The core of society: the core economy

Public services and formalistic management systems don’t value or see their most attractive resource: their own customers or clients and the social networks and neighbourhoods they have. Ignoring these assets make the action slow and inefficient, tending towards soulless practice. This is where the idea of co-production enters.

Co-production came up with professor Elinor Ostrom: the police need the community and the community need the police, doctors need patients as much as patients need doctors. Professor Edgar Cahn used it to explain how important neighbourhood level support systems are – families and communities – and how they can be rebuilt, and that this is economic activity in the broadest sense.

The Greeks understood that these critical family and community relationships were a second economy, the non-market economy, the ‘core economy’.

Co-production points to ways in which we can rebuild and reinvigorate this core economy and realize its potential.

We could use co-production in many ways: public service, health care, modernizing business.

Co-production means a fundamental partnership between the monetary economy (public, private and non-profit sectors) and the core economy of home, family, neighbourhood, community and civil society. The distinction must be blurred.

We must value the effort invested in giving love and comfort, approval and disapproval, caring and mentoring, civic engagement like attending meetings, making phone calls, mobilising social protest. The labour force must include children, teenagers, persons on public assistance, the disabled, the elderly and even the bed-ridden and housebound.

Social problems are now solved by paid professionals or volunteers with restricted roles. The core economy of the future will be based on relationships and mutuality, trust and engagement, speaking and listening and caring, with authentic respect.

The core economy produces love and caring, coming to each other’s rescue, democracy and social justice.

The consequences of present policies are all around us: isolation, time poverty, low levels of trust, engagement or social infrastructure.

Future public service reform models must value the core economy. Social networks are the immune system of society – they can establish the link between the professionals and the non-market economy/core economy.

The objective of the core economy is:

Provide mutual support systems that can identify and tackle problems before they become acute, encourage behaviour that will prevent them happening in the first place, and advise people who find themselves in difficulties.

Build social networks that will prevent crime, support enterprise and education, keep people healthy and make things happen locally.

Provide supportive relationships that can help people or families continue to survive and thrive when they no longer qualify for all-round professional support.

Provide opportunities for personal growth and development to people, so that they are treated as assets, not burdens on an overstretched system.

Invest in strategies that develop the emotional intelligence and capacity of local communities.

Use peer support networks instead of just professionals as the best means of transferring knowledge and capabilities.

Reduce or blur the distinction between producers and consumers of services, by reconfiguring the ways in which services are developed and delivered: services can be most effective when people get to act in both roles – as providers as well as recipients.

Allow public service agencies to become catalysts and facilitators rather than simply providers.

Devolve real responsibility, leadership and authority to ‘users’, and encourage self-organisation rather than direction from above

Offer participants a range of incentives which help to embed the key elements of reciprocity and mutuality.

Of course – this is what we all do to our dearest – why not expand and include all?

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