Citizen engagement to co-deliver public services

An emerging innovation in how we provide public goods involves the concept of “co-delivering” government services. To improve the development, production, and delivery of public services, governments are increasingly seeing the input and co-operation of citizens to help out. A new report from  the IBM Center for The Business of Government, called, Beyond Citizen Engagement: Involving the Public in Co-Delivering Government Services aims to document this new phenomenon.

Authors Dr. Ai-Mei Chang and P.K. Kannan, both from the University of Maryland, start by contextualizing the opportunity:

“today there is an opportunity to go beyond traditional forms of citizen participation such as voting and testifying at public hearings. The rise and increasing pervasiveness of digi­tal social media—Facebook, Twitter—have dissolved the many technical barriers to widespread and sustained citizen involvement in actually co-producing and co-delivering public services. Pioneering initiatives, in turn, are also thawing the cultural barriers among professional public administrators to engaging and co-designing public services with non-expert citizens.”

The report subsequently highlights three different types of co-delivery initiatives “that can increase citizen engagement, each offering different roles and opportunities for citizens to engage in public services”. They include:

Co-design initiatives. A co-design initiative allows citizens to participate in the development of a new policy or service. These kinds of initiatives typically are time-bound and involve citizens either individually or as a group. For example, the development of the Obama administration’s Open Government policy in 2009 engaged citizens via an open electronic platform where citi­zens could be actively involved in the drafting of policy guidance.

Co-production initiatives. A co-production initiative involves citizens—as individuals or in groups—in creating a service to be used by others. These can involve either short-term or long-term participation. For example, the Youth Court of Washington, D.C. engages first-time, non-violent offenders to serve as a jury and try other offenders as a teaching tool to reduce the chances of recidivism. Similarly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office engages individual outside experts in the patent application examination process to speed patent issuance. In contrast, the Library of Congress engages large groups of citizens via crowdsourcing to classify and categorize content and facilitate appropriate information retrieval for all users.

Co-delivery initiatives. The co-delivery approach involves citizens—as individuals or in groups—in delivering a service to others. It can be premised on either short-term, transaction-based or longer-term relationships. The United Kingdom has been a pioneer in co-delivery of health and mental health programs, including family intervention programs and community support programs.”

A large portion of the report is dedicated to guiding government executives, including insights on introducing and implementing co-delivery initiatives. The guide starts with the following important warning (applicable across citizen engagement efforts):

 “Start any initiative with the right motivation. Co-delivery initiatives are all about success­ful service outcome that benefits the citizens, leading to significant improvement in out­comes through innovative, creative sparks. The primary motivation for a government agency should be improvement in service outcome, and not cost-cutting. If the service outcome is successful, it also will ensure that the process has been an efficient one, with reduced costs and government input and increased return on investment (ROI) manifesting themselves as by-products. A singular emphasis on cost-cutting is likely to lead to failure.”

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