Leadership for public service:
working with notions of co-creation of leadership and management roles in UK public service contexts.


This paper proposes a model of leadership and management in public service roles based on the concept of co-creation as an alternative to current dominant approaches in public service contexts that are largely shaped and influenced by ideologies associated with New Public Management (NPM). First, the paper sets out three main criticisms and challenges of NPM and the distorting effect that it can have by privileging individualising rather than socialising effects of governance.  Second, I explore co-creation as an approach to management and leadership using data gathered from a two year study of leadership and management with Methodists Presbyters. Finally, I present my model, elaborating it further in the rest of the paper. The model proposed offers an alternative approach to governance, leadership and management in sectors such as education, health and local government all of which currently appear to be suffering from a crisis of leadership.

Key words: New Public Management, co-created leadership, public service, governance.



It’s no longer just about providing services, it’s about working with communities and other organisations. It’s about doing more with less and ensuring we spend our diminished budget as effectively as possible.’
(Lord Peter Smith, Leader of Wigan Council, 2014)

Smith, speaking in support of the ‘Wigan Deal’, epitomises the challenge faced by UK public service organisations in leading, managing and delivering essential public services to the communities that they serve in the context of the current financial crisis. The Wigan Deal is one council’s response to the need to cut more than 30% from its overall budget by 2016/17. The deal proposes a new contract with residents under which the council will work more collaboratively with the community, offering the opportunity for local community groups and other organisations to manage and lead the delivery of essential public services. The financial crisis presents many challenges, but also presents opportunities for those in leadership to rethink the ways in which they govern, lead and manage the delivery of essential public services.

Such a re-think may be long overdue; despite successive drives over the last three decades to improve efficiency and cost effectiveness through the introduction of New Public Management (NPM), public satisfaction in areas such as health, education and local government have all declined (Brookes, 2014; O’Byrne and Bond 2014; Bond and O’Byrne, 2013; Gruening, 2001; Barzelay, 2000).  Since the early 1980s, these sectors have been subject to an onslaught of reform, regulation and top-down approaches to change, usually characterised as NPM (Pollitt, 1993; Hood, 1991, 1995). NPM is marked by market-led reform, large scale restructuring programmes, increased external accountability and a focus on importing leadership and management models from the private sector. The ideologies associated with NPM may, recent evidence suggests, have largely alienated professionals delivering frontline services and their service users from local governance and management of these services (O’Byrne and Bond, 2014; Bond and O’Byrne, 2013; Diefenbach, 2009; Broadbent, Dietrich and Roberts, 2007; Gombrich, 2000).