The risks of co-production

16:15 Wednesday 29 May


Room S16


Oliver Gebhardt (Germany) 1; Daniela Siedschlag (Germany) 1; Christian Kuhlicke (Germany) 2

1 - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Department of Economics; 2 - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ, Department Urban and Environmental Sociology

Risks associated with co-production processes are substantial and rarely in the focus of scientific investigation. Studies typically analyse the set-up of co-production processes, categorise and describe their different phases or investigate potential factors influencing whether they are successful or not. If risks are touched upon collaborative processes are either regarded as a possibility of sharing (financial) risks among actors involved in the process or as a means to improve the management of external risks.

There are only a few studies that engage with the risks involved in the very process of developing some output collaboratively. This is surprising as ‘[c]o-production is a risky method of social inquiry. It is time-consuming, ethically complex, emotionally demanding, inherently unstable, vulnerable to external shocks, subject to competing demands and it challenges many disciplinary norms’ (Flinders et al., 2016, 261). In addition, high reputational risks associated with the public attention and openness towards diverse types of external stakeholders usually involved in such processes also represent a considerable source of peril. From this perspective, it can be expected that the anticipation of risks, their actual manifestation through severe crises or the recovery process from such crises have a decisive impact on the dynamics, the set-up and quality of the process as well as its outcomes.

Therefore, in this paper we lay the ground for a more systematic reflection on potential risks for co-production, their causes as well as different strategies for managing them. Our investigation rests both upon a thorough literature review as well as insights from various EU-funded projects involving co-production processes in the fields of climate change adaptation and disaster risk management. Empirical analysis is based on participatory observations, a longitudinal quantitative survey among project partners, qualitative interviews and informal conversations with project partners.

Our investigation improves the understanding of how risks shape co-production processes; in particular (1) identifying causes for risks; (2) comprehending how such risks are emerging, how they are detected and become manifest; (3) appreciating which factors influence the management of such risks; and (4) which opportunities they offer.

We conclude that current literature is too functionalistic and mechanistic. More attention needs to be paid to social dynamics, the symbolic dimension of working collaboratively for a common goal and how risks are constructed by actors involved in the co-production process.