David Gale, in a post to a blogsite on which Martin Ferguson of SOCITM is asking for ideas on issues to raise at a forthcoming PSI event on service delivery, suggests that the posts made say nothing at all about taking a few steps back and starting by putting the customer at the centre of service delivery and information management (http://alturl.com/48b9). This note is based on my reply to that post.
Actually, most users are already at the centre of what public sector professionals and managers would see as 'the service', since they are already doing lots of things that either make the service unnecessary (core preventative activity, e.g. eating better, exercising more, taking more stuff to recycling centres, locking their houses and cars more carefully, etc.) or are undertaking some of the core problem-alleviating service activity for themselves or with friends and neighbours (e.g. caring for a loved one, learning a new skill, taking a course of non-prescribed medicine, cleaning up a dirty corner of the local pond, intervening to ask local kids to stop making such a racket around the local bus stop late into the evening, etc.).
The big and embarrassing issue is this - users and citizens DON'T see this as 'co-production of public services' - and quite rightly. That's because they very often see themselves as pretty well producing the improvements ALONE and without help from professional staff, whether from the public sector or third sector (never mind the private sector). 'Co-production my arse', you can probably hear them mumbling. So actually, it's not really a question of 'us' (public service professionals) putting 'them' (users and citizens) at the centre of service delivery and information - no, the challenge is to find ways for US to get to the centre, alongside users and engaged citizens. And if we are to ask their permission to get in there with them, and make use of their energy, commitment, expertise and time – and get them to recognize and make good us of OUR expertise and other resources - well, then, we're going to have to do something to improve our credibility, which in many cases is pretty shot through in the eyes of these 'everyday' makers of real improvements in the life of our communities.
I think that such an approach (‘from self-organising to co-production’) is directly tackling David Gale's point, but it suggests that we need to step back and see things from a very different perspective. Good news, bad news - bad news first: it's a humbler perspective, which is a bit hard for many professionals to take; good news - it often doesn't involve trying to create something that doesn't exist, rather it's about asking service users and citizens for permission to join them in their everyday mission to improve their own lives and those of the people around them. In other words, co-production would often be easy - if we weren't always trying so hard to see it and sell it as something WE have to convince THEM to do!