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The Public Administrator as Collaborative Citizen: Three Conceptions

Author: NEALE SMITH
Published in PAQ, Vol. 34 No. 2

Efforts are regularly made to seek public engagement in government decisions. A new role for public servants is thus demanded: working collaboratively with citizens to democratize administration. Theorists have explored several philosophical wellsprings that could ground arguments for such a role. Some draw upon critical theory and communicative rationality. Others find promise in pragmatic philosophy. Yet others employ the Aristotelian idea of “active citizenship”. I review and contrast these approaches. I then consider how public administration theory could gain by combining this analysis with current work on public engagement through deliberative processes, and as part of governance networks. While broadly similar, there are at the margins distinctions among the different conceptual approaches which could affect how we best design appropriate state structures and policies for increasing citizen engagement and democratizing the practice of public administration.

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