21st century public servant: the discussion phase

Catherine Needham

After nine months of researching the 21st Century Public Servant, we are today formally starting the discussion phase of the project. We have undertaken a literature review, we have spoken to over 40 people working in public services in public, private and voluntary sector bodies, and to national stakeholder organisations. From that we have identified key themes of what it means to be a 21st Century public servant which we will be blogging about over the next few months.

We begin this week with a focus on ‘perma-austerity’ which is the key contextual factor for public services, and a major theme at this week’s Local Government Association conference. As well as sharing the findings of our research we will have guest blogs from people working in and close to public services about ways to address the challenges of austerity.

A clear finding from the interviews we’ve done is that there is no unified vision of the future of public services and the people who work to deliver them. The future will be messy and tentative, with paradoxes being managed and lived with rather than solved. In the same spirit we don’t feel we have come up with the answers in this project, but rather with a series of themes that we want to test out with you. If you feel inspired to blog or comment that’s great.

We will be discussing the themes at the IPPR today, beginning a series of project events. You can also come along to the Inlogov stall at the LGA conference to find out more.


Catherine Needham is Reader in Public Policy and Public Management at the Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham, and is developing research around public service reform and policy innovation. Her recent work has focused on co-production and personalization, examining how those approaches are interpreted and applied in frontline practice. Her most recent book, published by the Policy Press in 2011, is entitled, Personalising Public Services: Understanding the Personalisation Narrative. Follow Catherine on Twitter: @DrCNeedham.

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