Co-production and the changing relationship between citizen and state

Big Ben in London at night against blue sky. London traffic

by Laura Dobie

The past week has seen much discussion around the relationship between citizen and state. On Monday 10th February, Ed Miliband delivered the Hugo Young lecture at the Guardian building in Kings Place. He made the case for a new culture in public services, moving towards “people-powered public services”. In this model, individuals are not simply the consumers of services, but have a voice as well as choice, and work with each other and the professionals who serve them. He argued that this approach is founded in principles of equality, and that all people, not just those at the top, should have the chance to shape their own lives.

Miliband emphasised that the complex challenges facing public services mean that they cannot be delivered in an old-fashioned, top-down way without the involvement of the people who use those services, and that this is necessary to secure maximum value for money from services in times of fiscal constraint.

He set out four principles to address inequalities of power and improve public services:

  • Information on individuals should be owned by and accessible to the individual;
  • Users of public services should not be left as isolated individuals, but should be able to form links with other users;
  • Every user of a public service has something to contribute and the presumption should be that decisions should be made jointly by users and public servants, and not just public servants; and
  • It is right to devolve power down, not just to the user, but to the local level.

Published last Wednesday, the Institute for Public Policy Research’s Many to Many report proposes a ‘relational state’ model for public service reform. This is characterised by:

  • Public services systems which are more connected, allowing problems to be addressed holistically; and
  • Deeper relationships at the frontline of service delivery, which facilitate more intensive and personalised engagement.

The authors argue that radical change is required in public services to address complex challenges and fulfil changing public expectations, as bureaucratic and market approaches to public services are failing to tackle many big social problems, and citizens are demanding more relational forms of service provision, with deeper relationships and more personalised services.

This approach requires a greater role for towns and cities, linking service users with lead professionals to establish relationships and designing institutions that strengthen relationships between citizens and allow them to address common problems together.

The report argues that a transition to a relational state will result in a renewed role for government, services which are able to address the great social challenges which we are currently facing, and more empowered and connected citizens.

Our latest topic briefing on co-production and local government reviews some of the issues and challenges around changing approaches to public service delivery. Drawing on UK and international research, policy and good practice, it covers the principles and roles of co-production in public services, its benefits, and tools and models of service delivery. Case studies provide insights into how to implement co-production across a variety of local government services. A copy of this briefing can be requested from here, in addition to our range of other briefings covering current issues and trends in public policy.

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