Published online by Cambridge University Press: 01 April 2008
‘Choice’ and ‘voice’ are two of the most significant means through which the public are able to participate in public services. Choice agendas position public service users as consumers, driving improvements by choosing good providers over bad, which then thrive through greater allocations of funds as money follows their selections (Le Grand, 2007). Choice-driven reforms tend to be about trying to make public services more locally responsive (Ferlie, Freeman, McDonnell, Petsoulas and Rundle-Smith, 2006). Voice-driven reforms, on the other hand, tend to position public service users as citizens, suggesting an emphasis on accountability mechanisms to drive service improvements through elections, with the possible removal of low regarded officials, or a greater involvement of local people in the running of services (Jenkins, 2006). Voice implies that citizens hold the right to participate in public services either through the political process, or through their direct involvement in the running or delivery of the services themselves. Of course, it is also possible to combine choice and voice mechanisms to try and achieve greater service responsiveness and accountability. In this review, choice reforms will be treated as those which are based upon consumer literature, and voice reforms those based upon attempting to achieve greater citizenship.
Citizenship and consumption are two areas with significant literatures in their own right, but whereas the citizenship literature is widely cited in the social policy literature, the consumption literature appears rather more selectively. This review examines each area in turn in terms of its application to social policy, and then presents a synthesis of commonalties in the two literatures, which represent particularly promising avenues for exploring the relationship between public services and their users.