Individual, Group, and Collective Co-production: The Role of Public Value Conceptions in Shaping Co-production Practices

AuthorCaitlin McMullin
Published date01 February 2023
Date01 February 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(2) 239 –263
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997221131790
Individual, Group, and
Collective Co-production:
The Role of Public Value
Conceptions in Shaping
Co-production Practices
Caitlin McMullin1
In this paper, I explore how different conceptions of public value influence
the types of co-production that professionals undertake in delivering
projects to reduce loneliness and isolation of older people. The analysis
shows a preponderance of individual and group co-production by the case in
England, driven by aims to create user and group value, whereas the French
case emphasizes collective co-production linked to social and political value.
The research contributes to the co-production literature by showing how
types of co-production are prioritized to a different extent to address the
same social problem, shaped in part by cultural and political context.
public value, co-production, public services, elderly loneliness, third sector
Co-production has been promoted by numerous actors as a way to improve
the quality of public services for citizens. Researchers contend that the
involvement of citizens in the design and delivery of the services they use—
whether delivered by the public, private, or third sector—benefits citizens in
1Aalborg University, Denmark
Corresponding Author:
Caitlin McMullin, Aalborg University, Fibigerstræde 3, Aalborg 9220, Denmark.
1131790AAS0010.1177/00953997221131790Administration & SocietyMcMullin
240 Administration & Society 55(2)
two broad ways: by making services more efficient and in line with citizens’
preferences, thereby reducing costs (Boyle & Harris, 2009); and by address-
ing the democratic deficit (Pestoff, 2008). According to Brudney and England
(1983), we can distinguish between individual, group and collective co-pro-
duction, depending on the participants involved and those who benefit.
Recently, the focus of attention has varied between the analysis of the “pro-
duction” of services themselves and the production of more abstract notions
of value, outcomes, or benefits (Bovaird et al., 2017; Loeffler & Bovaird,
2021). As Bovaird and Loeffler (2012, p. 1136) argue, co-production “is now
being ‘outed’ as a key driver for improving publicly valued outcomes” (p.
1136), but two key questions remain—what types of co-production, and what
types of value?
This study addresses this lacuna by investigating co-production between
citizens and practitioners of projects in two contexts and critically assessing
the links between conceptions of public value and the types of individual,
group and collective co-production. Employing qualitative methods (docu-
ment analysis and interviews), I analyze two case studies of projects man-
aged by third sector organizations to reduce loneliness and isolation of older
people—one in France, and one in England—in order to address the follow-
ing research questions: How do different conceptualizations of and aims for
public value shape types of co-production? In what ways do these vary in
different contexts? In so doing, I make a contribution to the literature on pub-
lic service provision and co-production by producing new evidence about
differences in public value aims and the implications for how professionals
engage in co-production with citizens and service users.
The paper is structured as followed. First, I consider the theoretical litera-
ture on co-production of public services and how this is perceived as contrib-
uting to public value. Next, I outline my theoretical framework and the
methodology of the present study. This is followed by an analysis of the
empirical findings on the aims of the two projects, and the types of individ-
ual, group, and collective co-production in both locations. Finally, I discuss
how these findings relate to the differences in governance traditions and pub-
lic management reform which prioritize different types of public value and
thus emphasize some types of co-production over others.
Co-production and Public Value
Co-production of Public Services
The concept of co-production of public services, initially developed in the
1980s (Parks et al., 1981; Sharp, 1980), has received a resurgence in popular-
ity over the past two decades. Co-production refers to the collaboration

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