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Public participation, involvement and engagement are all catch-all categories, of which co-production can be seen as one example.

Like co-production public participation is not new. Statutory regulations to promote local involvement in planning decisions date back to the 1960s. User involvement has long been a feature of some social services. And ‘community’ involvement has been a precondition for funding for most UK and EU regeneration programmes for the last decade or more

Current attempts to improve policy-making, services and public governance have, however, placed public participation at the centre stage. According to OECD (2001) public participation “allows government to tap new sources of policy-relevant ideas, information and resources when making decisions. Equally important, it contributes to building public trust in government, raising the quality of democracy and strengthening civic capacity”. In today’s world of Open Government, participation is considered to be a key element in transforming government-citizen relations.

At the same time, tight public budgets have raised questions about costs and benefits of public participation. Indeed, there are now more question marks about insincerely motivated forms of participation for pure PR reasons or tokenistic consultations when decisions have already been taken. But there can be no doubt that effective participation requires resources – not forgetting the time invested by citizens. The think tank Involve has developed a useful participation toolkit to help decision-makers make a business case on public participation.

There are many different ways of engaging service users and communities in public policy-making and public services.  One of the most widely quoted typologies is the ‘ladder of participation’ developed by Sherry Arnstein in 1969. Only the higher rungs (partnership, delegated power and citizen control) can be seen as examples of co-production. Another well-known typology is the distinction between information (one-way relation between citizens and government); consultation (a two-way relation) and active participation (a relation based on partnership with government) by OECD.

Social media and open government applications open up new opportunities of public participation both for government and citizens. However, modern technology also brings new challenges such as protection of privacy. 

Governance International facilitated a consultation event with voluntary organisations to redesign funding systems in Argyll &Bute Council's Children and Families Services in the light of budget cuts. To find more information on the event in Argyll and Bute please click here.


Governance International Interview with Alasdair Mangham, Head of Information Systems and Development, London Borough of Camden on 'how the London Borough of Camden uses social media in order to effectively engage with its residents.'

Involve (2011), Making the Case for Public Engagement

Martin, Steve (2009), Engaging with Citizens and Stakeholders, in: Bovaird, Tony and Löffler, Elke (eds.), Public Management and Governance, Routledge, London and New York, 2nd edition, pp. 279-296.

OECD (2001), Engaging Citizens in Policy-Making: Information, Consultation and Public Participation, PUMA Policy Brief No. 10.


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