Encounters with the organisation: How local civil servants experience and handle tensions in public engagement

Wieke Blijleven, Merlijn van Hulst*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Civil servants in local governments across the globe are increasingly expected
to engage the public. Engagement processes lead to tensions between the
rising expectation to engage the public on the one hand, and the bureaucratic
and managerial expectations, which still largely characterise municipal organisations, on the other. Based on focus groups totalling 73 frontline civil servants in ten Dutch municipalities, this article explores what tensions arise and
through what practices civil servants handle them. We contribute to the recent
debates on public engagement, showing that civil servants do not just use their
discretion to deal with the tensions surrounding rules and policies, departmentalisation and performance management. They negotiate with colleagues and align people, structures and resources inside and outside their organisation to make public engagement work. In addition, the findings suggest that tensions mostly surface in interactions between civil servants. A real challenge in engagement, therefore, lies in developing shared resolutions with one’s colleagues.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-639
Number of pages25
JournalLocal Government Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2022


  • Public engagement
  • focus groups
  • citizen participation
  • citizens’ initiatives
  • frontline work
  • civil servants


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