Sub-theme 38: Leading and Organizing Transitions to Public-Sector Co-creation: The (Im)Perfect Strategy?

Jacob Torfing
Roskilde University, Denmark
Nicolette van Gestel
Tilburg University, The Netherlands
Sam Beaumont van Elk
King’s College London, United Kingdom

Call for Papers

This sub-theme aims to explore and assess the strategic management efforts of public organizations to transform themselves from ‘bureaucratic authorities’ and ‘service providers’ into ‘arenas for co-creation’ (Osborne, 2010; Brandsen et al., 2018). Co-creation is defined as the collaborative effort of two or more public and private actors to identify and define common problems and develop, implement and evaluate new and creative solutions that break with common wisdoms and established practices while contributing to public value (Torfing et al., 2019). This sub-theme interrogates such efforts at more inclusive, co-creative models of decision-making and solution-generation within public organizations. It draws on broad literatures of strategic management (Ferlie & Ongaro, 2015), new public governance (Newman, 2001; Osborne, 2010) and public value management (Crosby et al. 2017; Van Wart, 2013) to improve our understanding of the transition to co-creation in policy fields such as climate change, social policy, health services, and cultural policy.
The required transformation of the public sector involves constructing new organizational designs such as digital and physical platforms for collaborative governance as well as new roles and mentalities for public and private actors (Ansell & Gash, 2017). This transformation relies on a broad set of discursive, institutional and political drivers, including growing recognition of NPM’s failures to deliver on its promises (Hood & Dixon, 2013), vertical and horizontal dispersion of power, and politicians’ and managers’ increasing awareness that they need to interact more with relevant and affected actors to improve public organizations’ responsiveness and citizens’ democratic ownership.
Exploiting these drivers demands skilful strategic management and leadership and the development of a distributed, horizontal and integrative leadership capacity amongst politicians, public managers, professionals and active citizens (Bolden, 2011; Crosby et al., 2017; Van Wart, 2013). It may be vital to strike the right balance between strategy that is insufficiently directional to disrupt established practices; and strategy so directional that it seems adverse to collaborative co-creative efforts. One wonders what strategic management approaches best suit transitions to co-creation (Ferlie & Ongaro, 2015).
The sub-theme also requires attention to the pitfalls to co-creation. Some argue that it favours citizens and groups best able to participate in demanding, time-consuming deliberative processes (Newman, 2001). Could co-creation thus entrench, not resolve, inequality? Others highlight processes of supposed co-creation that in fact co-opt participants into more-or-less predetermined plans and processes (Meilvang et al., 2018). What strategic management could prevent ‘arenas for co-creation’ from such a fate?
We welcome theoretical and empirical papers focusing on:

  • Transformation of the overall strategic efforts of public organizations aiming to spur the transition to co-creation with citizens and other stakeholders (Ferlie & Ongaro, 2015);

  • Transformation of political leadership and organizational management towards ‘distributed’ (Bolden, 2011) ‘horizontal’ (Van Wart, 2013) and ‘integrative’ (Crosby et al. 2017) models and practices;

  • Formation of platforms (digital and/or physical) that facilitate temporary, problem-focussed arenas for co-creation and provide necessary resources, infrastructures and direction (Ansell & Gash, 2017);

  • Transformation of the role perceptions and practices of the participating public and private organizational actors (Torfing, 2016), professionals (Van Gestel et al., 2019), and their impact.



  • Ansell, C., & Gash, A. (2017): “Collaborative platforms as a governance strategy.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 28 (1), 16–32.
  • Bolden, R. (2011): “Distributed leadership in organizations: A review of theory and research.” International Journal of Management Reviews, 13 (3), 251–269.
  • Brandsen, T., Verschuere, B., & Steen, T. (2018): Co-Production and Co-Creation: Engaging Citizens in Public Services. London: Routledge.
  • Crosby, B.C., ‘t Hart, P., & Torfing, J. (2017): “Public value creation through collaborative innovation.” Public Management Review, 19 (5), 655–669.
  • Ferlie, E., & Ongaro, E. (2015): Strategic Management in Public Services Organizations: Concepts, Schools and Contemporary Issues. London: Routledge.
  • Hood, C., & Dixon, R. (2013): “A model of cost-cutting in government? The great management revolution in UK Central Government reconsidered.” Public Administration, 91 (1), 114–134.
  • Meilvang, M.L., Carlsen, H.B., & Blok, A. (2018): ”Methods of engagement: On civic participation formats as composition devices in urban planning.” European Journal of Cultural and Political Sociology, 5 (1–2), 12–41.
  • Newman, J. (2001): Modernizing Governance: New Labour, Policy and Society. London: SAGE Publications.
  • Osborne, S.P. (2010): The New Public Governance? Emerging Perspectives on the Theory and Practice of Public Governance. London: Routledge.
  • Torfing, J. (2016): Collaborative Innovation in the Public Sector. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press.
  • Torfing, J., Sørensen, E., & Røiseland, A. (2019): “Transforming the public sector into an arena for co-creation: Barriers, drivers, benefits, and ways forward.” Administration & Society, 51 (5), 795–825.
  • Van Gestel, N., Kuiper, M., & Hendrikx, W. (2019): “Changed roles and strategies of professionals in the (co)production of public services.” Administrative Sciences, 9 (3), 59.
  • Van Wart, M. (2013): “Lessons from leadership theory and the contemporary challenges of leaders.” Public Administration Review, 73 (4), 553–565.
Jacob Torfing is Professor of Politics and Institutions at the Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University in Denmark, and Professor II at NORD University in Norway; he is also Director of the Roskilde School of Governance. His main research interests are public sector reform, public innovation and interactive governance. Jacob published in journals such as ‘Administration & Society’, ‘Public Administration’, J’ournal of Public Administration and Governance’, ‘Public Management Review’, ‘Policy & Politics’, and ‘Public Administration Review’.
Nicolette van Gestel is Professor of New Modes of Governance at Tilburg University, The Netherlands, and Professor at OsloMet in Norway. Her research focuses on public sector reform, decision-making in plural (network) settings, and the role and position of professionals in the welfare state. Nicolette published among others in ‘Organization Studies’, ‘Public Administration’, ‘Public Money & Management’, ‘Public Management Review’, ‘Scandinavian Journal of Management’, and ‘Perspectives on Public Management and Governance’.
Sam Beaumont van Elk is a Research Associate at King’s Business School, King’s College London, United Kingdom. His research subject areas are public services management and organization. His current work focuses on how local and city government actors attempt to work collaboratively through their cultural policies. Sam’s wider interests extend to organizational normativity, valuation and the organizational management of austerity.