Serving the Public, But Not Public Servants?

  • Sue OlneyEmail author
Living reference work entry


In 1980, Michael Lipsky argued that frontline government workers held “the keys to a dimension of citizenship” for people interacting involuntarily with public services. Since then, waves of reform have thrust nongovernment actors into that role by proxy. Under political and economic pressure to be lean, accountable, and efficient in providing public services, many governments now rely on external agents, contractors, markets, and artificial intelligence to deliver public policy outcomes. The emerging institutional landscape is a dynamic mix of government and nongovernment actors collecting and interpreting data and delivering services to citizen “clients” within a complex web of governance structures, legislation, performance measures, funding mechanisms, rules, processes, technology, norms, and philosophical standpoints. Who is serving the public in this environment, where the lines between public interest and private interest are blurred? Exploring trajectories of reform and the public servant, this chapter discusses the rise of the “nonpublic servant” as the frontline of government, the shifting boundaries of accountability and interaction between business, civil society and the state in prioritizing, designing and delivering public services, and the implications for citizens. Just who the “public servant” is in this landscape is open to debate.


Public administration Street-level bureaucracy Marketization Reform 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.UNSW CanberraCanberraAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Janine O'Flynn
    • 1
    • 2
  • Avery Poole
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.The University of MelbourneMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)MelbourneAustralia
  3. 3.Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National UniversityCarltonAustralia
  4. 4.The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)CarltonAustralia

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