Curriculum Co-Design and Co-Production

In public administration everyone is talking about collaboration, co-production, co-design, co-commissioning. But do public administration academics practice what we preach? In this post I want to briefly discuss some of the key findings from my latest research which is available for free download here:

In the various degree programmes and modules I have designed I have always tried to ensure that students are engaged in the design of the curriculum and that they benefit from a blend of professional experience and academic learning.

Typically this has been achieved through a range of learning activities such as fieldtrips, leadership exchanges, action learning sets, coaching and in-class sessions – many of which I have written about previously. It is important that throughout the learning experience students are engaged and empowered in order to make lasting change to the communities they serve. But it’s not enough to talk or read about this – I believe students need to experience it too. This is particularly important in public administration programmes.

Thus it is important that public administration students have ownership of their degree programme(s) – and have ownership of improvement. Just as the communities they serve should have ownership and power to deliver improvements to their areas. This relates very much to Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation:

Arnsteins Ladder - IElliott2

Students are not simply the passive recipients of knowledge – but they should have significant delegated power and control to make changes to their degree programme(s). There are a number of ways through which this is facilitated including through student-staff consultative meetings.

One exercise I have used for a number of years now is based around the concept of curriculum co-design. This has always generated lots of great ideas and discussion. During one such session a student, who was looking a little perplexed by the process said,

“I’m just trying to take it all in. It’s just so different to anything I’ve done before. All I can think right now is WOW”

Former student

That was a wonderful thing to hear. As academics we want to stretch our students (figuratively of course) and challenge their assumptions. This student was clearly expressing a sense of “liminality” – in between receiving and producing.

The use of curriculum co-design in the classroom is particularly beneficial in public administration programmes as co-production has become an influential practice in public services across the UK. In England this is part of a shift in how public services are designed and delivered through the localism agenda. Examples include the development of combined authorities and elected mayors. In Scotland co-production is one of the key pillars of the Scottish Approach to Public Administration as seen in community empowerment. This is part of a wider trend within public administration which has seen a shift from direct top-down delivery of services through to outsourcing and privatisation and now to increasing collaboration, coproduction and co-design of our public services.

It was my experience of using curriculm co-deshn in the classroom, and finding few examples of it being used elsewhere, that led me to reflect on this practice in this journal article:

Elliott, I. C., Robson, I., & Dudau, A. (2020). Building student engagement through co-production and curriculum co-design in public administration programmes. Teaching Public Administration.

Ian Robson (Northumbria University) and Adina Dudau (University of Glasgow) worked with me on the article, helping with my auto-ethnographic reflections and in writing the final piece. I am delighted to see this now available for free Open Access via Teaching Public Administration and that it will feature as part of a special issue edited by John Connolly (University of West of Scotland) and Alice Moseley (University of Executer) on “Curriculum Design in Public Administration Education: Challenges and Perspectives”.

In our article we conclude:

I must thank all those involved in development of this article including students, reviewers, my co-authors and the special issue editors. Hopefully this represents a good example of collaboration and co-production that will stimulate further debate on public administration pedagogy for years to come.

Published by iancelliott

Senior Lecturer and Director of Education (PGT) at Northumbria University, Newcastle. Chair of the UK Joint University Council (JUC). Interested in all things public service.

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