Skip to main content Accessibility help

Self-Reflexivity as a form of Client Participation: Clients as Citizens, Consumers, Partners or Self-Entrepreneurs



The article suggests that self-reflexive participation should be considered a distinct form of client participation. Self-reflexive participation is an individualized form of participation that occurs through a development-oriented dialogue between the client and a practitioner. In this dialogue, clients reflect on themselves, set goals for the future and devise strategies, thereby improving their self-regulatory potentials. The article discusses important differences between self-reflexive participation and democratic, consumerist and co-productive participation in terms of the form participation takes, the aim of participation, the client role, the resources required from clients to participate, the assumed relationship between the agency and the client and organizational responsiveness. Self-reflexive participation is based on a view of the client as capable and reflexive and it may foster a tailoring of social services to the wishes and life-projects of clients. However, self-reflexive participation is based on the assumption that clients can be empowered through improved skills of self-observation and life-planning. When focus is on these skills, it may gloss over important conflicts between clients and agency and detach questions of client participation from organizational responsiveness and struggles over user control.



Hide All
Aberbach, J. D. and Christensen, T. (2005), ‘Citizens and consumers: An NPM dilemma’, Public Management Review, 7, 2, 225245.
Alford, J. (2009), Engaging Public Sector Clients. From Service-Delivery to Co-Production, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Andreassen, T. A. (2018), ‘From democratic consultation to user-employment: shifting institutional embedding of citizen involvement in health and social care’, Journal of Social Policy, 47, 1, 99117.
Arnstein, S. R. (1969), ‘A ladder of citizen participation’, Journal of the American Planning Association, 35, 4, 216224.
Askheim, O. P., Christensen, K., Fluge, S. and Guldvik, I. (2017), ‘User participation in the Norwegian welfare context: an analysis of policy discourses’, Journal of Social Policy, 46, 3, 583601.
Barnes, M. (2011), ‘Users as citizens: collective action and the local governance of welfare’, in: Cornwall, A. (ed.), The Participation Reader, London: Zed Books, 345362.
Barnes, M. and Prior, D. (1995), ‘Spoilt for choice? How consumerism can disempower public service users’, Public Money & Management, 15, 5358.
Borghi, V. and van Berkel, R. (2007), ‘Individualised service provision in an era of activation and new governance’, International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 27, 9/10, 413424.
Born, A. W. and Jensen, P. H. (2005), ‘Individualising citizenship’, in: Andersen, J. G., Guillemard, A., Jensen, P. H. and Pfau-Effinger, B. (eds.), The Changing Face of Welfare: Consequences and Outcomes from a Citizenship Perspective, Bristol: The Policy Press, 151167.
Born, A. W. and Jensen, P. H. (2010), ‘Dialogued‐based activation – a new “dispositif”?International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 30, 5/6, 326336.
Bovaird, T. (2007), ‘Beyond engagement and participation: user and community coproduction of public services’, Public Administration Review, 67, 846860.
Bovaird, T., Van Ryzin, G. G., Loeffler, E. and Parrado, S. (2015), ‘Activating citizens to participate in collective co-production of public services’, Journal of Social Policy, 44, 1, 123.
Brodkin, E. Z. (2013a), ‘Street-level organizations and the welfare state’, in: Brodkin, E. Z. and Marston, G. (eds.), Work and the Welfare State. Street-Level Organizations and Workfare Politics, Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1734.
Brodkin, E. Z. (2013b), ‘Commodification, inclusion, or what? Workfare in everyday organizational life’, in: Brodkin, E. Z. and Marston, G. (eds.), Work and the Welfare State. Street-Level Organizations and Workfare Politics, Washington: Georgetown University Press, 143166.
Christensen, K. and Pilling, D. (2018), ‘User participation policies in Norway and England – the case of older people and social care’, Journal of Social Policy, 119, doi: 10.1017/S0047279418000272
D’Cruz, H., Gillingham, P. and Melendez, S. (2007), ‘Reflexivity, its meanings and relevance for social work: a critical review of the literature’, British Journal of Social Work, 37, 7390.
Dent, M. and Pahor, M. (2015), ‘Patient involvement in Europe – a comparative framework’, Journal of Health Organization and Management, 29, 5, 546555.
Djuve, A. B. and Kavli, H. C. (2015), ‘Facilitating user involvement in activation programmes: when carers and clerks meet pawns and queens’, Journal of Social Policy, 44, 2, 235254.
Dubois, V. (2009), ‘The bureaucrat and the poor: encounters in welfare offices’, GSPE Working Paper, Centre for European Political Sociology, University of Strasbourg.
Ferguson, H. (2003), ‘Welfare, social exclusion and reflexivity: the case of child and woman protection’, Journal of Social Policy, 32, 2, 199216.
Fotaki, M. (2011), ‘Towards developing new partnerships in public services: Users as consumers, citizens and/or co-producers in health and social care in England and Sweden’, Public Administration, 89, 3, 933955.
Hirschman, A. O. (1970), Exit, Voice, and Loyalty, London: Harvard University Press.
Hoggett, P. (2001), ‘Agency, rationality and social policy’, Journal of Social Policy, 30, 1, 3756.
Holland, S., Scourfield, J., O’Neill, S. and Pithouse, A. (2005), ‘Democratising the family and the state? The case of family group conferences in child welfare’, Journal of Social Policy, 34, 1, 5977.
Jensen, P. H. and Pfau-Effinger, B. (2005), ‘”Active” citizenship: the new face of welfare’, in: Andersen, J. G., Guillemard, A., Jensen, P. H. and Pfau-Effinger, B. (eds.), The Changing Face of Welfare: Consequences and Outcomes from a Citizenship Perspective, Bristol: The Policy Press, 114.
Järvinen, M. (2002), ’Mötet mellan klient och system – om forskning i socialt arbete’, Dansk Sociologi, 13, 2, 7384.
Kampmann, J. (2004), ’Det selv-i-agt-tagelige barn’, Psyke & Logos, 25, 2, 516536.
Karila, K. and Alasuutari, M. (2012), ‘Drawing partnership on paper: How do the forms for individual educational plans frame parent ‐ teacher relationship?’, International Journal about Parents in Education, 6, 1, 1527.
Kelty, C., Panofsky, A., Currie, M., Crooks, R., Erickson, S., Garcia, P., Wartenbe, M. and Wood, S. (2015), ‘Seven dimensions of contemporary participation disentangled’, Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology, 66, 3, 474488.
Lash, S. (1994), ‘Reflexivity and its doubles: structure, aesthetics, community’, in: Beck, U., Giddens, A. and Lash, S. (eds.), Reflexive modernization, Cambridge: Polity Press, 110173.
Lipsky, M. (1980), Street-Level Bureaucracy. Dilemmas of the Individual in Public Services, New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
May, J. (2006), ‘Ladders, stars and triangles: old and new theory for the practice of public participation’, International Journal of Market Research, 48, 3, 305319.
Mik-Meyer, N. (2006), ‘Identities and organizations. Evaluating the personality traits of clients in two Danish rehabilitation organizations’, Critical Social Studies, 8, 1, 3248.
Mizrahi, T., Humphreys, M. L. and Torres, D. (2009), ‘The social construction of client participation: the evolution and transformation of the role of service recipients in child welfare and mental disabilities’, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, XXXVI, 2, 3561.
Morgan, D. F. and Shinn, C. W. (2014), ‘The foundations of new public governance’, in: Morgan, D. F. and Cook, B. J. (eds.), New Public Governance, London: M.E. Sharpe, 312.
Nabatchi, T., Sancino, A. and Sicilia, M. (2017), ‘Varieties of participation in public services: The who, when, and what of coproduction’, Public Administration Review, 77, 5, 766776.
Newman, J. and Vidler, E. (2006), ‘Discriminating customers, responsible patients, empowered users: consumerism and the modernisation of health care’, Journal of Social Policy, 35, 2, 193209.
Olesen, S. P. (2003), ‘Client, user, member as constructed in institutional interaction’, in: Hall, C., Juhila, K., Parton, N. and Pösö, T. (eds.), Constructing Clienthood in Social Work and Human Services. Interactions, Identities and Practices, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 208222.
Osborne, S. P. (2006), ‘The new public governance?Public Management Review, 8, 3, 377387.
Pateman, C. (1970), Participation and Democratic Theory, London: Cambridge University Press.
Peters, M. (2001), ‘Education, enterprise culture and the entrepreneurial self: a Foucauldian perspective’, Journal of Educational Enquiry, 2, 2, 5871.
Rose, N. (1999), Governing the soul. The shaping of the private self, London: Free Association Books.
Runya, X., Qigui, S. and Wei, S. (2015), ‘The third wave of public administration: the new public governance’, Canadian Social Science, 11, 7, 1121.
Røiseland, A. (2016), ‘User choice – blessing or curse? Exploring democratic participation in Swedish and Norwegian local governments’, Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration, 20, 4, 2751.
Rønning, R. and Solheim, L. J. (1998), Hjelp på Egne Premisser? Om Brukermedvirkning i Velferdssektoren. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.
Scourfield, J. and Welsh, I. (2003), ‘Risk, reflexivity and social control in child protection: New times or same old story?‘, Critical Social Policy, 23, 3, 398420.
Scourfield, P. (2007), ‘Social care and the modern citizen: client, consumer, service user, manager and entrepreneur’, British Journal of Social Work, 37, 107122.
Short, S. D. (1996), ‘Patient compliance, client participation and lay reskilling: a review of some sociological work on lay participation in health care decision making’, Health Care Analysis, 4, 168173.
Small, N. and Rhodes, P. (2000), Too ill to talk? User involvement and palliative care, London: Routledge.
Stage, C. and Ingerslev, K. (2015), ‘Participation as assemblage’, Conjunctions: Transdisciplinary Journal of Cultural Participation, 2, 2, 117136.
Torfing, J., Sørensen, E. and Røiseland, A. (2019), ‘Transforming the public sector into an arena for co-creation: barriers, drivers, benefits, and ways forward’, Administration & Society, doi: 10.1177/0095399716680057
Tritter, J. Q. and McCallum, A. (2006), ‘The snakes and ladders of user involvement: moving beyond Arnstein’, Health Policy, 76, 156168.
Voorberg, W. H., Bekkers, V. J. J. M. and Tummers, L. G. (2015), ‘A systematic review of co-creation and co-production: embarking on the social innovation journey’, Public Management Review, 17, 9, 13331357.
Warren, M. E. (2011), ‘Voting with your feet: exit-based empowerment in democratic theory’, American Political Science Review, 105, 4, 683701.
Whitaker, G. P. (1980), ‘Coproduction: citizen participation in service delivery’, Public Administration Review, 40, May/June, 240246.
White, S. (2011), ‘Depoliticizing development: the uses and abuses of participation’. In: Cornwall, A. (ed.), The Participation Reader. London: Zed Books, 5769.
Wistow, G. and Barnes, M. (1993), ‘User involvement in community care: Origins, purposes and applications’, Public Administration, 71, 3, 279299.


Self-Reflexivity as a form of Client Participation: Clients as Citizens, Consumers, Partners or Self-Entrepreneurs



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed