Find out more about the 21st Century Public Servant project

Public services are going through major changes in response to a range of issues such as cuts to budgets, increased localisation, greater demands for service user voice and control, increased public expectations and a mixed economy of welfare provision. This 21st Century Public Servant project builds on the findings of the 2011 University of Birmingham Policy Commission into the ‘Future of Local Public Services’ which identified the need to pay attention to the changing roles undertaken by public servants and the associated support and development needs.It is a Knowledge Exchange project funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in partnership with Birmingham City Council.

We are looking at the skills, values and identities of the future public service workforce. We know that the term public servant isn’t ideal. It sounds outdated and too narrow to encompass people working outside the public sector. Our aim is to be inclusive, to produce materials that are relevant for all people who work in public services, whether in the public, private or third sectors. We haven’t come up with a better term for those people than public servant although we are interested in hearing suggestions on this topic.

The research incorporates a literature review and 40 interviews with people working in local government and in national stakeholder organisations which support public services. We are also conducting a focus group of officers and members in a local authority and a survey with recent graduate entrants into local government. The interviews and focus group draw on a purposive sample of people working in public services in the West Midlands region and in national stakeholder organisations. We are using semi-structured interviews, based on a standardised topic guide. Interviews are audio recorded. The survey is being undertaken online, with a link sent to people on the National Graduate Development Programme for local government. Ethical approval for the project has been granted by the University of Birmingham.

Research questions for the project are:

  • What is the range of different roles of the twenty-first century public servant?
  • What are the competencies and skills that public servants require to achieve these roles?
  • What are the support and training requirements of these roles?
  • How might central and local government better support and promote public service careers?

The research team are:

Catherine Needham, Reader in Public Management and Public Policy at the Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham @DrCNeedham

Hear Catherine talking about the project here.

Catherine Mangan, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Local Government Studies, University of Birmingham @mangancatherine

Hear Catherine talking about the project here.

Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor of Public Governance, Melbourne School of Government and School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne @DrHDickinson


3 Replies to “Find out more about the 21st Century Public Servant project”

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