Coproduction, Governance and Practice: The Dynamics and Effects of User Voice Prison Councils

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


    The input draws on Bevir’s (2013) decentered theory of governance to explore how the User Voice prison councils, in England, have contributed to shifts in aspects of prison governance and operational practice. The User Voice model of prison councils represents an important analogistic example as to how different actors can create alternative patterns of governance through innovations in democratic participation. This article discusses the cultural and policy context and drivers in which the User Voice Prison Councils both emerged and operate. It then proceeds to explore the dynamics of User Voice councils and, in particular, the values underpinning different actors’ participation, their experiences of participation and the associated enablements and constraints on Council activities, as well as the impacts and effects of these interactions. What emerged from the analysis of interviews with prison council participants (n=21), User Voice staff (n=13) and Prison staff (n=14) is that the development of ‘bottom up’ participatory governance practices, such as those typified by the User Voice Prison Council model, both requires and restores interpersonal trust, the mechanisms of which are enhanced self-efficacy; interactions underpinned by a distinct manner of relating; and the establishment of a network of relations oriented to the creation or regeneration of the common good. The effects include enhanced institutional legitimacy; improvements in prison officer-prisoner relations; and greater quality of life for prisoners. Our examination of the diverse perspectives of the principal actors and practices of the Councils, and the effects and impacts of this model of coproduction, suggest the need for a more nuanced theory of social relationality than the decentered theory of governance currently offers. In revealing the ‘how’ of coproduction in this context, this paper advances a relational realist (Donati, 2016), rather than postfoundational, analysis of coproduction in action through the lens of a decentered theory of governance.
    Period28 Apr 2017
    Held atUniversity of California, United States, California


    • Governance
    • Coproduction
    • User Voice
    • Prison