Family, friend, professional, stranger? What role for paid workers in co-produced public services

Nanna Møller Mortensen, Catherine Needham

Publikation: Konferencebidrag uden forlag/tidsskriftPaper uden forlag/tidsskriftForskning


Co-production has been introduced by governments across the globe to modernize and improve public service delivery (OECD, 2011; Osborne et al., 2016; Voorberg et al., 2015). Co-production brings a fundamental re-organization and reshaping to the traditional roles of public agents and service users (Durose, et al., 2013; Meijer, 2016; Steen & Tuurnas, 2018). The roles of public service workers are reframed as complementary and supportive to more active and empowered service users (Nederhand & Van Meerkerk, 2017). However, some aspects of the transformed professional practice and the professional-client relationship are underexamined, both normatively and empirically. This paper focuses on one of those gaps - how co-production processes interact with norms of emotional distance/closeness between service professionals and service users. The paper presents a continuum of professional-client relationships, highlighting variations between the ‘display rules’ which set norms of emotional closeness and distance. It is unclear whether co-production seeks to pull towards the closeness end of the continuum, introducing more informality and reciprocity which breaks down boundaries between workers and users; or whether closeness is pathologised as dependence, with co-production being a tool to facilitate ‘naturalistic’ relationships with friends and family rather than workers. The paper sets out the normative ambiguity in the display rules of co-productive relationships at the frontline, and explores this empirically in social care services which have made an explicit commitment to working co-productively. Interviews with managers, staff and citizens in two Danish care settings are used to explore how emotional closeness is framed. The cases differ in the extent to which emotional closeness is felt by staff to be appropriate, and this is linked to the development of different approaches to co-production. The paper enhances and contributes to a wider understanding of relationships and interactions between paid workers and service users in co-produced public services.
StatusUdgivet - 2019
BegivenhedIIAS Study Group on 'Coproduction of Public Services': The 7th annual conference of the Public Governance Institute - Public Governance Institute, KU Lueven, Lueven, Belgien
Varighed: 27 maj 201928 maj 2019


KonferenceIIAS Study Group on 'Coproduction of Public Services'
LokationPublic Governance Institute, KU Lueven


  • Co-production
  • social care
  • emotional labour
  • professionalism
  • boundaries

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