- “Co-creating public policies or ways to bring citizens into the process” – initially published on EPSI Platform, January 2016
The full paper can be accessed from here
Government is not a vending machine, with bureaucrats dispensing services, but a platform—like Facebook, Twitter, and the iPhone—where citizens can build their own apps and interact with one another and come up with their own solutions.
Citizens around the world continue witnessing unprecedented levels of growing inequality, corruption or absence of citizen voice in decision making processes, and these are just very few examples of problems at the core of the world’s development challenges and of the global agenda. One of the biggest challenges is closing the so-called feedback loop – or accountability gap – between what citizens need or demand for and what the governments actually do to respond to that demand. On one hand, citizens need to have more information and incentives to articulate their voice; while governments need to have the ability to listen, and act upon the feedback they receive from citizens on services they benefit from.
Significant efforts have been made to make public services user-friendly and reduce the administrative burden during the past years in several countries around the globe, however, studies show that service design often does not meet the expectations of citizens who require more usability and transparency. The deep understanding and knowledge of users, the re-design of services with their approach and preferred delivery channel in mind are important elements for governments to prove their ability to fulfil the needs of citizens.
The ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach no longer works in all spheres of the public sector regardless of whether we deal with developed or developing countries; historical, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds play an important role in the expectations of interactions with public administrations.
Engaging with stakeholders in the co-design of services or co-production of public policies raises the expectations related to higher quality of those services and greater value of the policies made. It is therefore important to start implementing specific collaborative service creation and policy-making by departing from the roles citizens play or might play in these processes as well as from ways public administrations gather the necessary customer insight, re-define their operational processes and identify appropriate sustainability models.
Engaging citizens at different stages of the co-creation and co-design of public services and policies brings diversity into both the process and the results. As per Justin Trudeau, Prime-Minister of Canada, January 2016, World Economic Forum, “… diversity is an indispensable ingredient and is the engine of invention, it generates creativity and enriches the world.”
It is important to recognize that that the citizens in a democracy have both rights and duties, and that democratic governance provides opportunities for citizens to get actively engaged in shaping their world, innovating it, and exploring fully the potential of the diversity.
This paper looks into a number of key pre-conditions needed for a constructive, participatory, inclusive, open and transparent co-creation processes around public policy. It shares specific emerging trends and aspects behind a citizen-centric government, for public servants to consider when engaging with citizens, as well as, explains the different roles citizens play in the co-creation exercise.
On public policy creation and co-creation …
The world we live in is being shaped through public policy. And if one believes that public policies are made not only by politicians, policy makers or public servants – they get it wrong. Policy making is a far more complex and holistic process, which involves thousands of public servants, tens of thousands of women and men who petition our parliaments and ministers, who are part of interest groups or communities of practice, who comment through the social media or represent unions, different organizations, community movements and similar. All have a strong say in public policy. And this is because our communities are affected directly by public policies with all that they entail, from the way they are being elaborated, implemented to the evaluation/assessment practices.
Why is this so? It is because the representative democracy we have been used to during the past years is gradually changing and transforming/evolving into a participatory one, greatly influenced by the advent of technology and innovations driven by the ICTs. All these, anchors public policy debate in a new form of paradigm – a paradigm in which citizens are brought closer to the decision making processes and thus, having the opportunity to articulate their needs, preferences and desires. Both theories and practices in the field of public administration are increasingly concerned with placing the citizen at the center/at the core of policymakers’ considerations, not just as target, but also as agent. Actually citizens, or the beneficiaries of public policies, are considered to be the best “experts” given that they know what does best meet their needs and interests. Given this paradigm, to what extent public servants are being prepared to collaborate, not merely consult; to reach out, not merely respond. Is there a critical mass of public servants or policy makers ready to co-create with their citizens policies or any other critically important documents?! On the other hand, who are the citizens who are best positioned to be part of the co-creation agenda?!
To answer these questions, it is important to look at the way public policies are being shaped traditionally and what are the key pre-requisites needed in order to have a real, authentic co-creation process of public policies.
It is important to start from the very fact that governments alone cannot deal with a wide range of complex problems and challenges they face be it domestically, regionally or globally. The wide spectrum of emerging issues nowadays vary from climate change, gender issues or refugees’ crisis. Regardless of the issues, governments need to be able to respond by permanently reviewing and improving the quality of the services they deliver and with this, the quality of the processes behind the policy making. Parallel to these, governments have to acknowledge that massive exposure of the citizens to the online medium and the diverse opportunities it provides (from access to data, online education, e-petitions, etc. ), contributes to more informed, educated citizens who start to become more active in demanding better quality and a more “democratic performance” as well as government’s “policy performance” or the ability to deliver tangible positive outcomes for society. And even if there is much talk today about the need to embrace more open and inclusive policy making, the road ahead is still long for many governments around the world. This open approach implies comprehensive changes and improvements in the decision-making processes, new change-management practices, introducing accountability measures, and comprehensive monitoring of policies’ outcomes.