It’s been about 30 years since Margaret Thatcher said ”There is no such thing as society”. I always felt that was a pernicious and cynical point of view, and gradually I think we’re witnessing the realisation that policies based on that view are unsustainable.
Nesta’s recent document on The Challenge of Co-production is an energetic manifesto for re-engaging society in public service provision. This goes beyond participation politics, with its consultations and surveys, as well as co-design, which involves users in developing the service. It proposes that shared responsibility for full service delivery is both more effective and more efficient. This is nothing short of a sea change of conventional wisdom. It’ll be very interesting to see how far the ripples ride on this one. Politicians from both sides are dropping already hackneyed words like “choice” in favour of “co-production”. But one wonders whether they have the legs to implement something so radical.
When Thatcher announced the end of society, what she marked was the division of public service from the public being served. Society no longer affected change. It was the individual, her dynamo of wealth creation, that did all the work. Well, as we can all now see, this provided a financial boon, but now things have gone awry it turns out we might need society after all.