Invitation to PhD course: Client participation

Invitation to PhD course: Client participation


05.10.2020 kl. 12.30 - 07.10.2020 kl. 15.00


Client participation is a popular concept, generally carrying positive connotations among both administrators and citizen advocates: “It connotes openness and transparency, inclusion and diversity, democracy and voice, equality and deliberation…” (Kelty et al. 2015: 475). Participation is regarded important in combatting social exclusion (Stevens, Bur and Young 2003), contributing to democratization, increasing the self-efficacy of clients, building communities, increasing service efficiency and effectiveness, ensuring fairness and holding government agencies accountable (Mizrahi, Humphreys and Torres 2009; Alford 2009: 37). In addition, participation has become an important source of legitimacy, and public agencies are increasingly expected to enable citizen participation (Kelty et al. 2015). With the advance of new public governance, citizens are also increasingly expected to participate actively, contributing to the delivery of public services to themselves and others. This however leads to new paradoxes, as municipalities “simultaneously want to empower its citizens and control the output of their activities.” (Hansen & Gemal 2014: 3; see also Borghi and van Berkel 2007: 422). With all the different and somewhat contradictory tasks participation is expected to perform, it is important to examine different forms of participation in order to analyze how participation works in specific contexts.

Lipsky pointed out that client participation has a dual function both as a means to secure individual and fair treatment and as a way of legitimizing the agency’s intervention in the clients’ lives and the control of clients (Lipsky 1980: 42-43). Hence, participation can be non-voluntary for clients and street-level organizations may seek to persuade clients to participate actively in the system (Lipsky 1980: 43). In this context, client participation can be seen as part of an organizational goal of client control as well as a source of organizational legitimacy. White calls for a detailed examination of the concept of participation and the interests it serves and underscores that “participation is not always in the interests of the poor. Everything depends on the type of participation, and the terms on which it is offered. […] exit may be the most empowering option” (White 2011: 64). Hence, it should not be taken for granted that client participation is empowering or liberating to clients. The concept client participation may be regarded problematic for this very reason, since client participation may imply user control and empowerment, but it may also imply treatment participation or even client compliance. Hence, notions of inclusion through client participation remain problematic as long as it remains obscure what participation entails and what the goals of participation are, e.g. involving people in decisions made about them or making services cheaper (Stevens et al. 2003: 90).

Participation has long been an important concept in a range of disciplines (e.g. political sciences, social work, rural development, media studies). The popularity of the concept of participation has led scholars to be wary that the concept may become “drained of substance” (Cohen and Uphoff 2011: 34).  Across different streams of research, there is not a common conceptualization of client participation.

The aim of the course is to familiarize students with classical and contemporary perspectives on client participation, to enable students to critically discuss assumptions, methodological approaches and empirical results regarding client participation. In addition, the course aims at furthering the PhD-students work on constructing a theoretical framework and methodological approach to a specific research problem in the student’s own ongoing or planned project.


This PhD course addresses both PhD students within social sciences and humanities as well as students within health sciences. The lecturers are primarily from the fields of sociology and social work, but the theoretical concepts and concerns raised have broader relevance, e.g. in terms of patient participation.

Teaching methods

The course alternates between lectures on client participation and workshops where participants present their own work and get feedback from other students and lecturers. All students (also those participating without paper) should present their work and comment on the work of the other participants. Written and oral presentations take place throughout the course.

Description of paper requirements, if applicable

Learning outcomes will be examined through an individually written working paper. Students should submit their course paper 1 week prior to the course. Students choose their own topic, preferably in line with their topic of doctoral research. Papers can be written in the form of a scientific article with the exception that the draft for the course will allow 3.500 words (maximum) including references. Submission of course papers no later than September 25th 2020 (please find more info at PhD moodle)


Tone Alm Andreassen, Oslo Metropolitan University

Karen Christensen, Roskilde University

Tanja Dall, Aalborg University

Dorte Caswell, Aalborg University

Maja Lundemark Andersen, Aalborg University

Merete Monrad, Aalborg University (course coordinator)

Price and registration

The course is free of charge for PhD fellows enrolled at the Doctoral School of Social Sciences, Aalborg University participants not enrolled at the Doctoral School of Social Sciences, Aalborg University will need to pay a fee of 300 DKK. There will be a maximum of 20 participants. 

► Please register in PhD moodle

Registration deadline: 1 September 2020.

ECTS: 4 with paper, 2 without paper.

► Programme secretary: Marianne Høgsbro 

Preliminary programme PhD course Client participation

Day 1: 5 October 2020

12.30-12.45    Welcome and introduction

12.45-13.30    Merete Monrad: Theoretical approaches to client participation – an overview

13.30-13.45    Break

13.45-14.45    Tone Alm Andreassen: Institutional embeddings of client participation

14.45-15.00    Break

15.00-15.45    Dorte Caswell: Increasing the participation of vulnerable clients in employment services

15.45-16.00    Break

16.00-17.40    Paper-based workshop (5 papers)

18.30              Dinner

Day 2: 6 October 2020

9.00-10.30       Karen Christensen: Discourses of user participation

10.30-10.45    Break

10.45-11.45    Maja Lundemark Andersen: Involvement or Empowerment?

11.45-12.30    Lunch

12.30-13.30    Tone Alm Andreassen: User participation in research

13.30-13.45    Break              

13.45-14.45    Methodological approaches to client perspectives

14.45-15.00    Break

15.00-16.40    Paper-based workshop (5 papers)

Day 3: 7 October 2020

9.00-9.45         Merete Monrad: Assumptions about agency in different approaches to participation

9.45-10.00       Break

10.00-12.00    Tanja Dall: The analysis of client participation in meetings with welfare professionals

12.00-12.45    Lunch

12.45-14.25    Paper-based workshop (5 papers)

14.25-15.00    Course evaluation

Preliminary literature

Aberbach, J. D. and Christensen, T. (2005), ‘Citizens and consumers: An NPM dilemma’, Public Management Review, 7, 2, 225-245.

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, 99–117.

Arnstein, S. R. (1969), ‘A ladder of citizen participation’, Journal of the American Planning Association, 35, 4, 216–224.

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, 583–601.

Barnes, M. and Prior, D. (1995), ‘Spoilt for choice? How consumerism can disempower public service users’, Public Money & Management, 15, 53–58.

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, 413–424.

Bovaird, T. (2007), ‘Beyond engagement and participation: user and community coproduction of public services’, Public Administration Review, 67, 846–860.

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, 143–166.

Christensen, K. & D. Pilling (2018): User participation policies in Norway and England - the case of older people and social care. Journal of Social Policy, DOI: 10.1017/S0047279418000272

Cohen, J. and Uphoff, N. (2011), ‘Participation’s place in rural development: seeking clarity through specificity’, in: Cornwall, A. (ed.), The Participation Reader, London: Zed Books, 34–56.

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, 235–254.

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, 199–216.

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, 933-955.

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, 474–488.

Monrad, M. (2019). Self-reflexivity as a form of client participation: Clients as citizens, consumers, partners or self-entrepreneurs? Journal of Social Policy.

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, 35–61.

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, 766-776.

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, 208–222.

Røiseland, A. (2016), ‘User choice – blessing or curse? Exploring democratic participation in Swedish and Norwegian local governments’, Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration, 20, 4, 27–51.

Rønning, R. and Solheim, L. J. (1998), Hjelp på Egne Premisser? Om Brukermedvirkning i Velferdssektoren. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Scourfield, P. (2007), ‘Social care and the modern citizen: client, consumer, service user, manager and entrepreneur’, British Journal of Social Work, 37, 107–122.

Wright, S. (2016), Conceptualising the active welfare subject: welfare reform in discourse, policy and lived experience. Policy and Politics, 44(2), pp. 235-252.

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, 168–173.

Tritter, J. Q. and McCallum, A. (2006), ‘The snakes and ladders of user involvement: moving beyond Arnstein’, Health Policy, 76, 156–168.

Warren, M. E. (2011), ‘Voting with your feet: exit-based empowerment in democratic theory’, American Political Science Review, 105, 4, 683–701.

Whitaker, G. P. (1980), ‘Coproduction: citizen participation in service delivery’, Public Administration Review, 40, May/June, 240–246.

White, S. (2011), ‘Depoliticizing development: the uses and abuses of participation’. In: Cornwall, A. (ed.), The Participation Reader. London: Zed Books, 57–69.

Wistow, G. and Barnes, M. (1993), ‘User involvement in community care: Origins, purposes and applications’, Public Administration, 71, 3, 279-299.


The PhD programme Sociology and Social Work, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University

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