Co-Creation in Government
February 18, 2015 Editor
In recent years, the method of organizational change
known as co-creation has spread rapidly in the business
sector. In a co-creation effort, multiple stakeholders
come together to develop new practices that traditionally
would have emerged only from a bureaucratic, top-down
process (if, indeed, those practices would have emerged
at all). Change, moreover, occurs not just at the level of
an organization, but also across an entire value chain. Can
public sector managers apply the same method to the seemingly
intractable institutions that they oversee? We believe so.
To demonstrate what the co-creation method can achieve,
let’s first consider how it has begun to transform certain parts of
the business world. Take, for example, the agriculture and food value
chain. In the traditional model, each link in that chain is essentially transactional: At every
stage of production and distribution—from selling seeds to retailing packaged foods—the interaction between participants remains limited to the buying and selling
of products or services, and the role of each participant stays within well-defined boundaries. In the past 15 years, however, some of these participants
have developed new forms of interaction that blur the boundaries
between them and turn a transactional process into an interdependent
ecosystem. In doing so, they are following the path of co-creation. A few
companies, in fact, have taken that path as a matter of deliberate strategy.
In 2001, the Agribusiness Division of the Indian conglomerate ITC
launched a co-creation initiative called “e-Choupal” (which means “electronic
marketplace” in Hindi) as part of an effort to improve ITC’s access to
high-quality soybeans. The idea behind e-Choupal was to replace the traditional
sourcing process with an approach that involves assembling farmer groups in each village and
providing each group with digital tools that deliver timely market data as well as locally relevant
information on agronomic best practices. For farmers, this approach resulted in significant
yield improvements and improved economic conditions. Use of the e-Choupal platform also
led to a dramatic boost in the volume and the quality of soybeans available to ITC. (The company
later extended the platform to cover wheat and other commodities.) Since its launch, moreover, the e-Choupal initiative has helped ITC’s Agribusiness
Division to become a $1.2 billion operation.
Taking a cue from ITC’s effort to help farmers sell their output,
BASF Agriculture Solutions in India has pursued a similar approach
on the farm input side. The company initiated a community-based
farmer education and engagement program called “Samruddhi.”
(“Samruddhi” means “prosperity” in Sanskrit.). Through the program,
it works with participating farmers to identify the right mix
of seeds and chemicals to use on their crops. In addition, farmers
receive coaching on new agronomic practices that help them both
to optimize their yield and to become better stewards of their land.
An impact assessment study by the consulting firm PwC showed
that participating farmers increased their yield by 25 percent and
their net income by 36 percent. Thanks in part to this program,
BASF has grown significantly faster than its competitors in India
over the past 10 years and has become the Indian market leader
within its industry.
After their early successes with the co-creation model, ITC and
BASF combined forces to create One Million Smiles, a program that
integrates input and output strategies to help drive productivity
gains for farmers. Recently, they have begun to invite other companies
(including financial services firms and telecom providers)
to join the program.
As these examples illustrate, the essence of co-creation is the
formation of new relationships. Co-creation starts from the experience
of each actor and strives to discover new modes of interaction
that will improve the experience for all actors simultaneously.
That process often leads to a reconfiguration of roles: Recipients
of services become service providers, and vice versa. To develop
and sustain these new modes of interaction, participants typically
create special platforms for community engagement (many of which
incorporate supporting technology tools).
In the public sector, adoption of the co-creation method is a fairly
recent development. Nonetheless, we have found ample evidence
that co-creation holds real promise as a way to facilitate innovation
in government. In this article, we will show how co-creation differs
from the traditional model of how government operates, provide
examples of public sector entities that have overcome challenges
to pursuing co-creation, and draw lessons from those examples.
Of, by, and for Stakeholders
In the traditional model of government, a public entity receives
resources through a budgetary allocation and then uses those
resources to deliver services to stakeholders through a set of work
processes—filing a form, responding to a customer request on the
phone, and so forth. The people at the receiving end of those processes
are largely passive. They might rate the quality of service
they receive through a survey, for example, or they might indirectly
communicate their evaluation of the service through the support
or rejection of an incumbent government’s policies. But they do not
actively shape the design or delivery of the service.
Over the past 35 years, public sector entities have gone through
several waves of change theory and change practice, all of it aimed
at reconfiguring work processes. They went through Total Quality
Management, business process reengineering, and “work-out”
methods in the 1980s. They adopted Six Sigma methods in the 1990s.
And they have pursued Lean Management techniques over the decade
and a half since then. These methods have one important feature
in common: They focus on improving the work-process efficiency.
Because most government entities had previously not been subject
to rigorous financial scrutiny, these methods have served the useful
purpose of bringing the cost structure of government organizations
more in line with that of their private sector counterparts.
But when it comes to productivity gains, there is growing evidence
that public sector organizations have now harvested most
of the proverbial low-hanging fruit. To make further gains in performance,
public sector leaders need to shift their focus away from
work processes (which revolve around tasks to be performed) and
toward human engagement processes (which revolve around the
people who do those tasks).
In a public sector co-creation initiative, a public sector entity
opens its value chain to the stakeholders whom it serves. In effect, it
outsources to its constituents some of the work—and hence some of
the cost—of designing and delivering certain services. Stakeholders,
typically organized in communities of interest, insert themselves
into the public service value chain and become active participants in
it. As a result, public sector employees and stakeholders essentially
co-create the public sector value proposition. In its optimal form,
co-creation has the dual benefit of reducing public sector costs and
increasing stakeholder satisfaction.
The application of the co-creation model to public sector entities
raises specific challenges. Those entities tend to be large and
complex, and their leaders typically manage them from the top
down. Few public sector executives are willing to take the risk of
adopting a new organizational model—especially one that relies
heavily on the bottom-up engagement of employees, customers,
and other stakeholders. Politicians and senior public servants rarely
have the patience to launch an experiment and then wait for it to
unfold. Instead, they usually prefer to implement well-defined policies
through standard administrative channels.
Alongside those obstacles, there are challenges that will affect
any effort to bring innovation to a public sector organization.
Laws and regulations—the very stuff of government—often hinder
change by freezing standards, policies, or processes in place.
At the level of personnel, those who gravitate toward public service
tend to care less about transforming government than they
do about serving their fellow citizens and maintaining a decent
quality of life for themselves. Unions can also stand in the way of
innovation by, for example, insisting on their right to negotiate
over the adoption of new approaches.
Despite these inherent challenges, we believe that co-creation
offers a practical response to the innovation imperative that most
public sector organizations face today.
Steps to Follow
In our model of co-creation, leaders and participants make their
way through a series of five steps. To illustrate those steps, we
turn our attention to a successful co-creation effort that took place
recently in the United Kingdom. That effort involves a pilot project
conducted in the Harlesden office of Jobcentre Plus (JCP), a public
sector organization that deals with unemployment.
John-Paul Marks, who was director of JCP for the greater London
region at the time, chose Harlesden as the site of a co-creation effort
because of the many challenges that the community confronted.
Harlesden, a suburb in West London, experienced high unemployment
in the wake of the global financial crisis and the recession that followed.
It also has a large immigrant population that faces linguistic and cultural
barriers to employment, and it has had law enforcement problems
that complicate the unemployment challenge. In Marks’s view,
JCP Harlesden also had significant potential for local service reform.
Traditionally, JCP offices had defined their work as consisting
of three major processes. First, frontline employees help jobless
people either to find a job or to receive job training, usually in conjunction
with qualifying claimants for unemployment payments
and managing the payment process. Second, a smaller group of
JCP employees try to generate job opportunities for claimants
by working with potential employers. Third, another group of
employees work with external service providers—people from
nonprofit organizations, for example—to prepare claimants for
employment or education opportunities.
Early in 2013, a new manager arrived at JCP Harlesden with a
new view of what the role of a local JCP office should be. Working
with consultants from PwC and people from Making the Leap, a
nonprofit organization that fosters social mobility for disadvantaged
populations, the manager formed a core group of employees
and gave that group a mandate to pursue a change of direction. She
envisioned her JCP office as a venue where employees and outside
service providers—along with the constituencies that they serve—could develop new community-based approaches to the challenge of
unemployment. With that vision in mind, the group embarked on its
five-step co-creation project. (See “The Path of Co-Creation”.)
Identify target communities | The first step of any co-creative initiative
is to select communities and sub-communities whose members
will take part in that effort.
In Harlesden, the new manager and her group held workshops to
map out the community of stakeholders whom they serve. The group
identified three broad populations: JCP employees, claimants and
members of claimants’ support systems, and potential employers.
Looking at this map, the group realized that there were numerous
forms of interaction between members of those communities that
JCP could attempt to facilitate—or, if necessary, to repair. Many of
those interactions (the office-based interaction between claimant
and advisor, for instance) were notoriously antagonistic and had
been the subject of multiple large-scale reengineering efforts. Yet
none of those efforts had succeeded.
The group also recognized that any attempt to improve those
interactions at the level of a whole population was doomed to
fail. Instead, the group focused on identifying a sub-community
whose members had a specific problem to solve. Because the rate
of unemployment among young Somalis was particularly high in
Harlesden and because many JCP Harlesden advisors were eager to
support at-risk Somali young people, the group quickly converged on
a decision to target the Somali community.
Implementing that decision proved to be difficult,
because public sector entities in the United
Kingdom have traditionally put a premium on
interacting with all constituents in the same way.
The suggestion that some claimants might get
special treatment caused some people in the JCP
bureaucracy to raise objections. Staff members at
the Harlesden office, therefore, had to campaign
for the right to craft a specific approach for young
Somalis. But ultimately, with the help of Marks,
they received permission to proceed with that plan.
Choosing sub-communities, we have found, is
both an analytical process and an emotional process.
The analytical part involves forming a rational
hypothesis about how a given sub-community can
help generate new value for a public sector entity.
That hypothesis provides the business case that
senior government managers are likely to require
before they will approve a co-creation project. But
co-creation is also an emotional process that occurs
when the employees of a public sector organization
develop an interest in certain communities or certain
issues. Passion is the currency of co-creation,
and the energy that comes with allowing employees to engage with
members of a specific community can be powerful. A government
entity should not be a faceless collection of hyper-rational technocrats.
Instead, it should be a place where employees feel free to
propose (and lead) co-creation initiatives.
Build engagement platforms | The second step is to provide targeted
communities with physical or virtual platforms where community
members can engage with each other.
Once the JCP group had opted to focus on the Somali community,
the group started exploring how it could bring together the
disparate members of that community. To achieve that goal, the
group needed to provide a structure in which local Somalis could
collaborate on ways to solve shared problems. In other words (to use
the language of co-creation), the group had to create an engagement
platform for that community.
After holding a series of workshops with Somali community
members, the JCP group concluded that linking disparate populations
would be crucial to solving the problem of Somali youth
unemployment. Many young Somalis, for example, have a history
of gang activity, and their judicial record makes it difficult to find
employers who will hire them. Harlesden, meanwhile, is the site of
several small, Somali-owned craft shops that could provide training
or employment opportunities. What if JCP Harlesden could help
bring together those young people and the owners of those shops?
Members of the JCP group also knew that local Somali groups could
provide coaching to Somali claimants and advice to service providers.
The problem, in short, was not a lack of support but a lack of
connection between various parts of the Somali community.
Today, JCP Harlesden hosts the Somali Community Desk—a dedicated
area within the agency’s office where people from a local community
group deliver an array of services. The Community Desk serves
as a liaison between claimants with limited English-language skills and
JCP staff members. It also functions as a clearing-house for services
available from other Somali support groups. (The JCP team identified
a half-dozen such organizations in the Harlesden area. Thanks
to the co-creation effort, those groups began to form connections to
one another that did not exist previously.) Members of the JCP team
credit the Community Desk with building trust, breaking down communication
barriers, and encouraging claimants to take advantage of
the services offered by JCP and by the local Somali organizations.
Engagement platforms can take other forms. At JCP Harlesden,
staff members put on a community forum at the agency every two
months, and they regularly hold outreach events with Somali organizations
at other locations.
Foster interactions among stakeholders | In the third step, participants
use the new engagement platform (or platforms) to enable
new kinds of relationships.
Instead of reengineering existing forms of interaction between
unemployed Somali young people, JCP employment advisors, and
other stakeholders, the JCP group in Harlesden worked to facilitate
new forms of interaction between those populations. The group put
an emphasis, for example, on building more effective connections
between claimants and employers. On the claimant side, that effort
involved helping job candidates to articulate their skills and work
experience, coaching them on issues related to physical appearance
and personal presentation, and engaging them in practice interviews.
On the employer side, this work entailed explaining the law enforcement
complications faced by some candidates, motivating employers
to hire at-risk young people, and offering support to deal with any
post-hire issues that might arise. By coaching both claimants and
employers, JCP Harlesden fundamentally changed the nature of the
Enable new experiences | The fourth step involves ensuring that
new interactions lead to valuable experiences for all stakeholders—experiences that intrinsically improve the quality of their lives.
At JCP Harlesden, customized outreach to young Somalis through
the Somali Community Desk has led to a significant growth in their
willingness to work with job advisors. Encouraging members of this
population to engage with the UK social system had historically
been a major challenge, but advisors are now able to hold regular
meetings with them. Many of them, moreover, have now found jobs
(often with the help of elders in the local Somali community). Overall,
there has been a measurable increase in the levels of satisfaction
among Somali claimants, who feel a greater sense of engagement
with JCP, and among JCP advisors, who have a greater sense that
they are doing useful work.
Assess new value | The fifth and last step of co-creation is to
verify that the sponsoring organization has generated new value—measurable
economic value, in particular—as a result of its effort.
(The idea here is that an organization should be able to compute a
return on the investment made in its co-creation project.)
With the co-creation initiative at JCP Harlesden, the evidence of
value took the form of two important data points: There was a significant
increase in the center’s rate of back-to-work success, and there
was a modest but promising reduction in the unemployment benefits
that the center paid out. Those achievements, in turn, allowed leaders
at JCP Harlesden to conclude that they should deploy the co-creation
model in other areas of their organization.
Toward that end, those leaders have put in place several additional
engagement platforms. The purpose of the Staff Autonomy platform,
for example, is to develop a new model of interaction between claimants
and JCP advisors. Using this platform, advisors can select two
claimants who they believe are particularly motivated to find work.
They then provide each claimant with customized support, even going
so far as to call employers directly to find work for the claimant. Each
advisor collaborates with a selected claimant to develop an action
plan. Together, the advisor and the claimant follow that plan until
the claimant gets a job. Because advisors and claimants choose to take
part in the program, both parties have an investment in ensuring
that it succeeds. In fact, according to JCP Harlesden, the Staff Autonomy
platform has helped many claimants find new jobs within just a few
weeks of starting their action plan.
The School Engagement platform, meanwhile, is preventive in
nature. It tries to instill a desire to work in high-school-age students
who might otherwise assume that they will drift into unemployment
after school. Through this platform, JCP advisors persuade
local merchants to provide brief work experience opportunities to
those students. (An additional benefit is that students develop skills
that they will need to seek employment later.) The Skills-Matching
platform aims to align the training that claimants receive from local
nonprofit service providers with the job skills that employers actually
require. And the High-Barriers platform helps advisors deal with
difficult claimants (those with law enforcement issues, for example)
by providing an integrated, case-specific support system that brings
in probation officers and service providers who specialize in working
with populations of this type. The latter two platforms, in particular,
have helped to produce an increase in the number of claimants
who are able to find work.
Obstacles to Overcome
Those who seek to apply the co-creation model to government entities
must reckon with challenges that rarely apply to private sector
co-creation initiatives. Here, we will focus on four such challenges.
In each case, we will draw on examples of co-creation projects to
show that it’s possible to surmount these obstacles.
The rigidity of government | Public sector entities have a duty to
ensure compliance with laws and regulations, which are by definition
non-negotiable. Government agencies are statutorily barred, for
example, from paying unemployment compensation to unqualified
claimants or from offering a favorable deal to a specific taxpayer. The
terms of any given law are cast in stone. Still, our work shows that ample
opportunity exists for co-creation in the application of such laws.
Consider the French social security administration—the
Union for the Recovery of Social Security and Family Support
Contributions, which is known by its French acronym, URSSAF. Its
mandate is to collect social security taxes from employers. Those
taxes feed the French system of subsidies for health care, retirement,
housing, and unemployment, and the French state sets the
employer contribution rates by law. URSSAF officials are proud
of their group’s reputation as the toughest agency in the French
government when it comes to collecting taxes. Today, URSSAF is
conducting a co-creation experiment that focuses on the trucking
industry in the province of Picardy. Through that experiment, the
agency aims to transform itself from a hard-nosed, compliance-oriented
organization into a promoter of local business.
Trucking is one of the main industries in Picardy. (A heavily
traveled highway that links Paris to northern Europe passes through
the region.) In the past, the importance of that industry—or of
any industry—had no influence on how rigorously URSSAF would
apply the law. As a result, the agency often played a win-lose game
in which over-zealous collection efforts risked causing a company to
shut down. But with its new, more collaborative approach in Picardy,
URSSAF has begun to put less emphasis on enforcement than on
helping the local trucking industry grow. For URSSAF, after all, a
growing industry is likely to yield increased tax revenue.
Along with the trucking trade association, URSSAF conducted
a series of co-creation workshops that brought together agency
employees and trucking company managers. (Also supporting this
effort was the General Secretariat for the Modernization of Public
Action, a consulting arm of the French government.) URSSAF
employees discovered that many of those managers found it hard to
understand the agency’s complex compliance requirements. When
a driver receives a reimbursement for the cost of lunch, for example,
does it count as a “premium” or as an “indemnity”? (The state taxes
those forms of payment differently.) Managers of small trucking
companies also divulged that the very thought of interacting with
URSSAF intimidated them. Previously, their only interaction with
URSSAF had taken the form of audits that almost invariably resulted
in fines. Indeed, persuading these managers to attend the workshops
in the first place had proved to be a big challenge.
Following the workshops, URSSAF and the trade association
began working with trucking company managers to develop a series
of Internet-based tools that guide companies through their interactions
with the agency. Managers, for instance, can now seek advice
from URSSAF on how to handle the changes in reporting requirements
that come with expanding their business. URSSAF and the
trade association have also approached other government agencies
(including the French unemployment office and local branches of
the national retirement pension fund) about jointly developing a
new system that would support each company through the various
stages of its life cycle.
The experiment in Picardy is just beginning. But early results suggest
that there has been an improvement in the experience of taxpayers,
who report that URSSAF now supports their efforts to grow
and no longer takes a narrow compliance-oriented view of its role.
URSSAF agents, meanwhile, say that being able to serve as a partner
in economic development gives them a higher sense of purpose.
The problem of politics | In any attempt to bring innovation to government
through multi-stakeholder collaboration, the reality of
partisanship and ideological division looms as a potential barrier. At
a time when that reality seems to preclude any form of across-the-aisle
cooperation, is it possible for politicians to support—rather than
hinder—co-creation? In fact, there is evidence that co-creation initiatives
can bring politicians and citizens together around common goals.
One example of that dynamic is a co-creation initiative currently
under way in Malden, Mass., a city just north of Boston. In late 2012,
a small group of investors—some of them ardent Democrats, others
passionate Republicans—came together to test whether they could
create a bipartisan agenda on a local scale. They created a fund called
Co-Creation Ventures (CCV) and identified Malden as a good place to
conduct their experiment. The city, they noted, is a melting pot that
encompasses both Democratic and Republican constituencies. It has
a fairly high poverty rate (15 percent), as well as a diverse population
that includes many immigrants. Both its mayor and its US congresswoman
are Democrats, as are most other local elected officials. But
Malden also has a powerful contingent of Republican-leaning businesspeople
who have built successful enterprises in the city
A team hired to run CCV identified food service as a potential
economic engine for the city. With the aim of helping to create a
new industry cluster around food, the CCV team ran a series of
workshops that brought together stakeholders from multiple communities
over the course of a year. Malden was already home to a
commissary (shared kitchen) that served many of the food trucks
that plied the streets of Boston. Largely thanks to earlier waves of
Irish and Italian immigration, the city also had thriving traditions
related to baking, meat preparation, and coffee making. In addition,
more recent immigrants from Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere had
brought their food traditions with them, making Malden a culinary
destination that embraces a variety of cuisines.
The CCV initiative incorporates two platforms—one physical, the
other financial. First, under the umbrella name Stock Pot Malden, CCV
has invested in the development of two commissaries where food truck
operators and food product entrepreneurs prepare their food side by
side. Second, CCV manages a fund that takes a minority equity position
in some of those enterprises. Through these platforms, participating
entrepreneurs also receive guidance from the CCV team on how to
develop their business plan. In addition, they collaborate with each
other by exchanging best practices, sharing staffing resources and
sourcing arrangements, teaming up at catering events and food truck
festivals, and jointly running certification classes for new employees.
Today, the shared kitchen is the largest food truck hub in the
Boston area, with 20 food truck businesses and a roughly equal number
of food product entrepreneurs under its roof. Democrats and
Republicans alike, both in Malden and elsewhere in Massachusetts,
have praised the CCV effort. The Malden experiment shows that,
at least at a local level, use of the co-creation model can facilitate
a project that combines a traditional Democratic goal (promoting
diversity and economic opportunity) with a traditional Republican
approach (relying on private capital and free-market forces).
The matter of scale | Pursuing co-creation in, say, a single employment
agency office is one thing. But doing so in a city- or statewide
fashion, and in a way that involves stakeholders as a whole, is something
else. Many people are understandably suspicious of any government’s
ability to engage large groups of citizens in co-creation projects. In that
context, it’s useful to consider that there are two types of engagement
platforms that come into play in public sector co-creation. The first
one involves town meetings, workshops, and other forms of in-person
discussion. The second involves deploying technology to accommodate
civic participation on a large scale. Well-publicized government
failures—the early malfunctioning of the website developed for the
US Affordable Care Act, for example—raise doubts in this area. Yet
some governments are successfully using technology to implement
large-scale co-creation efforts.
The state of Rio Grande do Sul in southern Brazil, for example, uses
technology-based platforms to engage citizens in co-constructing an
economic agenda. Through the state’s Digital Cabinet initiative, citizens
work with public sector managers to establish development priorities.
They can interact with the state government via four channels. The
first one, called Collaborative Agenda, is a live process in which the
governor of Rio Grande do Sul visits several cities and conducts workshops
that allow open-ended discussion with citizens. The second
channel is The Governor Asks, an online tool through which the governor
formulates a problem in the form of a question; citizens then use
the tool to propose potential solutions. The state also invites selected
respondents to meet with the governor to discuss their proposals and
to participate in the design of the chosen solution. The third channel,
called The Governor Responds, provides answers to questions posed by
citizens. In some cases, the governor answers a citizen’s question in a
video clip and, where appropriate, announces measures to deal with the
matter raised by that question. The fourth channel, The Government
Listens, uses social media to enable an ongoing dialogue that helps the
governor and his team to identify emerging issues.
The co-creative use of technology also occurs at the city level.
Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul, has been a pioneer
in participatory budgeting since 1989. Through a process that combines
live and technology-based platforms, the city enlists citizens
to help allocate about $200 million per year in discretionary spending.
Most of that amount goes toward construction projects. City
managers provide a line-by-line description of each project, its cost,
its potential benefits, the disruption that it is likely to cause, and its
estimated schedule for completion. Citizens can then provide guidance
on project selection or suggest project modifications, either live
at local town meetings or electronically through the city’s website.
Using this input, city managers continuously update their plans for
each project. The live meetings mobilize about 50,000 people annually
(out of a population of 1.5 million), and the proportion of citizens
who take part in them grows every year. Studies by the World Bank
and other institutions have credited the Porto Alegre participatory
budgeting process with helping to reduce inequality in the city—by, for example, facilitating the construction of schools and sewers
in the most disadvantaged areas of the city.
The role of unions | In many countries, unions have a significant
presence in the public sector. Do strong unions make it difficult, or
indeed impossible, to pursue co-creation in government? Conflict
between agency managers and union leaders clearly presents a big
challenge. But we have found that even when labor relations are
tense, co-creation can still work.
The transformation of La Poste—the French post office—is a case
in point. In 2008, La Poste initiated a large-scale co-creation effort.
Faced with a dramatic reduction of mail volume, the agency needed to
reduce costs while also increasing its parcels and banking businesses.
By the end of 2012, La Poste had reduced the average wait time for
purchasing a registered letter from 8.3 minutes to 1.4 minutes, it had
increased the number of hours when local post offices
are open for business by 40 percent, and it had raised the level of customer satisfaction
with wait times from 50 percent to 79 percent and overall customer
satisfaction from 82 percent to 94 percent. Remarkably, moreover,
the number of La Poste employees dropped by nearly 10,000 during
that four-year period.
La Poste has long been a bastion of strong, and occasionally
militant, unions. Why did the unions of La Poste go along with this
transformation? The principles of co-creation, as it happens, also
apply to the management of unions: Members of a union, given a
platform to engage with peers and customers, will transform the
operating model of that institution. Simply put, they will challenge
the rigid, top-down logic of their union in the same way that
employees will challenge the rigid, top-down logic of a large corporation
or government agency for which they work.
In the co-creation project undertaken by La Poste, senior
managers gave local post offices four broad goals for service and
financial performance, and local employees could use their discretion
to develop measures to achieve each goal. Throughout that process,
people at the local level relied on a tool called “the co-created strategy
map and scorecard.” The project also empowered employees to
make changes to the physical layout of their post office and to make
decisions on allocating resources to various customer segments.
Employees can now help to determine, for example, how many tellers
will serve regular consumers and how many will serve business
customers at any given time. These operational details, as it turns
out, were often more salient to employees than the issues—such as
working hours and pay levels—that had been a source of conflict at
the national level for years.
When La Poste initiated its transformation program, the effort
focused on three post office locations in southeastern France,
including one in the center of Lyon that was known for being the
site of hard-core union activism. As employees at that post office
started engaging with their managers on how that facility should
operate, local union representatives simultaneously began selling
union managers in Paris on the merit of the co-creation approach.
Over time, the breadth of issues tackled by the co-creation project
expanded dramatically. At first, for example, La Poste managers
prohibited any discussion of when local branches would be open for
business. That issue, they assumed, would be too politically sensitive
for unionized employees. But when those employees started talking
with customers about ways to improve service, they discovered that
increasing the number of hours that a post office was open was at
the top of many customers’ wish list. Employees then went to their
managers and suggested scheduling changes to accommodate those
customer requests. Many employees also offered to adjust their own
schedules to provide coverage during extended hours of operation.
Union managers were originally reluctant to compromise on the
issue of working hours—an important bargaining chip at the national
level—but ultimately they yielded to the views of their members. With
their support, La Poste and its employees co-created a new schedule
under which employees work during evening hours and on weekends.
More With Less
Public sector organizations face a huge innovation challenge. Trust in
government is at an all-time low in many countries, and the resources
allocated to public sector entities have been steadily decreasing for
years. At the same time, those entities are expected to play an ever-larger
role in driving economic growth. Simply put, people in government
must aim to do more with less. Now that the public sector has
largely tapped the productivity gains that are feasible through work-process
re-engineering efforts, its greatest source of value lies in using
the imagination of frontline and back-office employees—and in inviting
them to engage with stakeholders (clients, customers, citizens) in new
ways. Managers will have to let go of their control over government
processes, and public employees will have to take responsibility for
their own future. Making that shift will require the adoption of new
structures and new tools, but mostly it will require an unwavering
commitment to co-creation as an indispensable method of innovation.
(See “Principles of Co-Creation.”)
The need to do more with less requires a profound transformation
of the role of the public sector. The practice of co-creation can provide
a powerful response to this challenge by enabling government
entities to migrate from a process-centric operating model to a
people-centric model. Public sector leaders must overcome significant
obstacles in order to develop and sustain effective co-creation
platforms. Ultimately, however, when men and women in the public
sector are able to embark on a joint quest for the creation of new
value, there is no limit to what they can accomplish.
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Categories: Social Innovation
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