Democracy, consumerism, co-production or self-reflexivity? Four strategies of client participation

Monrad, M. (Foredragsholder)

Aktivitet: Foredrag og mundtlige bidragKonferenceoplæg


The aim of the paper is to identify conceptually different forms of client participation in order to further both the theoretical discussion and practice of client participation. In the paper, we present a new way of conceptualizing client participation that not only captures different degrees of client participation, but also describes distinct logics or strategies of participation. 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. 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). 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 client’s lives and control of clients (cf. Lipsky 1980: 42-43). Hence, participation can be non-voluntary for clients and street-level bureaucracies 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. With these different and somewhat contradictory tasks participation is expected to perform, it is important to examine different forms of client participation. Client participation is a core concept in social work across contexts; however, there is no common conceptualization of client participation. Tritter and McCallum argue that it is important to pay attention to the methods used to enable participation and the “relationship between the aims of an involvement exercise, users who participate and the methods adopted to involve them” (Tritter & McCallum 2006: 162). Approaching the question of these relationships, it is fruitful to distinguish between different strategies of participation that rely on different justifications for participation, have different aims of participation and seek to involve users in different ways. Based on a review of extant research, we suggest four such strategies of participation: democratic, consumerist, self-reflexive and co-productive, that each relate to different modes of public governance. These strategies of participation are not exclusive, but may be combined in different ways in concrete social work contexts. In the paper we present these strategies of participation and implications for social work practice.
Periode20 apr. 2018
PlaceringEdinburgh, Storbritannien
Grad af anerkendelseInternational


  • client participation