PUBLIC ENCOUNTERS: THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF FACE-TO-FACE CONTACT BETWEEN PUBLIC PROFESSIONALS AND CITIZENS

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Abstract

Public encounters, face-to-face contact between public professionals and citizens, was first identified as a key issue in public administration 80 years ago, but never developed into a subject area of its own. Although receiving attention in research on street-level bureaucrats' contact with customers, clients, and citizens, the concept of public encounters is hardly used. However, it has great potential to overcome current limitations in understanding how public encounters can enhance the quality of services, decisions, and outcomes. This article traces the historical development of research on public encounters and sets a future agenda for developing it into a subject area of its own. The main argument is that, so far, the encounter, or ‘in-between’, has not been captured as a distinct phenomenon. A framework is developed to examine this in-between in terms of the everyday communicative practices and processes through which public professionals and citizens encounter each other.

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