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A primer on co-production and innovation

By Maria Katsonis

Monday February 4, 2019

Co-production, co-design, co-creation – these terms are used interchangeably but all have distinct meanings. This brief provides a primer on co-production and how it can be used to stimulate innovation in public services.

At a glance

In their third issues paper, Professor Deborah Blackman, Professor Helen Dickinson and Dr Linda Dewey from the Public Service Research Group at UNSW Canberra discuss different forms of co-production and what it brings to innovation for service users, organisations and the public service.

They found that:

  • there needs to be a more service integrated, systems approach if innovation is to emerge and be sustained.
  • moving to this approach has implications for the way government designs and delivers services if users are to harness the benefits.
  • the approach will affect the skills required by public servants.

What is co-production?

Co-production is a contested term which is open to different interpretations. Essentially it:

  • involves citizens assisting in the production of public services
  • empowers service users to influence public policy and service delivery in areas that affect them.

The benefits of co-production can include:

  • greater ability to develop tailored solutions
  • increased efficiency when services are built around the user’s needs
  • greater user satisfaction due to higher service quality
  • building the confidence and capacity of individuals and communities
  • better use of public resources.

Three approaches to co-production

The issues paper outlines three approaches to co-production:

  1. Product dominant: keeps the role of the professional public servant separate from the user who is ‘added on’ when appropriate. The focus is on the product (ie service) rather than the user.
  2. Service management: integrates the user in all levels of design, implementation and delivery of a particular service.
  3. Service integrated systems: understands the lived experience of users in the full range of available public services.

Each of these approaches involves users in different ways.

  • The product dominant approach engages the user at the operational stage with the aim of user empowerment.
  • In service management, the user participates at the strategic planning and design stage.
  • The systems approach combines the operational and strategic. The aim is user led innovation with the user’s lived experience challenging design, planning and delivery.

Innovation and co-production

Creating public value through some form of innovation is a core objective of co-production. However the value proposition will vary depending on the approach being used.

  • Product dominant: the organisation is the creator of value.
  • Service management: the organisation creates value with service users and partners.
  • Systems approach: service users create value.

Participants in the co-production process can include service users, service providers, public servants and volunteers. Roles will vary depending on the co-production approach.

Product dominant

  • Service users are recipients of the service
  • Public servants are the experts and only engage with service users when needed.

Service management

  • Service users participate in design, implementation and delivery of a specific service
  • Public servants are stewards of design, implementation and delivery

Service integration

  • Service users innovate at every level of design, implementation and delivery.
  • Public servants are knowledge workers, boundary spanners and build trusted relationships with participants.

What does this mean for public servants?

A different approach is needed from public servants when service integrated co-production is being used to stimulate innovation. Public servants are no longer managers or the leaders of experts in the design and delivery of services. Instead they are stewards for achieving outcomes that add value to service users.

Public servants will need to determine whether to use in-house production; provision of services by another public service agency; partnering with an external agency; or contracting with an external agency to co-produce. The decision will be influenced by cost, competition, ability to monitor and revise the service, and the level of trust between the public servant and co-production participation.

This means public servants will need the ability to:

  • Set and manage clear objectives and allocate resources to achieve outcomes in a fluid environment.
  • Make judgements on projects and programs about scope, timing, and resourcing.
  • Manage across programs and achieve outcomes for which they do not control any or all of the outputs.
  • Influence others as achieving outcomes is less about setting directions and more about developing and maintaining effective relationships.
  • Develop adaptive ways of working and have the capacity to adapt.
  • Develop their capabilities and those of their team.

Join the discussion

Do you have any examples or case studies of effective approaches to co-production? Comment below.

Want to read more?

Issues Paper No 3. Co-production and innovation – creating better solutions for future public service implementation – Linda Dewey, Deborah Blackman, Helen Dickinson, Public Service Research Group, UNSW Canberra (2018)

Public admin explainer: What is co-production? – The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (2017)

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