Last Friday, I posted about co-production. The post shows how the core economy is fundamental to the marketplace but not always recognised as it is essentially non-financial. Today I shall explore full co-production and its alternatives.
|E||Professionals||Traditional Services||Community Planning|
The table contrasts planning and delivery. Professional and community organisations working together can carry out both activities. Full co-production is where professional and community organisations plan and deliver together.
I’ll work through the table, defining terms as I go.
Planning is an activity integral to community development. Whilst local residents may not be able to deliver services, they can always have a stake in planning them.
When professionals make decisions, they can consult with residents either before they make a plan, eg using a questionnaire, or afterwards by consulting on their proposals. Many people will be familiar with Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation and where professionals totally control planning, they’re working in the manipulation and tokenism parts of the ladder.
Traditional services assume professionals do the planning, perhaps with some consultation. This is legitimate where community organisations do not wish to be involved in all aspects of planning. The work can be tedious and so long as the planning covers what it needs to cover, people are happy for the professionals to get on with it. However, when things go wrong, professionals need to listen. Professionals can resolve some issues by listening to complaints and responding, others may need a more systematic approach to planning together.
One essential, where planning is primarily led by professionals is a good complaints procedure. Professionals need to be clear what a complaint is and how to manage them. If the numbers or seriousness of complaints increase it may be worth considering co-planning.
Community Planning is primarily a community activity, whilst co-planning or planning includes professionals.
Co-planning should be in the top section of Arnstein’s ladder, Citizen Power. Partnership may be most appropriate, when considering Co-Planning, as delegated power and citizen control implies some form of co-delivery.
Whilst a move towards Co-Planning may be the result of complaints, it is not always so. The initiative might equally come from local residents who identify an issue and want to have a say in it.
The big advantage of community planning, is it enables neighbourhoods to work out their own priorities, independent of professional agendas. Community planning has limitations. A community plan may allow representatives of a community a place at the table with professionals but it is at that stage it is important to move the debate into the Co-Planning column. To insist a community plan, has more validity than everyone else’s is likely to get short shrift.
Professionals will come to the table with their own plans, often responding to the needs of several neighbourhoods. The challenge for local residents is finding they are competing for resources and services with other neighbourhoods.
Think of community plans as means to move a community organisation towards full co-production. There are times when it is right for community organisations to take on delivery. However, where collaboration with professional services is essential, the aim is collaboration in the central square in the table.
Broadly professionals or professionalised community organisations, sometimes called social enterprises, achieve delivery. There are advantages to delivery of mainstream services centrally. They have the resources and skilled staff. Voluntary organisations usually identify and fill gaps. To what extent is it possible for professional organisations and community organisations to collaborate in delivery of services?
This was the 2000 Local Government Act’s vision. Community plans were to result in collaboration between professionals and residents, planning and delivering services. Local assemblies, based on local authority wards in the UK, were to be the platform where the council could make decisions relevant to local neighbourhoods.
Whilst this activity has declined, with changes to national government, the principles still exist, despite their political steer.
It still makes sense for local authorities to deliver services. Their role has been eroded in recent years, not through collaboration with residents but through private companies. Council services such as refuse collection or road maintenance have been outsourced, increasingly using Private Finance Initiatives that tie councils into long-term contracts, often with terms and conditions kept out of the sight of the electorate.
The real issue here is transparency and accountability to local residents. When councils deliver services, if the problems become intractable, residents can vote them out or at least threaten to. With a PFI, the same delivery arrangement persists whoever controls the council.
Whilst it is not too difficult to imagine circumstances where co-planning is helpful to all parties, it is harder to think of examples of co-delivery. Perhaps one is Burngreave New Deal for Communities. If you read these blog posts, you will get some idea of the difficulties of this type of collaborative approach.
It’s not just that local authorities and other professional bodies are juggernauts, likely to crush community organisations, it is also the changing political complexion of local authorities. Adverse political change Good can rapidly wreck good working relationships.
Social enterprises are one example of a professionalised community organisation that can plan and deliver services in a neighbourhood. Social enterprises may be engaged in co-production but retain some independence from the big players.
Perhaps neighbourhoods with their own development trust or similar are better equipped to contribution to co-production, whilst building alternative or independent sources of funding.
It seems the main weakness of co-production, likely to undermine any full co-production arrangements is changing political fortunes. A change in council leadership can undermine co-production. Similarly, national government decisions can favour alternatives such as PFIs.
To work with professionals, community organisations need to professionalise to bring their independent contribution to the table. As such they need to work out how they as professionals co-plan and co-deliver with their residents.
So, what do you think? Can full co-production work? I’ve filled in some of the squares on the table, can you think of practices that fill the remaining squares (or indeed better ideas than mine!)?