Quote of the week
“Today’s public managers face a public far more complex than their predecessors encountered.”
— John Clayton Thomas
Some of us are old enough to remember the New Public Management (NPM) thinking that argued governments needed to start treating people like clients. Governments needed to be run more like businesses, it maintained, with an emphasis on citizen service and the bottom line.
Critics such as Donald Savoie have suggested that this approach has been a failure. He wrote in the Globe and Mail that, “The notion that public administration could be made to look like private-sector management has been ill-conceived, misguided and costly to taxpayers.”
It has generally been acknowledged that this is too simplistic a view of the complex relationships between government and taxpayers. An academic article by a Georgia State University professor, John Clayton Thomas, suggests there are three roles: citizen, customer and partner.
The challenge for public sector managers, he writes, is to understand the differences and “how to interact with the public in each and all of the three roles.”
As customers, he admits that taxpayers do want a service, such as a hunting license. There is lots of evidence, such as from the Institute for Citizen Centred Service, that they have expectations about how that service should be delivered.
Another role – as partner – is, according to Thomas, a new concept in public administration. It is based on the growing belief that governments cannot deliver services on their own, and must work with other sectors – and citizens – through networks and formal means.
For the third role, he links the concept of interacting as a citizen to the notions of citizen engagement, the breakdown of elites and the role of citizens in decision-making. This is an interesting take on the concept. I have preferred a simpler notion of the citizen role: it occurs when one is connecting with government as a taxpayer and one who has rights, expectations and obligations as a member of the polity.
These are interesting takes on an issue that governments have struggled with for years, and may provide some useful fodder for discussion.