Why co-produce? Accounting for diversity in citizens’ motivations to engage in neighbourhood watch schemes.

Carola van Eijk, Trui Steen & Bram Verschuere

In local communities, citizens are more and more involved in the production of public services. To list just a few examples: citizens take care of relatives or friends through informal care, parents help organizing activities at their children’s school, and neighbours help promoting safety and liveability in their community. In all these instances, citizens complement the activities performed by public professionals like nurses, teachers, neighbourhood workers and police officers; this makes it a ‘co-productive’ effort. But why do people want to co-produce? In our recently published article in Local Government Studies we try to answer that question by focusing on one specific case: local community safety. One of the main conclusions is that citizens have different incentives to co-produce public services, and local governments need to be aware of that.

Simultaneous to the international trend to emphasize citizens’ responsibilities in the delivery of public services, there are also concerns about the potential of co-production to increase the quality and democratization of public service delivery. One important question pertains to who is included and excluded in co-production processes. Not all stakeholders might be willing or feel capable to participate. So, acknowledging the added value of citizens’ efforts and the societal need to increase the potential benefits of co-production, it is important to better understand the motivations and incentives of citizens to co-produce public services. A better insight not only can help local governments to keep those citizens who are already involved motivated, but also to find the right incentives to inspire others to get involved. Yet, despite this relevance, the current co-production literature has no clear-cut answer as the issue of citizens’ motivations to co-produce only recently came to the fore.

In our study, we focus on citizens’ engagement in co-production activities in the domain of safety, more specifically though neighbourhood watch schemes in the Netherlands and Belgium. Members of neighbourhood watch teams keep an eye on their neighbourhood. Often they gather information via citizen patrols on the streets, and report their findings to the police and municipal organization. Their signalling includes issues such as streetlamps not functioning, paving stones being broken, or antisocial behaviour. Furthermore, neighbourhood watch teams often draw attention to windows being open or back doors not being closed. Through the neighbourhood watch scheme, the local government and police thus collaborate to increase social control, stimulate prevention, and increase safety.

The opinions of citizens in co-producing these activities and their motivations for getting engaged in neighbourhood watch schemes are investigated using a ‘Q-methodology’ approach. This research method is especially suitable to study how people think about a certain topic. We asked a total of 64 respondents (30 in Belgium and 34 in the Netherlands) to rank a set of statements from totally disagreement to fully agreement.

Based on the rankings, we were able to identify different groups of co-producers. Each of the groups shares a specific viewpoint on their engagement, emphasizing for example more community-focused motivations or a professional attitude in the collaboration with both police and local government. To illustrate, in Belgium one of the groups identified are ‘protective rationalists’, who join the neighbourhood watch team to increase their own personal safety or the safety of their neighbourhood, but also weigh the rewards (in terms of safety) and costs (in terms of time and efforts). In Netherlands, to give another example, among the groups identified we found ‘normative partners’. These co-producers are convinced their investments help protect the common interest and that simply walking around the neighbourhood brings many results. Furthermore, they highly value partnerships with the police: they do not want to take over police’s tasks but argue they cannot function without the police also being involved.

The study shows that citizens being involved in the co-production of safety through neighbourhood watch schemes cannot be perceived as being similar to each other. Rather, different groups of co-producers can be identified, each of these reflecting a different combination of motivations and ideas. As such, the question addressed above concerning why people co-produce cannot be simply answered: the engagement of citizens to co-produce seems to be triggered by a combination of factors. Local governments that expect citizens to do part of the job previously done by professional organisations need to be aware of the incentives people have to co-produce public services. Their policies and communication strategies need to allow for diversity. For example, people who co-produce from a normative perspective might feel misunderstood when compulsory elements are integrated, while people who perceive their engagement as a professional task might be motivated by the provision of extensive feedback.


Foto Carola %28bijgesneden%29.jpgCarola van Eijk holds a position as a PhD-candidate at the Institute of Public Administration at Leiden University. In her research, she focusses on the interaction of both professionals and citizens in processes of co-production. In addition, her research interests include citizen participation at the local level, and crises (particularly blame games).



Trui Steen is Professor ‘Public Governance and Coproduction of Public Services’  at KU Leuven Public Governance Institute. She  is interested in the governance of public tasks and the role of public service professionals therein. Her research includes diverse topics, such as professionalism, public service motivation, professional-citizen co-production of public services, central-local government relations, and public sector innovation


Bram Verschuere 2.jpg

Bram Verschuere is Associate Professor at Ghent University. His research interests include public policy, public administration, coproduction, civil society and welfare policy. 

Picturing place: citizen participation in the age of social media

Katherine Tonkiss

The INLOGOV blog has featured a number of insightful pieces on citizen participation in recent months. Most recently, Laurens de Graaf reflected on the limited role of citizens in participatory projects, where they typically act as information sources for elected representatives rather than decision-makers themselves. Previously, Catherine Durose argued in favour of alternative modes of citizen participation in order to move away from often empty, ‘tick-box’ consultation processes. Further, Catherine Jackson-Read reflected on whether local government in its current form can work effectively in collaboration with citizens.

What these posts have in common is a consensus that facilitating effective citizen participation is a significant challenge for local government, and that authorities should look to more novel approaches to facilitating participation beyond the traditional meeting in the drafty village hall.

These posts sprang to mind when I came across a campaign being run by Birmingham City Council’s Fair Brum partnership, ‘Place Matters’. The purpose of this project is to facilitate the participation of citizens in shaping Birmingham’s neighbourhood strategy by submitting photographs of their neighbourhood via social media. The focus is on ‘what is distinctive about different neighbourhoods and what local people value in their local environment’.

Photographs should answer one of the following questions:

  1. What do you like about your area?
  2. What makes your area unique or distinctive?
  3. What would you change about your area?

This novel campaign relates to the idea of ‘place’ in two very interesting ways.

First, the campaign involves a notion of place strongly grounded in the neighbourhood. The idea of citizens telling their local authority and its partners about their neighbourhood in terms of what it is like to live there doesn’t just involve relaying information to assist decision-making, but actually resconstructs what place means to the citizen in their immediate locality and how they interact with that place. In doing so, this creates a vision of place from the ways in which people understand and interpret their lived environment.

Secondly, and conversely, the campaign involves a very expansive notion of place. The act of photographing the neighbourhood and uploading it via social media is a clear step away from engaging citizens in that drafty village hall, and rather opens up the ability to convey ideas about place from the home – very much along the lines of the Gov 2.0 model that Tom Barrance wrote about a couple of weeks ago. It also opens up the possibility of participation to those without English language skills, or to those who are otherwise unable to engage in traditional processes of local democracy. Previous research I have been involved in has highlighted how traditional models of citizen participation can further exclude some of the most underrepresented groups, and alternatives such as this offer the opportunity to overcome such barriers.

I acknowledge that it will still exclude those who don’t use social media, however this is part of a raft of engagement activities and so there will, presumably, be other ways of engaging that don’t necessarily rely on having a Twitter account.

The results of this exercise will be insightful for local authorities and academic researchers alike, in terms of whether it does address that all too common issue that participation activities become tokenistic opportunities to obtain information rather than to engage citizens in decision-making processes. It will be important for the partnership to demonstrate a link between these participation activities and meaningful citizen input into the decision-making process about the neighbourhood strategy. If successful, the exercise will offer fascinating insights both into Birmingham as a city and into citizen participation in the neighbourhood.


Katherine Tonkiss is a Research Fellow at INLOGOV.  She is currently working on a three year, ESRC funded project titled Shrinking the State, and is converting her PhD thesis, on the subject of migration and identity, into a book to be published later this year with Palgrave Macmillan.  Her research interests are focused on the changing nature of citizenship and democracy in a globalising world, and the local experience of global transformations.  Follow her Twitter feed here.

Examining citizen participation: theory and practice

Laurens de Graaf

As a researcher of citizen participation I often discuss the functioning of local democracy with, among others, councillors, officers and citizens. These discussions are showing that knowledge of democratic theory in the field is not often very present.

Partly, this is understandable –if the field consisted of political scientists only, would democracy function at all? But it seems as if limited knowledge about democracy creates some practical problems. To put it more precisely, the perspective on democracy appears to depend on the slogan: ‘where you sit is where you stand’. Councillors see themselves as guardians of democracy, because they are (the only ones) elected, and are the representatives of the people. Officers don’t often understand the (seemingly) irrational decisions councillors make and see democracy often as frustrating for their policy process. Citizens are distant observers and only a few committed citizens are actually participating in democratic processes.

Councillors and officers have been aiming for (more) citizen participation since the 1990s. But what effect does citizen participation have on local democracy?

Citizen participation is vital to democracy

Citizen participation is usually seen as a vital aspect of democracy. Many theorists claim that citizen participation has positive effects on the quality of democracy. Theories of participatory democracy, deliberative democracy and social capital assert that citizen involvement has positive effects on democracy. It contributes to the inclusion of individual citizens in the policy process, it encourages civic skills and civic virtues, it leads to rational decisions based on public reasoning, and it increases the legitimacy of the process and outcome. These aspects are summarized in the table below.

Aspects of democracy Clarification Theoretical Perspective
Inclusion Allow individual voices to be heard (openness; diversity of opinions) Social capital & Deliberative democracy
Civic skills and virtues Civic skills (debating public issues, running a meeting) and civic virtues (public engagement and responsibility, feeling a public citizen, active participation in public life, reciprocity) Participatory democracy & Social capital
Deliberation Rational decisions based on public reasoning (exchange of arguments and shifts of preferences) Deliberative democracy
Legitimacy Support for process and outcome Participatory democracy

Table: Aspects of citizen participation and democracy; a framework for analysis

What councillors and officers are telling me is that they are not fully aware of all these different aspects, but like the overview. It helps them to reflect on democracy from different angels.

Local participatory policymaking in the Netherlands

My article – co-authored by Ank Michels – examines the probability of these claims for local participatory policymaking projects in two municipalities in the Netherlands. However, I think that the claims can also be applied to local democracy in the UK and other countries. The article focuses on the relations between citizens and government from a citizens’ perspective.

The findings show that the role of citizens in participatory projects is limited, serving mainly to provide information on the basis of which the government can then make decisions. Nevertheless, the article argues that citizen involvement has a number of positive effects on local democracy: not only do people consequently feel more responsibility for public matters, it increases public engagement, encourages people to listen to a diversity of opinions, and contributes to a higher degree of legitimacy of decisions. One negative effect is that not all relevant groups and interests are represented. The article concludes that for a healthy democracy at the local level, aspects of democratic citizenship are more important than having a direct say in decision-making.

Reflecting on the functioning of (your local) democracy can be a fruitful exercise once in a while. The framework of analysis that was presented here may help, among others, councillors, officers and citizens to understand democracy more broadly and empathise with (each) other’s perspectives and roles.

A full account of this research is available in my recent article with Ank Michels: ‘Examining Citizen Participation: Local Participatory Policy-making and Democracy’. Local Government Studies 36 (4), 477-491.

Laurens de Graaf is a lecturer at Tilburg School of Politics and Public Administration, Tilburg University, The Netherlands. In the last ten years he conducted theoretical and empirical research with regard to citizens participation and in a broader sense: the functioning of local democracy. He is often in the field moderating workshops and trainings for councillors, mayors, active citizens and (neighbourhood) professionals about their role and their potential added value to local democracy.

Finding an academic home

Mark Roberts

I graduated from Birmingham in 2008 and initially found it difficult to leave INLOGOV, where I enjoyed my time completing my PhD. However I live near Leicester and, by chance, shortly after I left INLOGOV several friends and colleagues moved to the Local Government Research Unit at De Montfort University. Initially I took on a number of short term contracts as a visiting research fellow, mainly helping with field research on public participation and neighbourhood working. The turning point came when, encouraged by colleagues at DMU, I apply for a Research Fellowship with the Arts and Humanities Research Council which was focused on a Citizen Power project in Peterborough.

While I wasn’t successful in gaining the fellowship itself, I was offered an award from the AHRC for a research project on Understanding the Impacts of Citizen Participation in Peterborough. This award funded my work on a more stable basis for two years and, in addition to reports and journal papers, one of the outputs from that research is an RSA animation aimed at disseminating the main findings to a non-academic audience.

When I was not interviewing and observing in Peterborough, I was teaching and working on a book with Vivien Lowndes. We had a common interest in applying institutional theory to political analysis and she had a contract with Palgrave Macmillan to write a book on the subject. We put together some draft chapters pretty quickly and tested them out by going up to the Politics Department at the University of Sheffield, where Vivien gave some masterclasses to postgraduate students. The feedback we received from that and other reviewers was very positive and we ploughed on.

I should have learned from the PhD process, I guess, that the actual writing is only half the battle, and getting the thing ready for publication (references, indices, blurb, text for the cover) can take a long time. Anyway, the book was published on 31st May of this year in the Palgrave Macmillan Political Analysis series under the title ‘Why Institutions Matter: the New Institutionalism in Political Science‘, and has been a source of both surprise and amusement to my friends and family.

Perhaps the best advice I was given after graduating was from my PhD supervisor and was about finding ‘an academic home’. That can be quite difficult for many graduates who may have spent four, five or more years in the same academic environment. I have been lucky that DMU was on my doorstep and a number of colleagues moved there at the same time. From here I aim to keep the same balance going between teaching, research and writing, making sure I get out into the field as often as possible, and keep in touch with friends and colleagues from INLOGOV and elsewhere.


Mark Roberts is a Research Fellow in the Department of Politics and Public Policy at De Montfort University, Leicester. His research interests include citizen participation, neighbourhood working, new institutional theory, interpretive analysis and the influence of religion and race in urban politics. Before completing his PhD at INLOGOV, Dr Roberts worked in local authority social work for twenty nine years, with his last post being Deputy Director of Social Services in Sandwell MBC in the West Midlands.

Re-establishing the relationship between citizens and politicians in Greece

George Despotidis

The word Greece nowadays is connected to the word debt, and it’s true – Greece owes a lot of money to a lot of people, banks and countries.

Until recently, public employees in Greece were not actually evaluated and could not be fired. It was a job for life and their salary would never decrease – only increase – as the years went by. And so this meant that everyone wanted to become a public employee.

Parties governing Greece from 1974 onwards, the year when democracy was restored and the constitution of Greece changed to a parliamentary democracy, knew this. They were the ones that voted for this legislation. So what governments did was to exchange jobs for votes. This type of relationship between citizens and politicians is called ‘clientelism’. Citizens knew that this was a corrupted relationship but they kept voting for the same people since they were also gaining from it.

The problem was that clientelism was creating a huge, inefficient and ineffective public sector consisting of untrained and unskilled personnel. The solution to this was then to outsource jobs to the private sector, but even then outsourcing was based on clientelism. As a result Greece’s budget deficit grew.

How did Greek governments cover these budget deficits? By borrowing money; but because almost every year Greece’s budget was in deficit, it needed more and more loans, not only to cover its deficits but to pay interest for the previous loans. Imagine a procedure like this happening for more than 30 years from many public authorities that managed public money. This is how Greece’s debt was created.

However, Greek governments didn’t seem to care since they were able to borrow money. Especially after Greece joined the EU in 1981 and the Eurozone in 2001, borrowing became easier. Everything was operating smoothly because deficits were covered by loans and interest was covered by more loans.

The true scale of Greek debt came to surface in the 2008 financial crises. Greece was not able to borrow money because its creditability was characterized as excessively low since possible lenders, given the world financial situation, wouldn’t risk their money in Greece as they had done before.

At this point an economist would discuss whether Greece should have gotten out of the Eurozone; about the IMF and the EU coming to Greece and applying memorandums so that lenders could start getting their money back; and by analysing which measures could help Greece to reduce its debt. But I am not an economist and think that focusing only on what needs to be done in order for Greece’s lenders to get their money back might lead to more debt creation all over again.

Rather, what I am interested in is the relationship between citizens and politicians that seems to be the starting point of Greece’s problem.

Why is this relationship important? Clientelism, as previously described, requires money which the public sector doesn’t have. As such, this clientelism has started to break down. Neither politicians nor citizens can gain from this relationship anymore, and it might be time for a new relationship to be established. Of course, effort and measures need to be taken to address financial concerns, but research on the relationship between politicians and citizens – the starting point of the problem – is also necessary.

My proposed possible solution for re-establishing this relationship is citizen participation. Participation can bring citizens and politicians closer than they currently are and can create a space for them to meet and interact. This may lead citizens to rebuild their trust in politicians, if they realise that politicians care about what they have to say.

Yet this needs to be a two-way procedure. Politicians also must realise that citizens can help and contribute to policy formation and that they should be allowed to participate in these processed. This might also lead to a rethinking of the identities of ‘citizen’ and ‘politician’. Not only do citizens need to change their beliefs about politicians, but politicians too need to change their beliefs about citizens – and participation might be a way to achieve this.

Citizens and politicians in Greece need to connect and this is the time to establish a positive relationship. The relationship established 30-40 years ago was neither healthy nor democratic. My research considers whether citizen participation can help establish a new relationship and which forms of participation are perceived to be more significant. However, at this stage it is already clear that effort is needed from both sides – otherwise citizenship participation will be used as a very undemocratic tool despite its democratic principles, and will lead to the manipulation of citizens by politicians.


George Despotidis is a first year Doctoral Researcher in INLOGOV. He completed an MSc in Public Management, also at INLOGOV, in 2012. His research interests include citizen involvement in policy-making, and decision-making processes with a specific focus on citizen participation. Follow him on Twitter here.

Can Gov 2.0 transform Local Government?

Tom Barrance

Is there an appetite for more change in local government? In particular change that could challenge local council’s traditional relationships with the public, and how Councils conduct their business?

Drawing inspiration from the revolutionary changes enabled by the development of the collaborative web (web2.0) in the worlds of retail and peer to peer networking, a number of technologists and democrats have sought to harness the power of technology to make government better and democracy stronger by leveraging the power of citizens. Can Gov2.0 live up to the hype and deliver real transformation to local government in the UK; and will government open the door to these changes?

The Gov2.0 vision of an improved council is drawn from the underlying belief that more citizen choice and participation is a good thing, and that for this to happen citizens need access to information (open and transparent government). This vision runs contrary to James Madison’s view, which has dominated the structure of modern liberal democracy, that the election of representatives serves to refine and enhance the public debate. Rather it is argued that the representative system serves to undermine public understanding of the issues in favour of the party platform and sound bite politics. A lack of public information serves to obscure “true” organisational activity and behaviour, allowing waste to go unchallenged.

The harnessing of technology and of collaborative networks  makes access to large amounts of information, and open public debate possible; but also opens the door to another significant area of change, the use of publicly available information to develop and deliver services independently. Examples of this can be seen in the City of New York 311 apps competition, with applications based on public data delivering public services ranging from advice to urban poultry farmers to city emergency planning. These are not City services, rather community services facilitated by publication of public data. The development of community based services hosted and facilitated by local government shifts the Council to a position of being a platform provider, not just a service provider.

Making use of collaborative technology is not an untested idea in the arena of public policy. The use of social media in the reform of the Icelandic constitution in 2012 shows how people can engage and be part of a topic that would otherwise be restricted to the chosen few. More views and opinions produce better policies. Contrary to this, it may be argued that the public neither know enough, nor care enough about the day-to-day functioning of local government services, that they will not understand the technical details sufficiently to make decisions. Ignoring for now the patronising nature of these arguments that suggest that engagement in the process requires training and should therefore be restricted to a technocracy, the nature of mass involvement is that the question at hand is viewed from a diversity of perspectives, rather than just the limited perspective of the expert and elected representative.

The notion of a transformational change represents an appeal to a grand narrative of perfection. Transformation is an idea that is underscored by a belief that change will result in something which is “better” than before. This belief in a singular “better” future has driven the recent history of changes in the structure and organisation of local government. Rarely, however, do changes proposed seek to harness the citizen, rather than altering the organisational structure. That is perhaps the major difference between Gov2.0 and its predecessors such as New Public Management. Rather than being an appeal to the notion of singular perfection, Gov2.0 is an appeal via the citizen, to the bespoke – community government made by the public for the locality.

Gov2.0 is a set of ideas, which if implemented have the  power and the potential to transform the relationship between local government and those it serves, it can open up the development of policy and services to a wider audience, and allow the sunlight of transparency to shine in areas that have been hidden in the shadows. If the political will exists then Gov2.0 can make local government everybody’s business, not just the preserve of a chosen few.

tom b

Tom Barrance is a part time Doctoral Researcher looking at Gov 2.0 in UK Local Government, and full time Business Analyst/Project Manager at the London Borough of Hackney. He has worked in the public sector for the past 13 years, at a number of different local councils in a range of roles in Economic Development, business change and delivering ICT solutions.