Engaging Citizens in Co-Creation in Public Service

Many social innovations such as Earth Day have origi­nated from ideas and suggestions offered by individuals outside the government, and community-based movements often spurs government agencies to act on such ideas. “Engaging Citizens in Co-Creation in Public Services: Lessons Learned and Best Practices” published by IBM Center for The Business of Government present an innovative frame­work which views citizens as “co-creation” partners with government for the development of new public services.

Engaging Citizens in Co-Creation in Public ServiceRecently, there are the following three broad issues related to government agencies:

  • Fiscal austerity has made it difficult to continue with some of the existing resource-inten­sive business models and problem-solving modes in government.
  • The increasing complexity of the problems to be addressed demands collaborative ap­proaches with external entities as well, particu­larly with citizens.
  • The availability of new technologies including social media has radically lowered the cost of collaboration and the distance between government agencies and the citizens they serve.

With the confluence of these issues, the citizen’s role in pub­lic services has been redefined by government agencies at all levels—a shift from the role of a passive service beneficiary to the role of an active informed partner, or co-creator, in public service innovation and problem-solving.

The report introduces four distinct roles for citizens in public service co-creation and problem-solving:
–   Explorers: identifying, discovering, and defining emerging and existing problems
–   Ideators: conceptualizing novel solutions
–   Designers: designing and developing solutions
–   Diffusers: directly supporting or facilitating solutions
These four citizen roles imply different types of contributions in civic problem-solving, different types of government-citizen interactions, thereby the need of different types of mecha­nisms and support infrastructure.

To support these different types of citizen co-creation activities, two elements of the mechanisms are needed:
1) Innovation ecosystem: offers an organizing structure for an ensemble of actors to come together and co-create service offerings. It includes ways to:
– Build and sustain the community of innovators and promote a shared worldview among citizens and government employees
– Define the architecture of participation to coordinate collaboration activities<
2) Innovation platform: provides the physical or virtual venue for citizen co-creation. It incorporates ways to:
– Modularize or partition the problem-solving process
– Facilitate knowledge-sharing and interaction among all participants
Based on these two elements, a wide range of mechanisms can be employed as specific ways in practice by government agencies, including mobile apps, e-petitions, open-source databases, data analysis communities, contests and competitions, innovation jams, open data­bases, participatory design workshops, and dedicated online citizen communities.

Finally, four strategies are suggested to assist government agencies in creating the broader innovation environment for promoting citizen engagement:

Strategy 1: Fit the co-creation approach to the problem-solving context
The lead agencies should carefully select the most appropriate approach to engage citizens by considering a range of factors related to the problem context, including four key issues: the duration of citizen engagement (short-term or long-term), the mode (Individual or collective), the prerequisites, and the ease of problem partitioning.

Strategy 2: Manage citizen expectations with regard to their involvement
The best way to manage citizen expectations is to be open and trans­parent in every way possible. Government agency should adopt a set of mechanism to enhance three types of transparency: role transparency, process transparency, and outcome transparency.

Strategy 3: Link or connect the internal organization with the external partners
Government agencies need to ensure that they adopt strategies that would link the “internal” (the agency employees, structures, and processes) with the “external” (citizens and citizen communities). They need to make appropriate changes to its internal structures (e.g., create new roles), processes (e.g., institute processes for project selection), and systems (e.g., establish new communication forums).

Strategy 4: Embed the citizen engagement initiative in the larger context of the agency’s core agenda
Government agencies should embed its citizen engagement efforts in a larger initiative associ­ated with its core agenda and thereby make such efforts more meaningful to both the agency and citizens.

New technologies contribute a lot to active citizenry for problem-solving through facilitating easier access to public data, enhance government transparency, and reduce the distance between the citizen innovator and the gov­ernment agency. However, rather than technology itself, the motivating objective should be the reason for instituting citizen co-creation initia­tives and to help the government get a deeper personal connection with citizens and their issues. Recommendations and the framework introduced in the report try to help government move in this direction.

You can read the entire report here.

*Other IBM Center reports which address specific approaches to co-creation and co-delivery

Beyond Citizen Engagement: Involving the Public in Co-Delivering Government Services provides a guide for introducing and implementing a co-delivery initiative

Challenge. gov: Using Competition and Awards to Spur Innovation,
Managing Innovation Prizes in Government
both address how the federal government is using competitions to engage citizens in the development of new ideas and new products.

Federal Ideation Programs: Challenges and Best Practices discusses how the federal government can tap creative thinking from across the citizenry to come up with new approaches to solving problems.

Using Crowdsourcing in Government discusses how the federal government can leverage groups to build ideas into actionable strategy through increased citizen engagement

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