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Citizen, Customer, Partner: Rethinking the Place of the Public in Public Management


  • John Clayton Thomas is professor of public management and policy in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. His research, including four books and more than 60 articles, focuses how citizens connect with their governments and how those connections can be improved. He also serves as one of two editors of American Review of Public Administration. E-mail:


Scholars and practitioners have long debated what role the public should play in public management. When members of the public interact with the administrative side of government, should they be treated as customers, as citizens, or in some other manner? This article takes as its premise that members of the public assume three principal roles relative to public management: as customers, as partners, and as citizens. After placing these roles in the context of the history of public administration, the article draws from recent research to recommend guidelines for how public managers can work effectively with the public in these several capacities.