Speaking on behalf of the vulnerable? Voluntary translations of citizen needs to policy in community co-production

Ane Grubb & Morten Frederiksen (2021)

Public Management Review, Online first

Abstract. Vulnerable citizens often depend on volunteers or others to translate their needs into relevant concerns for policy makers. This is particularly so in the context of co-production of public service provision. However, knowledge of how this translation works in practice is scarce. Based on a qualitative study of co-production activities targeting vulnerable elderly citizens and refugees, this paper explores volunteers’ translations of citizen needs and identifies two forms of failure: entangled translations fail because municipal staff suspect volunteers of justifying volunteer interests as citizen needs, while restricted translations fail to justify citizen needs as collective concerns because volunteers draw excessively on anecdotal formats.

Extract: “This paper contributes knowledge of these practices by investigating the following research questions: How do volunteers and voluntary organizations engage in translating the needs of vulnerable citizens to policy makers, turning needs into common concerns for community co-production? What factors ensure or impede that such translations successfully become common concerns for community co-production? The paper is based on an extensive, qualitative investigation of community co-production of services targeting refugees and vulnerable elderly people. The analysis focuses on situations in which volunteers seek to translate a need observed among vulnerable citizens into a cause for concerted cross-sector action. To this end, we draw on Thévenot’s (2007) theory of engagement, which provides an analytical framework for investigating both the process of translation from experienced need to justified cause for concerted action and the form of engagement at each step of this translation process.” (p. 2)

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