Co-creation in arts, culture and heritage



The last years the municipal agenda for the delivery of welfare services has been characterized by the concept of "co-creation", both in Denmark and other Western European and Nordic countries. The concept "co-creation" (in Danish “samskabelse”) indicates an aim to strengthening the welfare services by establishing new cooperative relations and roles between the public sector and citizens and civil society.

It seems like a "collaborative turn" - a turn towards a new cooperation mantra, where “co-creation” forms part of any strategy and speech from municipal employees and politicians. In Denmark, the new agenda is carried out by a number of organizations and public leaders and politicians under names, such as 'Kommune 3.0' (Skanderborg Municipality), 'Kommune Forfra' (Aarhus Municipality) and 'Future Welfare Alliances' (Local Govern-ment Denmark). In recent years, a new 'market' has emerged, in which a number of consultants, think tanks and researchers offer analyzes, competence development, counselling and dissemination to support the agenda of co-creation (Tortzen, 2016).

Although the idea of "co-creation" builds on the earlier experiences of collaborating and user in-volvement, it goes further by focusing on the so-called 'transformative potential' in co-creative cooperation (Needham & Carr, 2009), which involves citizens and public employees participating in an equal effort to develop innovative, sustainable and long-term welfare solutions. It is thus a collaboration that has the potential to create synergy by changing the roles and relationships of the actors.


In the late 00s, the interest in co-creative cooperation emerged in the light of the economic financial crisis 2007-2009, both politically and scientifically. Co-creation is now seen by many as a viable alternative to government and market-based production of public services. The agenda tends now to shift from New Public Management to New Public Governance. But the development is far from unambiguous. There are roughly said two conflicting understandings of "cocreation", respectively as a means for efficiency or for empowerment.

The first understanding with focus on efficiency has been further developed within the framework of New Public Management with emphasis on economic gains. Co-creation is seen as an answer to resource shortages in public welfare production and aims at efficient production of public services, and typically citizens are seen as relatively 'passive' co-producers of service.

The second understanding that emphasizes empowerment has been developed with reference to New Public Governance, and it aims at giving citizens and civil society greater influence on public welfare.    This understanding highlights the democratic potential of co-creation. Here the goal is empowerment, and it is emphasized that not only individual citizens, but also civil society organizations and local communities can participate in co-operation.

We can emphasize that the initiators of this project application and the selected partners prefer and refer to the empowerment understanding and the project's development work will not only focus on cooperation on equal footing, but also try to identify opportunities for civil society actors to be the initiators and the key executive during parts of the cooperation.


The idea of "co-creation" that has more ideational sources and represents different political agendas

is also an ambiguous phenomenon in practice  and unfortunately the many fine words will often not correspond to the reality.

Empirical research in “co-creative practices” shows that citizens and civil society are often involved late and have limited influence in the cooperation. The researchers distinguish between three types of co-creation depending on where in the process the civil society actors get influence. They can either take the role as co-initiator, co-designer or co-implementer. In practice, the most common form of cooperation is where the citizens take the role as co-implementer, that is, they first enter into cooperation when the new services are designed and shall be implemented (OECD, 2011).

A recent Danish study (Tortzen, 2016) showed that in many cases there is a gap between narrative and practice in terms of co-creation. Specific cases were investigated in three different municipali-ties, with particular focus on how the public management, respectively, supported or counteracted equal cooperation. The conclusion was that all three examples represented top-down initiatives that were presented as 'co-creation'.

On the one hand, the municipal leaders use an empowerment tale of co-creation, emphasizing equal cooperation, where citizens and other civil society actors get influence on how welfare is to be designed and produced. On the other hand, it becomes in reality a practice in which relevant and affected groups of citizens are kept out and where public actors do not seriously provide room for the problem understandings, solutions or resources that citizens wish to bring. This means that it contrary to the fine words in reality is a practice of instrumental efficiency.

The same picture is drawn from a major study, which CISC (Center for Research in Sports, Health and Civil Society, University of Southern Denmark) has carried out. It shows that even though the municipalities want to strengthen democracy in public services, they cooperate with volunteers on specific tasks in the implementation, rather than involving them in identifying challenges and developing new possible solutions (Ibsen & Espersen, 2016). In practice, the instrumental efficiency approach to cooperation often prevails in governance.

The conclusion of these two key surveys is that the municipalities are constantly failing to act as facilitators in the co-creative cooperation, by laying down the framework and objectives of the cooperation in advance, and by assuming a dominant role in the cooperation, so there is no room for the resources and ideas the citizens and civil society can bring. Such 'top-down' partnerships, where the municipality takes the role of defining rather than facilitating, do not allow space for all parties' resources and knowledge to come into play.


The culture and leisure associations represent more than a quarter of all associations in the Nordic countries, while for example the welfare associations, active in the social, humanitarian and health areas, account for less than one fifth (Ibsen & Espersen, 2016). The culture associations also have the highest growth in the number of new associations and new members compared to other types of associations.

Not least outside the larger cities, cultural associations are crucial to ensuring a wide range of culture and leisure facilities for the citizens. But still, we see a need for the culture associations to be more proactive and agenda setting in new development projects for the co-creative cooperation.

Our approach is:

  1. That a viable agenda for co-creation must focus on the synergistic benefit and the so-called 'transformative potential', where cooperation is developed on equal terms and with refer-ence to new public governance and the goal of empowerment.
  2. That an innovative development work, in which associations and, in this context, cultural as-sociations not only are equal partners, but also in part of the project have the role as initia-tors and governing actors to release the transformative potentials.


Ibsen, B., & Espersen, H. H. (2016). Kommunernes samarbejde med civile aktører. Center for forskning i Idræt, Sundhed og Civilsamfund, Syddansk Universitet.

OECD(2011) OECD Public Governance Reviews : Together for Better Public Services: Partnering with

Citizens and Civil Society - 4211131e. pdf.

Tortzen, A. (2016). Samskabelse i kommunale rammer - hvordan kan ledelse understøtte sam-skabelse? Roskilde Universitet.


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