Search the co-production knowledge base

Research – social action and civic engagement

Enabling Social Action Programme. (March 2018 – March 2020)

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is working in partnership with the universities of Sheffield and Hull on Phase 2 of the Enabling Social Action programme. The programme aims to support local authority commissioners to co-design, co-produce and co-deliver services with local people, service users, and civil society organisations, and to embed social action in their routine working.

The programme will include a range of activities:

  • Action learning partnerships with six local authorities to support the development of new ways of delivering services with communities
  • Six national events across the programme will build on the findings of the partnerships
  • Commissioner Champions who will share their learning and insights, as well as galvanise local networks through events and workshops
  • A peer network to enable commissioners, VCSE organisations, and councillors to share information, learning, and good practice across the country to create a long term culture change in local authorities.

Work to date suggests that social action is poorly understood and poorly defined; that organisations and participants are unclear about the value of social action approaches and find it difficult to relinquish control; and that there are challenges in attributing and evaluating social action initiatives. Nevertheless, commissioners demonstrated a willingness and enthusiasm for embracing these new ways of working. We are currently working with partners to establish a space and context that will encourage social action approaches.

Keywords: co-commission, co-design, co-deliver, social action, culture change

Scoping Findings Report March & April 2018

Findings from Workshop 1: Building the space for social action July 2018

Findings from Workshop 2: Changing roles and relationships September 2018

Contributed by: Jon Burchell – University of Sheffield, Joe Cook – University of Hull, Fiona Walkley – University of Hull, Jenny McNeill – University of Sheffield



Enabling Social Action: guidance (ongoing)

From November 2015 to August 2016 government collaborated with the New Economics Foundation to develop resources for commissioners and other public sector leaders to help them embed social action in commissioning.

Social action is about people coming together to help improve their lives and solve important problems in their communities. When the public sector works with communities – listening to citizens, growing their capacity to act, and working with them as equals – social action can become a powerful way of meeting people’s needs.

These publications provide resources, ideas and case studies on how to embed social action into existing services, develop new programmes and create the conditions for social action.

Keywords: social action, policy, commissioning, outcomes, guides

Policy Papers: 2017

A description of social action

Making the case for social action in the public sector

Leadership and culture change to enable social action

Commissioning for social action

Creating the conditions for social action

Enabling social action methodology

Related publications:

Commissioning for Outcomes and Co-production: a new model for commissioning public services, 2014, Joe Penny, Julia Slay

Transforming Youth Services: unlocking the value of youth services through co-production, 2014, Julia Slay

Contributed by: New Economics Foundation (NEF),



Imagine: the social, historical, cultural and democratic context of civic engagement. Imagining different communities and making them happen (2013-2017)

Imagine was a five-year research project awarded just over £2.2m to explore the social, historical, cultural and democratic context of civic engagement, in the context of imagining better communities and making them happen.

Our approach to the research was co-productive, drawing on a number of different methods and methodologies, including a communities of practice approach, dialogic co-inquiry, collaborative ethnography and arts practice. The research was organised across four work packages, with each sub-project emphasising an aspect of the research design:

  1. Social: co-ordinated by Professor Angie Hart.

This focused on resilience-based practices, including a Communities of Practice approach to resilience building with young people, parents and adults facing significant challenges in a wide variety of contexts in the UK, Greece, Malaysia and Germany.

  1. Historical: co-ordinated by Professor Sarah Banks.

This focused on community development practices in Tyneside and Coventry, starting with re-examining the Community Development projects of the 1970s and reflecting on the implications for the present and future.

  1. Cultural: co-ordinated by Professor Kate Pahl.

This focused on everyday cultures in communities in Rotherham, with a specific focus on how culture contributes to, and impacts upon possibilities for civic engagement. Work was achieved in partnership with the Hepworth Wakefield, Museums Sheffield and the Site Gallery. We also included a focus on reading in prisons and utopian fiction.

  1. Democratic: co-ordinated by Professor Graham Crow until 2014, thereafter by Professor Paul Ward.

This explored the ways in which everyday cultures promote democratic engagement, including through collective website Participedia, arts practice in Sheppey, a survey of community partners’ views of outputs and co-producing history with communities.

Keywords: communities, society, history, culture, democracy, hope, futures

Project website:

The work has been written up in: Co-producing Research: A Community Development Approach. Bristol: Policy Press. 2019, Sarah Banks, Angie Hart, Kate Pahl, Paul Ward

Contributed by: Kate Pahl – Manchester Metropolitan University (research carried out at the University of Sheffield), Angie Hart – University of Brighton, Sarah Banks – University of Brighton, Graham Crow, Paul Ward – Edgehill University



Improving Public Services in East and West European Countries (2017)

Routledge, 2017

This volume provides a comprehensive overview of current reforms in public sector quality management in Eastern Europe. Comparisons are made with trends in Western European countries to draw out the lessons emerging from current developments (including e-governance). Case studies from twelve countries and five comparative and conceptual studies identify how quality is put into practice, how the level of quality is assessed through quality accreditation systems and how e-government and citizen involvement may help to improve public service quality.

Keywords: public services, public service reforms, case studies, e-government, citizen involvement


Chapters include:

Improving Public Services Through E-Government and Citizen Engagement: Comparing Emerging Lessons in East and West European Countries

Tony Bovaird

This chapter in ‘Improving Public Services in East and West European Countries’ considers whether and to what extent citizen participation and e-government helped to improve the quality of pubic services. Fully developed e-services focused on life event are still far from reality both in Western and Eastern Europe. The same is true of citizen engagement – even though there are more and more legal requirements to consult with citizens all across Europe, only a few public agencies have involved citizens effectively to improve public services. While the potential of citizen participation and e-government is clearly very significant, it is essential that their achievements to date are kept in perspective.

Keywords: citizen participation, citizen engagement, e-government, e-services

Citizen and User Participation in the UK: Experiences and Trends

Tony Bovaird, Steve Martin

This chapter provides an outline of the evolution of the concept of ‘citizen and user participation’, and explores the main mechanisms which have been used in the United Kingdom in recent years to implement it. It considers some of evidence as to what results have been achieved by these mechanisms to date, and concludes with consideration of citizen and user co-production, which is becoming a vogue concept and may represent the next phase of ‘participation’. The conceptual roots of citizen involvement in public affairs clearly derives from classical models of participatory democracy, while the most powerful model of user participation comes from market research in market capitalism. The rhetoric of public service ‘modernisation’ and public service improvement in the UK frequently conflates very different kinds of public participation. Participation can include a range of different stakeholder groups, ranging from actual service users, to potential service users, to taxpayers, to special interest groups and, the public as a whole.

Keywords: citizen participation, user participation, co-production, citizen involvement


Contributed by: Elke Loeffler – Governance International; Tony Bovaird – University of Birmingham, INLOGOV (Institute of Local Government Studies); Steve Martin – Cardiff University.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content