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27 June 2019

Public administration and trust in institutions

Re-thinking the relationship between the public and public services

Re-thinking the relationship between the public and public services
Re-thinking the relationship between the public and public services


Professor Ewan Ferlie, Dr Irene Pluchinotta and Sam van Elk explain their work with the COGOV project. 

Last month’s European Parliamentary elections were closely watched for signs of the challenge posed to established mainstream political parties by new parties from both ends of the political spectrum. While this is mainly a problem for politicians, many surveys show that the shifting of political allegiances we have seen since the financial crisis has been accompanied by a lack of faith in public institutions more generally. We are involved in a project looking at the role that public agencies and public sector managers can play in restoring trust and legitimacy in the public decision-making process.

The COGOV project ‘Co-Production and Co-Governance: Strategic Management, Public Value and Co-Creation in the Renewal of Public Agencies across Europe’ (GA n. 770591) is a major EU Horizon 2020 funded initiative due to conclude in 2021. It includes 10 partners from six EU Member States, and King’s Business School is a key component of the UK presence.

COGOV will explore the efforts of governments and public agencies to transform themselves. Increasingly, governments and public agencies want their relationship with the general public to become less a question of ‘us and them’. Instead of treating citizens simply as legal subjects and customers of their services, they want to capture the public’s potential to be involved as experts providing useful resources, ideas and knowledge that contribute to public governance processes.

We are coordinating a six-country study looking at the development of 15 pioneering public institution-led approaches to participation, collaborative governance, co-creation and co-production. The examples, in Croatia, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Slovenia and the United Kingdom, will help us to identify the factors that the most effective approaches to public management reform have in common.

The first year of the project has uncovered some really exciting initiatives. In the UK, for example, we have worked with colleagues from Cardiff University to study the not-for-profit utility company Welsh Water’s “Water Resilient Community” project, which helps consumers manage their water debt in a proactive way.

We are also looking at initiatives across a range of other policy areas; the redesign of digitalised processes in the Ministry of Justice to be more user-centric; new models of local government involving social enterprises in Newcastle; and London's cultural sector. We hope that future case studies will focus on the policy response to flood risk and the long-term rise in sea levels, and on local industrial strategy.

The scale and scope of the COGOV project is what makes it so distinctive, but the way we share its findings will be unusual too. With our COGOV colleagues across Europe, we will develop an operational tool kit for the strategic renewal of local governments and other public services organisations and a ‘game’ to help public managers across the EU apply the key lessons of the research. The learning game will prepare elected politicians and public managers for the challenges and dilemmas they might encounter when putting co-creation and collaborative innovation approaches into practice.

By drawing on the insight of a multi-national team representing different traditions of public administration, we believe we can make a significant contribution to the renewal and revitalisation of public administration across Europe. We hope that our research will increase the public sector’s openness to citizens, enhance the legitimacy of public policy making, and help to address the issues of social exclusion that make so many people feel that politicians do not speak for them.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 770591. 

In this story

Ewan Ferlie

Professor of Public Services Management

Sam  van Elk

Lecturer in Management and Organisation