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How can public service managers use their power to empower service users and other stakeholders?
The public service user is concerned with the quality of the service received. In order to assure both the quality of the services and the match between their content and the needs that services are supposed to satisfy, the service user should get involved in monitoring and keeping the service provider accountable.
Within the financial limits of the budget available, the public service provider is supposed to make sure that the scarce resources are well allocated, that the results satisfy not only the needs but as well the expectations of the users. The financial constraint and the efficiency standards make that the public service provider’s future actions to depend on the feed-back from end users.
The relationship between the public managers and the citizens that benefit of the services provided by them is an interrelationship one: the public service manager (PSM) is accountable towards the service users, while the citizens have to deal daily with the actual quantity and quality of the services they receive.
This interdependency is developed in the form of a dialogue, which could bring solutions for services improvement.
In order to hold an equal position with the official in this dialogue, the citizens need to overcome the stage of passive receiver and to get involved in service assessment and should actively communicate the feed-back. The service provider is no longer holding a monopolistic, almighty position. The process that starts with planning of the services up to the final stage of the implementation is a process where the dialogue and collaboration between providers and users is close and influential. This process in which the citizens effectively participate is credited with increased efficiency of the service, especially when broaching the issues of ever changing social needs.
As form of citizen participation, the empowerment is seen in literature as the best solution for balancing the community needs and the management effectiveness.
Batliwala (1993, cited in UNDP, 1997, p.176) defines the empowerment as the process that makes the powerless to gain control. Sen (1997) strongly emphasizes the fact that empowerment is a two fold process. Empowerment is concerned both with gaining control over available resources “physical, human, intellectual, financial”, and with gaining control on self “beliefs, values and attitudes” in relation with the new acquired resources. The process of empowerment must contain both above describes sub-processes in order to have a meaning. “A change in external resources without a change in consciousness can leave people without the resilience, motivation and awareness to retain and/or build on that control, leaving space open for others to wrest control” (Sen, UNDP, 1997, p.176)
Sen’s analyze presents the two levels where the public service manager can work for citizens empowerment: a formal level implied by the structure of the service provider’s organization and a second informal level, which relates the leadership qualities of the manager with the need for development and learning of the community.
The PSM could empower the community, as service end user, in three different phases of the service providing. The first phase is related to assessing the quality of the services. It is part of the accountability process to receive the feed-back from users.
The second phase of empowerment is when a PSM wishes to involve the community in public service delivery.
The third phase of empowerment is constituted by the community’s direct involvement in the designing of public services. People could contribute directly in this third stage only if the community has already acquired the experience and the expertise from the previous two phases.
There are some external, structural constraints on what a PSM is inclined and able to do for citizens’ empowerment. Denters and Klok (2006) show there are two approaches to systems of performance management: hierarchical and egalitarian. Each approach determines what a PSM is allowed to do in relation to empowerment. In a hierarchical approach the focus of PSM is on efficiency and effectiveness, while in an egalitarian efficiency and effectiveness is doubled by a request for responsiveness. If the first approach could be assimilated to the top-down decision-making, the second one is linked to the bottom-up pattern.
These two approaches show that the public managers’ attitude towards citizens’ involvement depends of the type of government in place in the public service.
If the experts of the government make the rules, it is highly doubtful that the collective self-government to be regarded as an efficient and effective solution. In a hierarchical construction the managers cannot involve the citizens, recipients of their services too much. It is possible that public participation to be only at the consultation and advice level. Egalitarian approach is the pre-condition for a truly citizen involvement
First top-down initiative for a manager is to overcome the passivity of the citizens and make them understand that they have not only the right to benefit of a certain service, but in the same time, they have the right to assess it. The average citizens are not used to express their opinion and usually accept the decisions made by the officials. It is the educational part of the empowerment process that could help the public manager to develop an active community. The public manager, that certainly has leadership qualities, can make citizens understand that their inactivity actually becomes a factor for not having better services.
When the manager works in a social environment aware of its rights, he could empower the community by enabling forums, referendums. The next step is to give legal status to communities and to involve them as members of the boards.
Another empowering action is to involve citizens in consultations, as part of the designing stage for the services provided. Citizens’ consultation helps the PSM to prioritize the allocations of the resources, usually under-budgeted, towards the satisfying the most acute needs.
One formal solution of empowerment could be the establishing of neighborhood forums with official status, as part of the local councils structure. This is a way of giving citizens a powerful option for participating. Other practical means of involving citizens in participation could be: opinion polls, conferences, focus groups, people’s forums and citizens’ juries, according to Doherty (2001).
One of the most difficult challenges for a public manager is to encourage the solidarity. As the Social Report Planning Bureau, 1998 states, “solidarity has become optional and can lead to ‘investments’ in various directions depending upon the preferences of the individual” (cited in ed. McLaverty 2002, p.144). The difficulty of the solidarity enforcement is more deepened by the fact observed by Flores (2002), that the participatory structures, promoted by public bodies, do not attain their targets, so the community solidarity and involvement is not achieved. The associations of the citizens prove to be interested in community problems and to have real cohesion only if they are spontaneously, informally constituted, without the officials’ involvement. The associations constituted by free will are more united; they get to the consensus without much fighting.
“It is required the citizens participation for the success or failure of the initiatives” (Flores, 2002, p.72).
If better public services are needed, there should be a clear distinction between politics and the service providing at a public service level. If the public manager is under political pressure, he can use the relationships developed with the citizens for political influence, support or manipulation.
The public manager, which is in dialogue with citizens, needs empowerment for himself as well. The PSM must develop a new attitude towards the citizens that should to be seen as partners of service implementation and not only as subjects of the services.
Flores (2002) describes an interesting Mexican experience from Tlalpan. It is showed that through the forums the service users got involved in solving their neighborhood problems. But the above cited experience proves that citizens prefer alternative informal grouping that are perceived as acting more effectively and as having more success than forums. The public manager that connects with both formal and informal organizations, with different power of influencing, has to deal with these groups “without favoring a group in particular” (ed. McLaverty, 2002, p.74)
A Spanish experience, as related by Blakeley (2002), shows that approval of Municipal Charter put on legal basis the citizen participation which “no longer depend solely on the willingness of politicians, civil servants and social movements activists” (ed. McLaverty, 2002, p.85). Despite the fact that the citizen participation becomes thus a legitimized voice, Blakely notes that citizen participation declined. As main reason is cited the fact that citizens reject the project “defined and promoted ‘from above’ ” (ed. McLaverty, 2002, p.86).
Both the above experiences show as conclusion that the structural developments are not enough to promote community empowerment. Shall we remember that Sen (1997) stresses out in a very powerful and obstinate way that empowerment “is not something that can be done to someone by someone else” (Sen, UNDP, 1997, p.177) and that the only contribution that governments could have is “to create a supportive environment”. This is very important to keep in mind when a public manager wants to use his knowledge and power for involving citizens in an empowerment process.
Blakely, Georgina – Decentralization and Citizen Participation in Barcelona, in Public participation and innovations in community governance, edited by Peter McLaverty, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Hants, England, 2002
Denters Bas, Klok Pierer-Jan – Measuring institutional performance in achieving urban sustainability, in Legitimacy and Urban Governance, A cross-national comparative study, edited by Hubert Heinelt, David Sweating and Panagiotis Getimis, Routledge, London and New York, 2006
Doherty, Tony, Managing Public Services: Implementing Changes, Routledge, USA, 2001
Flores, Arturo – Tlalpan Neighborhood Committees: a True Participatory Option, in Public participation and innovations in community governance, edited by Peter McLaverty, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Hants, England, 2002
McLaverty, Peter – Is Public Participation a Good Thing?, in Public participation and innovations in community governance, edited by Peter McLaverty, Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Hants, England, 2002
Sen, Gita – Empowerment as an Approach to poverty, in United Nations Development Programme – The Human development Report 1997, New York, United Nations Publications, 1997
Managing for Service Effectiveness de Bogdan Craciun este licenţiat printr-o Licenţă Creative Commons Atribuire-Necomercial-Fără Opere Derivate 3.0 România.