Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: Why Share Power? Exploring the Motives for Creating Opportunities for Citizen Participation in Local Health and Human Service Contracts

Thursday, November 12, 2015 : 3:30 PM
Johnson II (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Anna A. Amirkhanyan, American University and Kristina T. Lambright, Binghamton University
The United States of America has a long tradition of democratic governance – governance “of the people, by the people, for the people”(Lincoln, n.d.). Yet, the discipline of public administration has been historically more focused on understanding public organizations, their management, environments and performance.  Far less attention has been paid to studying the role of the citizens in determining how “to run the Constitution” (Rohr, 1986).  This research is motivated by one of the most recent intellectual movement in public administration: The New Public Service, an emergent school of thought that argues citizens should play a central role in the public policy process (Denhardt & Denhardt, 2000). This renewed attention to citizen participation, almost five decades after the surge of interest in citizen participation during the New Public Administration era suggests that the landscape and the forms of citizen participation should be revisited and better understood. 

This study explores the reasons why public and private managers involved in contract implementation create opportunities for citizen participation.  We draw upon a number of organizational theories, including transaction costs, institutionalism, goal attainment, constituency satisfaction, stewardship, and goal ambiguity, to propose explanations for the adoption of community engagement practices. We formulate three key theoretical explanations:  (1) motivations related to strengthening democracy, (2) motivations related to organizational goals and values and (3) motivations related to different external constituencies.

Data for this study come from 91 semi-structured interviews with public, nonprofit, and for-profit contract managers in six counties across four Northeastern states.  The contracts included in our sample are within the broad field of health and human services. Qualitative data analysis, aided by QSR NVivo 10, provides support for the three overarching categories of motives listed above. 

Many public and private managers view citizen participation as a tool for assessing and improving program quality.  Other key reasons for engaging citizens include understanding and serving client needs and acting in accordance with a county’s or organization’s participatory culture. Additionally, our findings highlight important differences across public and private sector respondents.  Requirements imposed by outside stakeholders and the desire to be responsive and accountable to the community were key motivating factors reported by public but not private managers.  Meanwhile, client empowerment appears to be more salient to private managers than public ones. This research seeks to inform and enhance the strategies used by public and private managers to engage clients and their communities in public administration.

Full Paper: