Panel Paper: Activating Collective Co-Production Mechanisms for Public Services: Influencing Citizens to Participate In Complex Governance

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 1:40 PM
Pratt A (Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Tony Bovaird1, Gerry Stoker2 and Pat Jones1, (1)University of Birmingham, (2)University of Southampton

Previous research has suggested that citizens are more likely to engage in co-production of public services with public agencies when the actions involved are relatively easy and can be carried out individually rather than in groups (5QC, 2008). Since much of the potential pay-off from co-production has been identified as coming from group-based activities, this is a potentially serious barrier.

The project was highly innovative, incorporating experimental methods to explore the intervention strategies (‘nudges’) which can influence citizens and groups towards collective co-production behaviours. The research questions explored were:

  1. What are the underlying conditions likely to shape the choice by individuals between individual and community co-production of public services?
  2. How can the balance between individual and community co-production of public services be ‘nudged’ towards more community-based activities?

The research methodology consisted of a citizen survey in a range of case study areas, followed by testing of the results by focus groups in those areas. The survey explored:


  • How the respondent gauges the current state of the issue (e.g. how safe is their area, how good is the local environment as a place to live, how good are local health services?)
  • What the respondent has done to help improve things in respect to the issue concerned (including both individual and group actions)
  • How satisfied the respondent is with the actions taken by local public sector agencies in tackling the issue and involving the respondent in such actions.
  • How much difference the respondent believes can be made to the issue by actions of ordinary citizens
  • How much time (if any) the respondent would be willing to spend (by themselves or with others) in activities to improve the issue
  • How important is improvement in each of these issues in the eyes of the respondent.

The most distinctive aspect of the research was that it tested out the extent to which ‘nudges’ given to the respondents affect their responses. For this research, the two key nudges were:

a)    Nudge A: making respondents aware of successful co-production activities in the public service concerned (health, community safety, local environmental improvement) by individuals or groups in their neighbourhood (as identified in the local focus groups)

b)    Nudge B: making respondents aware of how much time on average individuals (acting alone or in groups) typically devote to co-production activities in respect of the issue/public service concerned.

There were therefore four groups of respondents, namely those who were (randomly) assigned to receive Nudges A and B; Nudge A only; Nudge B only; or no nudge.

The experiments were undertaken in a London Borough, a metropolitan borough, a large town, and a rural area. The surveys were administered through the citizens’ panel in each location in late 2011, with follow-up focus groups in spring 2012.

The paper explores the commonalities and differences between the four areas in the level and type of co-production of public services and the implications for how local governance mechanisms can ‘nudge’ citizens towards more collective co-production.