Exploring the Role of Nonprofits in Public Service Provision: Moving from Coproduction to Cogovernance

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1111/puar.12970
Date01 March 2019
Published date01 March 2019
Exploring the Role of Nonprof‌its in Public Service Provision: Moving from Coproduction to Cogovernance 203
Yuan (Daniel) Cheng
University of Minnesota
Exploring the Role of Nonprofits in Public Service Provision:
Moving from Coproduction to Cogovernance
Abstract: This article investigates the determinants of nonprofits’ involvement in cogovernance, or the planning and
design of public services, using a unique data set of park-supporting nonprofit organizations in large U.S. cities. The
results indicate that nonprofits are more likely to get involved in cogovernance when they are younger, larger, and
operate in communities that are more resourceful and stable. In addition, the likelihood of nonprofits’ involvement in
cogovernance is negatively associated with the level of social capital and government capacity to provide corresponding
public services. The article points to an emerging mode of government-nonprofit collaboration that goes beyond the
production and delivery of public services. As public managers face extensive challenges in sustaining the desired level
of public services, these findings have important policy implications for efforts to promote citizen participation and
cross-sector solutions to complex social problems.
Evidence for Practice
• Cogovernance is a distinct type of nonprofit support for public services. Involving citizens and nonprofits in
the design and planning of public services requires a different set of organizational and community capacities
compared with involving nonprofits in the delivery of public services.
As local governments face or suffer from increasing fiscal pressure, nonprofits’ involvement in cogovernance
may become more prevalent. Both local governments and nonprofits need to be strategic and proactive about it.
• Cogovernance is not a panacea. It raises important management and governance questions for the design and
reform of public service systems.
New Public Management began to take shape
in the 1980s and 1990s, exemplified by
administrative reforms in New Zealand and
later Western Europe and the United States. Public
management borrowed management practices from
the private sector, and contracting became widespread
among American governments at different levels
(Kettl 2002; Salamon 2002). Government agencies
are increasingly using indirect management tools and
network arrangements to deliver public services (Kettl
2002; O’Toole 1997). Nonprofit organizations, or
the third sector in general, have received increasing
attention from public management scholars because of
their prominent role in the provision and production
of public services (Brandsen and Pestoff 2006; Smith
and Lipsky 1993).
Despite this surge of scholarly interest in government-
nonprofit collaboration for public service provision
(Gazley and Guo 2015), the public administration
literature has focused on the instrumental orientations
of nonprofits’ involvement in the delivery of public
services. The key question is how nonprofits can serve
as a tool of government to more efficiently produce
and deliver public services. The role of nonprofits
in creating, planning, and designing public services
remains a blind spot in the public administration
scholarship, despite the fact that nonprofits have
served in these important roles since colonial times
(Hall 1992), from the creation of Harvard College
in 1636, to the public library movement boosted by
Andrew Carnegie, to the Gates Foundation’s efforts
to improve K–12 education in recent years. This
limitation is amplified when governments at all levels
are experiencing fiscal stress and are increasingly
relying on nonprofit organizations for financing
public services (Gazley, Cheng, and LaFontant 2015;
Nelson and Gazley 2014). Therefore, a complete
understanding of the role of nonprofits in multiple
phases of public service provision is desperately
needed (Brandsen and Pestoff 2006; Fyall 2016;
Mosley 2012).
Literature in governance offers a promising alternative
for understanding the role of nonprofits in public
service provision. Governance is concerned with how
different sectors interact with each other and engage
in joint decision making (Klijn 2012). It emphasizes
Research Article
Yuan (Daniel) Cheng is assistant
professor in the Hubert H. Humphrey
School of Public Affairs at the University of
Minnesota, where he teaches public and
nonprofit management. His research focuses
on a range of theoretical and managerial
questions at the nexus of governance,
government-nonprofit relationships,
coproduction, and the distributional and
performance implications of cross-sectoral
collaboration, often with a substantive focus
on urban sustainability.
E-mail: chengyuan87@gmail.com
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 79, Iss. 2, pp. 203–214. © 2018 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12970.

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