Who Engages in the Coproduction of Local Public Services and Why? The Case of Atlanta, Georgia

AuthorJohn Clayton Thomas,Kelechi Uzochukwu
Published date01 July 2018
Date01 July 2018
514 Public Administration Review July | A ugus t 201 8
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 78, Iss. 4, pp. 514–526. © 2017 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12893.
Who Engages in the Coproduction of Local Public Services
and Why? The Case of Atlanta, Georgia
John Clayton Thomas is professor
in the Department of Public Management
and Policy in the Andrew Young School of
Policy Studies at Georgia State University.
He has written four books and more
than 60 articles on citizen-government
relationships, performance measurement
and management, and other aspects of
public management. Dr. Thomas also served
for 30 years as editor of the
Review of Public Administration
E-mail: jcthomas@gsu.edu
Kelechi Uzochukwu is assistant
professor at the School of Public and
International Affairs, College of Public
Affairs, University of Baltimore. Her
research focuses on enhancing the quality
of life for distressed populations, both
domestically and abroad. Her specific
research interests are situated in the fields
of planning, community development, and
citizen participation. Dr. Uzochukwu enjoys
teaching statistics, research methods,
urban policy, and community economic
E-mail: kuzochukwu@ubalt.edu
Abstract: With the resurgent interest in coproduction, questions arise around who joins with government in
coproducing services and why. This article reports an exploratory study of these questions using data from Atlanta,
Georgia. To guide the research, the article first proposes a set of hypotheses on involvement in coproduction based on
theories of political participation, where psychological motivations and social factors dominate, and citizen-initiated
contacting, where perceived needs for public services are usually primary. The hypotheses are tested using survey data on
the engagement of 797 neighborhood organization participants in various forms of local coproduction in Atlanta. The
findings provide some support for both theories along with evidence for significant idiosyncratic variations suggested
by neither theory. A concluding section considers implications of the findings for future research and for public
Evidence for Practice
Many public services can be delivered effectively only if members of the public join in their production—if,
in other words, they partner in service coproduction.
To maximize the potential of coproduction, public managers need to understand who engages in
coproduction and why.
This research suggests that the public engages for a variety of reasons, some having to do with personal
psychological orientations (including public service motivation) and others having to do with personal
service needs.
Practitioners may also find that African Americans and people with lower income and less education engage
more in coproductive activities, contrary to the traditional socioeconomic stratification that is customary
with political participation.
Coproduction refers to a phenomenon whereby
citizens partner with government to jointly
produce public services. Coproduction
has been around for as long as governments have
existed, but it was not explicitly recognized until the
pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom and a handful of
other U.S. scholars in the late 1970s (e.g., Brudney
and England 1983; Levine 1984; Ostrom et al.
1978; Parks et al. 1981; Percy, Kiser, and Parks
1980; Whitaker 1980). After virtually disappearing
from academic discourse for almost two decades, the
phenomenon has drawn new attention recently, first
overseas and then in the United States again.
With the renewed attention has come a variety of
questions about the nature of coproduction, including
who in the public joins in service coproduction and
why. This exploratory study seeks answers to that
question using survey data on the participation of
neighborhood activists in various forms of local
coproduction in Atlanta, Georgia.
The article proceeds as follows. We first review
the history of the coproduction concept, in
the process defining the meaning and types of
coproduction. Lacking prior theory on who engages
in coproduction, we next draw on theories of other
forms of citizen engagement to propose hypotheses
specific to coproduction. After an explanation of the
research methodology, a findings section details what
the data tell us about the hypotheses. We conclude
by discussing the limitations of the research and the
possible implications for theories of coproduction
and for public administrators who seek to engage the
public in coproduction.
The Signif‌icance and Meaning
of Coproduction
A new sense of the potential significance of
coproduction appears to explain the phenomenon’s
reemergence in both governmental and academic
circles. First, students of public services have
increasingly recognized that the effectiveness of
Kelechi Uzochukwu
University of Baltimore
John Clayton Thomas
Georgia State University
Research Article

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