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Self-Governance and Co-Production: Beyond Markets and States

How do public entrepreneurs work with governments to solve collective action problems? In this video Professor Mark Pennington explains co-production.
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In the earlier sessions, we’ve seen that the distinction between the ‘private’ and ‘public’ sector, and between ‘markets’ and ‘states’ doesn’t really do justice to the full range of possible institutional mechanisms that might be available to address various social and economic problems. In this session, I’m going to introduce you to another concept developed by the Ostroms that further questions the distinction between ‘private’ and ‘public’ sector solutions – this is the idea of ‘co-production’. Co-production is a fundamental concept to understand the role of self-governance, and in particular the role of citizenship in a self-governing society.
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When we look at many of the goods and services that we use in our daily lives, it is tempting to think in terms of a stark division between those who consume a good or service in question, and those who produce the good or service concerned. Now for many goods and services, thinking in terms of this division works quite well – consider, for example, when you go to the supermarket or to the bakery to buy a loaf of bread – in this instance, the act of buying the bread and subsequently consuming it is pretty much the only role you as a consumer play in the process – the role of consuming the bread is completely separate from all of the activities that were involved in producing the bread.
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But for other goods or services, this distinction doesn’t work so well. We miss out on the element of co-production that may be involved in producing the good concerned. Take the case of personal training. If you hire a personal trainer to improve fitness or to lose weight, the mere act of paying a trainer isn’t actually going to deliver on the good that you desire. The qualities of the personal trainer, whether they give you the right exercises to perform, is going to be important, but whether the good of improved fitness or weight loss is delivered is also going to depend on the amount of work that you put into the process – how regularly do you do the exercises?
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How much effort do you put in outside the sessions you have with the trainer? In these cases, the good of improved fitness and weight loss is co-produced between yourself and the personal trainer. Education is another example, irrespective of whether this education takes place in private schools or in state sector or public sector schools. In this case, the payment of money by parents, whether in the form of fees or in terms of taxes, will not of itself ensure the good of an educated child.
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A good education depends in part on the quality of the teachers and schools but it also depends on the effort that is put in by children and parents – in the case of a child, taking extra time out of class to do homework, and also in the case of parents, to inculcate in the child the importance of a good education. The good of an educated child, in other words, is co-produced by teachers, schools, children and parents. These co-producing relationships can occur in the private sector, in the public sector or in the voluntary sector – but they can also occur in ways that straddle across these different sectors.
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Consider crime – if people take the attitude that they have paid their taxes and it’s now just up to the police and the courts to do their job in preventing crime or punishing criminals, then it’s unlikely that we’re going to see a successful outcome. Crime prevention involves co-production in a number of important ways. It requires that private citizens take action to reduce their own risk of being subjected to crime, for example by remembering to lock doors, and perhaps also by installing a burglar alarm on their personal property. People also need to be involved in their communities in preventing crime–perhaps forming a neighbourhood watch group to keep an eye on what’s going on in the neighbourhood.
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And finally, people need to be involved in educating children to make sure that they’re averse to engaging in criminal activity when they grow up. In other words, crime prevention involves coproduction between the police, the courts, but also the individuals and members of communities. The co-production of these activities is essential if we’re going to see a successful response to the problem of crime. In order to solve problems like crime effectively, it’s not just that citizens need to see themselves as more than passive consumers of police services; public agencies also need to recognise the role of citizens in addressing the problem of crime.
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They need to allow, for example, neighbourhood watch groups or other voluntary organisations to be able to take initiatives to address crime. If the police or other public sector agencies block the initiatives of local associations of people who are trying in their own way to address the problem, then we’re unlikely to see a successful solution to crime in different neighbourhoods. Successful crime prevention requires that public agencies work directly with voluntary organisations and individuals in order to ensure a co-produced solution to crime as a problem. As an exercise, to recap what we’ve learned in this session, try to think of five examples of local goods or services that require some form of co-production if they’re going to be delivered successfully.

When we started the course, one of the first questions we asked you to consider was the difference between the terms ‘governance’ and ‘government.’

Since then, we’ve learned that governments are far from the only providers of governance in society. In fact, governments usually cannot provide public services to citizens in the same way that private firms provide services to consumers.

For governments to achieve important goals like public health or public safety, they must often work in tandem with public entrepreneurs and self-governing organisations that directly serve communities. We call this process co-production.

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The Ideal of Self-Governance: Public Policy Beyond Markets and States

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