• Description:

    Client participation is a popular concept, generally carrying positive connotations among both administrators and citizen advocates: “It connotes openness and transparency, inclusion and diversity, democracy and voice, equality and deliberation…” (Kelty et al. 2015: 475). Participation is regarded important in combatting social exclusion (Stevens, Bur and Young 2003), contributing to democratization, increasing the self-efficacy of clients, building communities, increasing service efficiency and effectiveness, ensuring fairness and holding government agencies accountable (Mizrahi, Humphreys and Torres 2009; Alford 2009: 37). In addition, participation has become an important source of legitimacy, and public agencies are increasingly expected to enable citizen participation (Kelty et al. 2015). With the advance of new public governance, citizens are also increasingly expected to participate actively, contributing to the delivery of public services to themselves and others. This however leads to new paradoxes, as municipalities “simultaneously want to empower its citizens and control the output of their activities.” (Hansen & Gemal 2014: 3; see also Borghi and van Berkel 2007: 422). With all the different and somewhat contradictory tasks participation is expected to perform, it is important to examine different forms of participation in order to analyze how participation works in specific contexts.

    Lipsky pointed out that client participation has a dual function both as a means to secure individual and fair treatment and as a way of legitimizing the agency’s intervention in the clients’ lives and the control of clients (Lipsky 1980: 42-43). Hence, participation can be non-voluntary for clients and street-level organizations may seek to persuade clients to participate actively in the system (Lipsky 1980: 43). In this context, client participation can be seen as part of an organizational goal of client control as well as a source of organizational legitimacy. White calls for a detailed examination of the concept of participation and the interests it serves and underscores that “participation is not always in the interests of the poor. Everything depends on the type of participation, and the terms on which it is offered. […] exit may be the most empowering option” (White 2011: 64). Hence, it should not be taken for granted that client participation is empowering or liberating to clients. The concept client participation may be regarded problematic for this very reason, since client participation may imply user control and empowerment, but it may also imply treatment participation or even client compliance. Hence, notions of inclusion through client participation remain problematic as long as it remains obscure what participation entails and what the goals of participation are, e.g. involving people in decisions made about them or making services cheaper (Stevens et al. 2003: 90).

    Participation has long been an important concept in a range of disciplines (e.g. political sciences, social work, rural development, media studies). The popularity of the concept of participation has led scholars to be wary that the concept may become “drained of substance” (Cohen and Uphoff 2011: 34).  Across different streams of research, there is not a common conceptualization of client participation.

    The aim of the course is to familiarize students with classical and contemporary perspectives on client participation, to enable students to critically discuss assumptions, methodological approaches and empirical results regarding client participation. In addition, the course aims at furthering the PhD-students work on constructing a theoretical framework and methodological approach to a specific research problem in the student’s own ongoing or planned project.