The concept of a “new public service approach” refers to a shift in the way that public services are delivered and governed. This approach emphasizes collaboration, participation, and the use of technology to improve efficiency, transparency, and citizen satisfaction. In this blog, we will explore the history of public service, the characteristics of the new public service approach, and examples of it in action. We will also discuss the challenges and opportunities of this approach, and why it is important for the public sector to adapt to changing needs and technologies.
History of public service
Public service has a long and varied history, dating back to ancient civilizations where public officials were responsible for maintaining infrastructure and providing for the common good. In modern times, the concept of public service has evolved to encompass a wide range of functions and services, from healthcare and education to public safety and environmental protection.
Traditionally, public service has been delivered through top-down, bureaucratic systems that prioritize rules and regulations over flexibility and innovation. However, in recent years there has been a growing recognition that this traditional approach is no longer sufficient to meet the needs of citizens in the 21st century. As a result, there has been a push towards a new public service approach that is more responsive, collaborative, and focused on citizen needs.
Charecteristics of New Public Service Approach
The new public service approach is characterized by several key features:
- Collaborative and participatory decision-making: This approach emphasizes the importance of engaging stakeholders, including citizens, community organizations, and other government agencies, in the decision-making process. This helps to ensure that services are tailored to meet the needs of the community, and that there is buy-in and support for the initiatives being implemented.
- Focus on citizen needs and satisfaction: The new public service approach puts the needs of citizens at the center of everything it does. This means that public agencies are encouraged to gather feedback from citizens and use it to inform their decision-making and service delivery.
- Use of technology to improve efficiency and transparency: The new public service approach recognizes the potential of technology to improve the efficiency and transparency of public services. For example, many governments are using data analytics and mobile technology to better understand the needs of citizens and deliver services more effectively.
- Emphasis on innovation and continuous improvement: The new public service approach values innovation and encourages public agencies to continuously seek out new ways to improve services and address social issues. This can include experimenting with new technologies, adopting best practices from other sectors, and collaborating with outside partners.
Denhardt and Denhardt have pointed out certain characteristic features of New Public Service that distinguish it from New Public Management and the old public administration. Some of these are:
Serve, rather than steer:
An increasingly important role of the public servant is to help citizens articulate and meet their shared interests rather than attempt to control or steer society in new directions. In this world, the primary role of government is not merely to direct the actions of the public through regulations and decree, nor is it to establish a set of rules and incentives through which people will be guided in the proper direction. Rather the government becomes another player in the process of moving society in one direction or another in coordination with public and private operators.
The public interest is the aim, not the by-product:
Public administrators must contribute to building a collective, shared notion of the public interest. The goal is not to find quick solutions driven by individual choices. Rather, it is the creation of shared interest and shared responsibility. The New Public Service demands that the process of establishing a vision for society is not something merely left to elected political leaders or appointed public administrators. Instead, the activity of establishing a vision or direction is something in which widespread public dialogue and deliberation are central. In addition to its facilitating role, the government also has a moral obligation to assure solutions generated through such processes are fully consistent with norms of justice and fairness. The government will act to facilitate solutions to public problems, but it will also be responsible for assuring those solutions are consistent with Public interest – both in substance and in process.
Think strategically, act democratically:
Policies and programs meeting public needs can be most effectively and responsibly achieved through collective efforts and collaborative processes. To realize a collective vision, the next step is establishing roles and responsibilities and developing specific action steps to achieve the desired goals. Again the idea is not merely to establish a vision and then leave the implementation to those in government; rather, it is to join all parties together in the process of carrying out programs that will move in the desired direction, through involvement in programs of civic education and by developing a broad range of civic leaders. The government can stimulate a renewed sense of civic pride and civic responsibility.
Serve citizens, not customers:
The public interest results from a dialogue about shared values rather than the aggregation of individual self-interests. Therefore, public servants do not merely respond to the demands of “customers” but focus on building relationships of trust and collaboration with and among citizens. The New Public Service recognizes that the relationship between government and its citizens is not the same as between a business and its customers. In the public sector, it is problematic to determine who the customer is because the government serves more than just the immediate client. Hence every policy must be framed, considering long-term interests serving maximum people.
Accountability is not simple:
Public Servants should be attentive to more than the market; they should also attend to statutory and constitutional law, community values, political norms, professional standards, and citizen interests. The matter of accountability is extremely complex. Yet both the old public administration and the New Public Management tend to oversimplify the issue. The New Public Service recognizes the reality and complexity of these responsibilities. It recognizes that public administrators are involved in complex value conflicts in situations of conflicting and overlapping norms. It accepts these realities and speaks to how public administrators can and should serve citizens and the public interest in this context. For this, it is essential that public administrators do not make the decision alone but in dialogue with the citizen. While public servants remain responsible for assuring that solutions to public problems are consistent with laws, democratic norms, and other constraints, citizen participation helps develop a discourse on the issue and achieve accountability.
Value people, not just productivity:
Public organizations and the networks in which they participate are more likely to succeed in the long run if they are operated through processes of collaboration and shared leadership based on respect for all people.
Value citizenship and public service above entrepreneurship:
The public interest is better advanced by public servants and citizens committed to making meaningful contributions to society rather than by entrepreneurial managers acting as if public money were their own.
Thus as Denhardt and Denhardt write in the New Public Service, the mindset of public administrators is that public programs and resources do not belong to them. Rather, public administrators have accepted the responsibility to serve citizens by acting as stewards of public resources (Kass 1990), conservators of public organizations (Terry 1995), facilitators of citizenship and democratic dialogue (Chapin and Denhardt 1995); King and Stivers 1998; Box 1998), catalysts for community engagement (Denhardt and Gray 1998; Lappe and Du Bois 1994), and street-level leaders (Vinzant and Crothers 1998).
This is a very different perspective from that of a business owner focused on profit and efficiency. Accordingly, the New Public Service suggest that public administrator must not only share power but also work through people and broker solutions. They must reconceptualize their role in the governance process as a responsible participant, not an entrepreneur.
This change in the public administrator’s role has profound implications for the types of challenges and responsibilities the public servants face. Two of these are:
Firstly public administrators must know and manage more than the requirements and resources of their problems. To serve citizens, public administrators not only must know and manage their own agency’s resources, but they must also be aware of and connected to other sources of support and assistance, engaging citizens and the community in the process.
Second, when public administrators take risks, they are not entrepreneurs of their businesses who can make such decisions knowing the consequences of failure will fall largely on their shoulders. Risk in the public sector is different. In the New Public Service, risks and opportunities reside within the larger framework of democratic citizenship and shared responsibility. Thus it is essential that dialogue and citizen engagement should be ongoing. This will give the option to explore new opportunities, and potential risks can be timely explored.
Examples of the new public service approach in action
There are many examples of the new public service approach being applied in the real world. Here are a few examples:
- Case study 1: City government using data analytics to improve services: In this example, a city government used data analytics to identify patterns and trends in service requests from citizens. By analyzing this data, the government was able to identify areas where services were most needed, and allocate resources accordingly. This helped to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of services, and also allowed the government to be more responsive to the needs of citizens.
- Case study 2: Nonprofit organization using mobile technology to connect volunteers with service opportunities: In this case, a nonprofit organization used mobile technology to connect volunteers with service opportunities in their local community. By using a simple app, volunteers were able to find opportunities that matched their interests and availability, and sign up to participate. This helped to make volunteering more convenient and accessible, and also allowed the organization to better coordinate and manage its efforts.
- Case study 3: State agency using design thinking to reimagine services for the 21st century: In this example, a state agency used design thinking to reimagine its services for the 21st century. Design thinking is a creative process that involves empathy, prototyping, and testing to solve complex problems. By applying design thinking, the state agency was able to come up with new and innovative solutions to challenges facing the community, such as access to healthcare and affordable housing.
Challenges and opportunities of the new public service approach:
While the new public service approach has the potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of public services, it also presents a number of challenges and opportunities:
- Funding and resources: One of the biggest challenges faced by the new public service approach is securing sufficient funding and resources to implement and sustain new initiatives. This can be especially challenging in times of economic downturn or budget cuts.
- Resistance to change: Another challenge is overcoming resistance to change within the public sector. Many public agencies are used to operating in a certain way, and may be resistant to adopting new approaches or technologies.
- Ensuring equity and accessibility: It is important that the new public service approach is accessible and equitable to all citizens, regardless of their background or circumstances. This requires careful planning and consideration of the needs of diverse communities.
- The potential for greater impact and improved outcomes: Despite these challenges, the new public service approach has the potential to make a greater impact and achieve improved outcomes for citizens. By adopting a more collaborative and innovative approach, public agencies can better address the complex social issues facing our communities.
The new public service approach represents a shift in the way that public services are delivered and governed. By emphasizing collaboration, participation, and the use of technology, this approach has the potential to make public services more efficient, transparent, and responsive to the needs of citizens. While there are challenges to implementing this approach, it also presents opportunities for greater impact and improved outcomes for communities. It is important for the public sector to continue adapting to changing needs and technologies in order to better serve the citizens it serves.
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