Reflecting on the ‘break down of citizens’

By Theo Camps | September 24, 2019 | 2 min read

Public value is a key concept for Mark Moore because it represents a promise the government gives to its citizens. The underlying reason for governmental promises is of vital importance. For decades, until the turn of the century, government centric thinking was dominant; it represented a clear logic: citizens legitimize every four years politicians by electing them and providing them with a mandate. The citizens in return receive promises from the elected. The mandate of elected politicians is a fundamental part of this relationship. The realization of ideas and future perspectives is hereby completely transferred to the governmental realm leaving citizens in a position of dependency.

From the turn of the century we have experienced dramatic changes. Voting is still important but at the same time relationships horizontalize. Citizens do not accept to be overheard or overseen and force government into the adoption of a participative approach. These changes are induced by a variety of developments; some seem to be interrelated others re-enforcing of contradictory. For example:

  • Citizens demand recognition of their individuality and expect government to translate this recognition into a tailor-made approach;
  • The well-educated part of society uses instruments, once exclusively accessible for government, such as policy making, scientific research and legal procedures to force government into keeping its promises. By doing so citizens create their own level playing field;
  • Access to social media and transparency of knowledge accelerate the  organizational capacity of engaged citizens;
  • A considerable part of governmental promises is executed by non-profit organizations in the fields of health care, education and social housing. These organizations add organizational goals to the promises of government. This complex triangle defined by government, citizens and non-profit organizations erodes the previous dominant position of government;
  • Citizens calculate whether or not to rely on governmental promises or civilian action;
  • Calculating behavior evokes changes in the relative positions of the private sector, the public sector and citizens initiatives

This is not an exhaustive listing of developments. Additionally, secularization of large groups in society, developmental differences between city areas on the one hand and rural areas on the other hand as well as the division between the more and the less educated in society are also worth mentioning.

Because of this change of scene, public officials are in great need of ‘calling a public into existence’. At the same time, voters still play an important role in providing an initial legitimacy base. From this perspective, ‘floating voters’ are not confused citizens but rather individuals very much aware for what or whom to choose; not for a public official stating abstract policy ideas but for a public official working in their interest.

The appearance of citizens is manifold. Sometimes they are defining, sometimes supporting or producing and in other instances simply consuming public value.

Mark Moore defines the homo economicus, the homo altruisticus, the home civicus and the homo politicus. Depending on the subject at stake, citizens will vary their positions. The individual that puts its personal interest first is the same person that values a just and fair society. Public officials need a profound understanding of these seemingly behavioral inconsistencies of citizens to present public value propositions that match societal desires.

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