Denmark, Aarhus

Citizens’ Perceptions of Public Services

when 5 August 2013 - 23 August 2013
duration 3 weeks
credits 9.9 ECTS

This course will introduce students to a number of different theoretical perspectives with a distinct focus on citizens’ perceptions of public services. Among the theoretical perspectives that we will touch upon are voter and performance information, fiscal illusions, and various accounts on citizen satisfaction (for instance the expectancy-disconfirmation model). Citizens’ perception of the performance of their government and the quality of the services provided by the public sector is obviously a core question in established democracies. It has therefore also been studied extensively within various disciplines such as comparative politics, public policy, and framing studies. This course focuses on citizens’ perceptions in a public administration perspective entailing that we are interested in to what extent knowledge about citizen perceptions can and should be used to benchmark public organizations and to guide future policy-making. The point of departure is the claim in the literature on voter information that most voters do not have the information necessary fully to judge the performance of incumbent governments or to assess alternative administrations when they seek to exercise democratic control. The course falls into three main parts. The first part deals with the basis of citizens’ perceptions of public services. The question is whether citizens’ assessments are based on valid knowledge and to what extent their perceptions can be influenced if they are presented to new and valid information. We will also touch upon the literature on fiscal illusions which suggests that citizens systematically underestimate the costs of public services and therefore demand more public spending than they would if they had been fully informed. Among the questions that we will discuss in this respect is the empirical evidence of such illusions and why such systematic misperceptions form. The second part deals with the widespread use of citizen satisfaction surveys as a means to assess quality and performance in the public sector. The main question is under what conditions such surveys constitute a valid tool by which quality can be assessed. Moreover, we will discuss the drivers of citizen satisfaction. In the first and second part of the course, citizens’ perceptions are mainly dealt with as a dependent variable. In the third part we will handle it as an independent variable and look at how citizen’ perceptions of costs and quality shape their behavior. The main question is how citizens react in case of dissatisfaction and why they do it. The theoretical point of departure in this part of the course will be Tiebout-model which states that citizens select local governments by moving and the EVLN-model exit, voice, loyalty, and neglect proposed by Lyons et al. The course mainly has a theoretical focus. However, we will also spend some time discussing methodological issues; for instance, the validity of conclusions in empirical papers and how we could design studies in order to examine the questions raised during the course.

Course leader

Martin Bækgaard, Aarhus University

Target group

Master students

Course aim

The objectives for this module are ability to:

- Describe and compare relevant theories as regards citizens’ perceptions of public services.
- Discuss the advantages and drawbacks of using different research designs and methods to study citizens’ perceptions of public services.
- Critically valuate and discuss theoretical and methodological strengths and weaknesses of existing studies of citizens’ perceptions of public services.
- Analyze and discuss to what extent citizens’ perceptions of public services is based on misperceptions.
- Analyze and discuss to what extent citizens’ perceptions can be shaped by new information.
- Analyze and discuss drivers of citizens’ satisfaction with public services
- Analyze and discuss how citizens react when dissatisfied with public services and why they do so.
- Present their analysis in a clearly written language.

Fee info

EUR 0: Students on a bilateral exchange programme do not have to pay. Freemovers are obliged to pay participation fees while tuition fees only apply to freemovers from countries outside the EU/EEA/Switzerland.