Catherine Durose, Jonathan Justice and Chris Skelcher
Community organising and co-production can shape public policy making and service delivery in new and creative ways, providing an alternative to privatisation and the outsourcing of public services. This is the claim made in our new pamphlet, ‘Beyond the state: mobilising and co-producing with communities’. The pamphlet is written with community activists and policy researchers, and provides case studies and analysis of UK and US experience in community organising to solve problems and improve public services. The pamphlet features contributors from CitizensUK, Locality and Scope and a Chicago-based organisation, Pilsen Alliance.
Community organising has a long tradition internationally. It offers a way for communities to recognise their common interests and mobilise to achieve change. Often their target is government, and their desire is to redress disadvantage by actively campaigning for changes in policy and practice. Sometimes this is to overcome the effects of existing policy, but it is also about shaping emerging policy to ensure that affected communities become beneficiaries rather than bearing the costs. Co-production is becoming an important way of thinking about the active design and delivery of services through collaboration between users and providers. While its origins are in social care and health services, it has much wider applications. But to be effective, it requires ways of redressing the power imbalance between users and producers. Here, community organising can be an important mechanism. Together, the contributions show how community organising and co-production are powerful instruments to open up the policy process, potentially deepening democratic engagement and administrative responsiveness. As such, they offer a challenge to the way in which governing beyond the state sometimes obscures accountability, privileges private interests, or facilitates governments’ off-loading of responsibilities to civil society.
This pamphlet’s contributions show the value of moving beyond a perspective that recognises the state as the only legitimate centre of authority. At the same time, however, the contributors challenge an assumption in our title. For ‘beyond the state’ implies that non-state models of collective choice and action are somehow secondary or less fundamental than those of government. The evidence from the contributors is that community organising and co-production are not somehow second best models, when compared to government provision. They show that there is a vital energy that can be mobilised, but that it cannot be shaped to government’s agendas. Community organising and co-production are political processes that create new possibilities that are not solely oppositional but also collaborative.
This can be a struggle for those in government, used to traditional models of policy making and service delivery, and trying to reconcile the political legitimacy of politicians with the demands and campaigns of users and communities. The state has become and is likely to remain a focal institution for defining and accomplishing shared purposes. But its monopoly on the legitimate use of coercion need not imply a monopoly on the legitimate use of collective decision and action. So we should continue to look past the language to observe the actual processes and results of power, and to look beyond the state alone for solutions.
Catherine Durose is Director of Research at INLOGOV. Catherine is interested in the restructuring of relationships between citizens, communities and the state. Catherine is currently advising the Office of Civil Society’s evaluation of the Community Organisers initiatives and leading a policy review for the AHRC’s Connected Communities programme on re-thinking local public services.
Jonathan Justice is Associate Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration at the University of Delaware. Jonathan previously worked for the City of New York and for non-profit organisations in the New York metropolitan area. His areas of specialisation include public budgeting and finance, accountability and decision making and local economic development.
Chris Skelcher is Professor of Public Governance in the University of Birmingham’s School of Government and Society. His research and teaching focus on the transformation of UK governance in an international context. Chris is currently leading a three year ESRC study of the reform of public bodies and their changing relationships with sponsor departments.