Co-creative cooperation in culture and heritage



The concept of "co-creation"(in Danish “samskabelse”) has the last years marked the political agenda of the municipalities both in Denmark and other European and Nordic countries. In Denmark, the new agenda is carried out by a number of organizations and politicians under names, such as 'Kommune 3.0' (Skanderborg Municipality),'Kommune Forfra' (Aarhus Municipality) and 'Future Welfare Alliances' (Local Government Denmark).


In the late 00s, the interest in co-creative cooperation emerged in the light of the financial crisis 2007-2009, both politically and scientifically. Co-creation is now seen by many as a viable alternative to public and market-based services. The agenda tends to shift from New Public Management to New Public Governance (Bovaird & Löffler 2012). But the development is ambiguous with two conflicting understandings of "co-creation", respectively as a means for efficiency or for empowerment.

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

The second understanding has been developed with reference to New Public Governance, and it aims at giving citizens and civil society greater influence on public welfare. 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-creation.


The idea of "co-creation" that has more ideational sources and represents different political agendas is also an ambiguous phenomenon in practice.

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'.

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).

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. The culture associations also have the highest growth in 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 the co-creative cooperation in the sector of arts, culture and heritage. Our approach is:

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


Bovaird, T., & Löffler, E. (2012). From Engagement to Co-production: The Contribution of Users and Communities to Outcomes and Public Value. Voluntas, 23(4), 1119–1138.

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

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

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