providers competed for contracts and customers. This development turned citizens into demanding, dissatisfied and complaining consumers expecting service without having to contribute anything themselves towards problem solving. In the increasingly cash-strapped public sector, this development seems to be unsustainable. We need to mobilise the manifold resources of users, citizens and private stakeholders in order to provide needs-based services and create new and better solutions through mutual learning and innovation.

In response to this problem, we have recently seen the arrival of a new kid on the block. Co-creation increasingly presents an alternative to both hierarchical government and market competition. In public service production, users have always been involved in co-production of the service they receive. Volunteers have also co-produced public services for their fellow citizens. Co-production is encouraged and seems to flourish in many countries and sectors, and it increasingly takes the form of co-creation that involves a broader set of actors and expands its scope to include the redesign of service systems, physical planning and, more generally, public problem solving. Co-creation is problem-driven, involves lay-actors, has a distributed leadership, and aims to create innovative solutions with a broad-based ownership. Hence, as a tool of governance, it differs from its parent concept of collaborative governance that tends to be slightly more state-centric, focussed on coordination and based on organised stakeholder groups. As such, co-creation both builds upon and extends the concept of collaborative governance by incorporating an element of social entrepreneurship that is revealed in the endeavour to combine talk-centric deliberation with action-centric experimentation based on the design and testing of prototypes.

If we want to welcome the new kid on the block, we need to stimulate co-creation through strategic management involving different levels of public managers as well as their employees and external stakeholders. Top-down change management must be combined with transformative bottom-up initiatives, with room for organisational learning that translates co-creation into meaningful goals, norms and activities.

The strategic management of the activity furthermore introduces a new type of ‘generative governance’ that aims at solving complex problems by constructing platforms enabling the formation and adaptation of co-creation arenas that bring together a plethora of public and private actors, including citizens, in creative problem-solving processes. Platforms may be either physical or digital and their primary function is to attract relevant and affected actors and lower the transaction costs of collaborating and supporting innovation. The ultimate vision is to transform the public sector into a platform organisation that, instead of insisting on solving problems and tasks all by itself, aims to construct platforms that invite a plethora of actors to work together, share resources and ideas and co-create innovative public value outcomes.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Ansell, Christopher; Torfing, Jacob (2021) ‘Co-creation: the new kid on the block in public governance‘,  Policy & Politics, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1332/030557321X16115951196045

Read the other blog pieces in the series: 

Blog 1 – Public value as the game changer for co-creation of innovative solutions in the public sector

Blog 2 – Co-creation: the new kid on the block in public governance

Blog 3 – How public leaders can use co-creation to make things better

Blog 4 – Big dreams and small steps: regional policy networks and what they achieve

Read the entire special issue for free until 31 May 2021: 

Strategic management of the transition to public sector co-creation
Guest edited by Jacob Torfing, Ewan Ferlie, Tina Jukić and Edoardo Ongaro

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