Monday, 08 March 2010

Hands up, who wants to take responsibility for co-delivery? I've been reading a recent, welcome but slightly underwhelming paper on co-production from ippr, Capable communities. It includes this statistic: eighty-two per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the following statement: 'Individuals and communities should do more to help the police cut anti-social behaviour and crime.' I can't be expected to resist making a comment about the wording of the survey question, because it reflects the language used throughout the report: what can it mean, 'communities should do more to help the police'? This is new Labour reification of 'community,' implying incontestable agency to batches of local people who may have no grounds whatsoever for reaching consensus on local issues. I was quoting the excellent Jeremy Brent on this just a few weeks ago. It is when you see such uses of the C word to imply policy knowledge put forward by a think-tink that you realise how ineffectual the community development field has been in challenging shallow communitarian rhetoric. Anyway, I was struck by the question because in presentations for several years I've been referring to policing as an early example of the co-production (or co-delivery) principle - an example which probably dates back to the 1980s in the UK. Someone somewhere pointed out that the police do not have sole responsibility for producing safety on our streets; and that single insight probably gave rise to a significant transformation in the delivery of local policing. The fact that the process required public investment in several new branches in 'the family of policing' - community support officers, neighbourhood wardens and so on - is often conveniently overlooked. So successfully have the police and media combined in building up this theme that while the police are more heavily funded than ever before, 82% of us agree that we should all be playing more of a role in reducing anti-social behaviour and crime. I'm surprised at the figure, with only 3% disagreeing. A couple of concluding thoughts - (i) Until people in policy-land stop implying that there are things called communities which can be called on to voice an opinion and take uncontested collective action that will be acceptable to the state, we're going to see neither genuine empowerment nor meaningful co-delivery. (ii) The survey asked four questions about attitudes to responsibility for services. As the paper acknowledges, a substantial proportion of people responded 'neither agree nor disagree' or 'don't know' (between 14% and 39%). This suggests that many people may not have thought about any model of delivery of public services other than the one they currently pay for, if that. And yet still we have an education system from which many people emerge with no idea how public services are funded or on what basis they are provided. Policy wonks either can't grasp this, or they're comfortable with it as a form of systematised disempowerment from the processes of democracy.

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