Better Services and Outcomes through Citizen Co-Production

17th February 2020 - Dr. Elke Loeffler (Commissioner)

Citizen co-production of public services and outcomes is nothing new. What is new is that it needs to be done more effectively and integrated into the public value process which underpins public services.

The Governance International Public Value Model shows that improvements to public outcomes not only stem from traditionally provided public services but also directly from the contributions of local communities through co-production and behaviour change. Dramatic examples are given when disasters strike, such as the women who got together last weekend during Storm Ciara to cook hot meals for flood victims (see – however, more everyday examples are also revealing, such as the peer training of learner drivers by offenders in Austria, where young drivers who have caused car accidents come to driving schools to tell young learners  in a very direct and authentic way how they caused the accident (usually under the influence of alcohol) and to point out the implications of risky driving.

The good news is that co-production has now become more popular, but, at the same time, the term is increasingly used in a fuzzy way to include all kinds of collaborative arrangements, even between organisations. Governance International has adopted the following definition:

“Co-production is about public service organisations and citizens making better use of each other’s assets, resources and contributions to achieve better outcomes or improve efficiency”.

As tempting as it may be to pick a definition from the internet, ideally any definition of co-production should be co-produced with the local stakeholders involved to create a common understanding and language.

Our definition suggests that co-production is not a purpose in itself. Nobody could and should expect to co-produce all decisions and all services with all citizens at all times. However, citizen co-production can be a very effective strategy to improve public outcomes and/or efficiency if it is done well and it is appropriate. Furthermore, co-production adds to citizen participation as it includes not only citizen voice but also citizen action.

To make co-production practical, the Governance International Co-production Toolkit distinguishes between “Four Co’s”, including:

This model of the Four Co’s provides public service commissioners and providers with a range of different opportunities to bring citizens into public services and offers different roles to citizens, depending on their interests and capabilities. The 
Co-Production Vision of the London Borough of Newham also includes all four Co’s. Its Co-Production Forum in Adult Social Care brings ‘experts by experience’ into discussions and actions around important health and social care issues.

Our research shows that in most countries in Europe, the public sector has regarded co-production as an opportunity to involve citizens in the services and interventions in which the public sector is already engaged (what we call the ‘inside-out’ thinking approach). This is, of course, welcome. However, it may mean that an alternative pathway, which might be even more transformative and successful, is being overlooked – namely, for the public sector to explore carefully how it could add value to all the activities which service users and communities are already undertaking in their daily lives (what we call the ‘outside-in’ approach). An interesting example comes from Dumfries and Galloway in Scotland, where a group of women recovering from cancer got together to run a support group and community event, uncovering a huge level of unmet need in their local community, which has now been recognised by the local health and social care services (see

Finally a word about governance principles – although the public sector across the UK has widely espoused the idea of ‘outcome-based commissioning’, focusing as far as possible on high level outcomes relevant to the quality of life of service users and local communities more generally, this should not tempt us to believe that such outcomes are the only test of public policy and interventions. It remains critically important to remember that ‘the ends do not justify the means’. Social justice, fairness, the equalities agenda, transparency and accountability are fundamental and must be achieved in our co-production approaches to improving outcomes, as in all the actions of the public sector. Indeed, co-production may be one very important way of giving these public governance principles more attention, as the more intensive collaboration with citizens opens up the possibility of greater challenge.

If you want to have your say in the work of the Commission, or are interested in launching a co-production initiative, visit our online discussion portal and feed in your views. We’d love to hear from you.

Elke Loeffler – Member, Democracy and Civic Participation Commission