How best can professionals become involved in the strategic renewal of local governments and public agencies?

Based on an extensive review of existing literature and supplemented by a pilot study, the Team at TIAS School for Business and Society, the Netherlands, have recently reported on their findings into the involvement of professionals in the strategic renewal of local governments and public agencies.  Their work covers the impact on professionals of changes to the overall strategic management framework; the expectations, motivations and training of professionals in the context of co-creation and co-production; ‘promising practice’; and finally the conditions to embed innovative processes. It provides an in-depth understanding of the state-of-art knowledge about engaging professionals in the strategic renewal of public services, most notably collaborative approaches.

The authors, Dr Hendrikx, Dr Kuiper, Professor Van Gestel, traced the changes required of professionals associated with the shift from Traditional Public Administration (TPA) to New Public Management (NPM) to New Public Governance (NPG) models of management. They summarise this shift from ‘altruistic autocrat’ to ‘service provider’ to ‘collaborative partner’.

The key message is that professionals should simultaneously operate as experts providing professional knowledge; as service providers following procedures; and as collaborative partners, operating in teams, networks and platforms for co-production or co-creation.

Whilst the expected role of professionals in strategic renewal has shifted under these three models, it appears that professionals are simply expected to embrace the more recent reforms toward processes of co-production. The role of professionals in reforms for more integrated, ‘holistic’ services has scarcely been addressed.

In mapping the motivations of professionals in implementing strategic renewal of public services, most literature focusses on reforms that are managerial in nature, rather than collaborative ones. Those sources that do shed some light on this matter suggest that professionals actually feel motivated by the notion of delivering public services in a responsive manner.

A wide range of ‘promising practices’ for professionals’ engagement in co-production and co-creation was identified in the report.  The term ‘promising practice’ is used rather than ‘best practice’, which is usually understood to suggest a benchmark for performance. This is because we are looking for an inspirational, promising practice which can help identify some of the mechanisms underlying success.  However, at this stage, no ‘common denominator’ has been uncovered.

The need for new skills and capabilities for co-production and co-creation is clearly acknowledged.  However, there appears to be little attention paid so far in public organizations to learning to collaborate, to working together as professionals from different backgrounds, or to developing the professional skills that are necessary for collaboration with citizens and other partners.

Finally, the right conditions to embed innovative processes need to be in place at three levels of strategy and intervention:

  • At the micro-level of daily practices, professionals need space to build local capacity for improvement.
  • At a meso-level, literature indicates that managerial and professional cultures in the public sector often hinder collaboration simply because they are not geared towards learning.
  • At a macro-level, the governance structure of the policy field and the regulative support and incentives (including finance) should promote innovation rather than obstructing it.

The next stage in the research is running a series of focus groups across all six countries in the COGOV research programme, in settings such as a national enterprise agency, local and regional municipalities, a local museum and a voluntary sector housing organisation. Questions to be explored include: the drivers and barriers for engaging professionals in strategic renewal for collaboration; the motivations of professionals in implementing strategic renewal processes; identifying promising practices for professionals’ engagement with other partners and civil society; and, assessing the required skills for public servants in co-creation with other parties.

 

Dr Jill Dixon is a Senior COGOV Research Fellow.

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