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Research Seminar | Public encounters, 10 years on: Relational dynamics in-between and around citizens and public professionals

Monday June 19, 2023, from 12:00 to 13:30
Room 24.120 (First Floor). Mercè Rodoreda 24 building
Research seminar

Koen Bartels (University of Birmingham). ChairSilvia Cannas (IBEI)

In 2013, Koen Bartels published an article on public encounters to draw attention to this important yet forgotten notion at the heart of relationships between citizens and government. Coined by Charles Goodsell in the 1980s, it highlights the pervasive occurrence and influence of face-to-face contact between public professionals and citizens. He offered a relational approach to public encounters that focuses on what happens ‘in-between’ public professionals and citizens when they meet. He called for developing public encounters into a subject area of its own by analysing how their communicative practices and relational processes both reflected distinct public values and gave shape to socio-economic outcomes. A decade later, we can detect a steady proliferation of research on public encounters in the context of service delivery, citizen participation and social innovation. In this presentation, he will trace the development of this research to assess to what extent public encounters is becoming a field of its own and outline its contours, key issues and developments on the horizon. First, he critically appraises the development of two parallel streams of public encounters research and tease out fundamental conceptual differences. Second, he broadens the focus on face-to-face contact to include the relational dynamics in which encounters are embedded and the increase of digitally mediated encounters and withdrawal of the state. Finally, he revisits the relational conceptualisation of public encounters to ground it in the real-world conditions of our world in crisis, taking into account conflict, transformation and non-Western contexts. Taken together, this leads to a renewed impetus for studying the relational dynamics in-between and around citizens and public professionals.

Koen Bartels is Senior Lecturer in Public Management at INLOGOV. His research focuses on relationships between citizens and government in an urban context. His key research interests are public encounters, social and democratic innovation, relationality, practice theory, action research, and interpretive policy analysis. His research has been published in leading international journals, including Urban Studies, Environment & Planning C, Public Administration, Public Administration Review, and International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. He has also published 'Communicative Capacity: Public Encounters in Participatory Theory and Practice' (The Policy Press) and co-edited ‘Action Research in Policy Analysis: Critical and Relational Approaches to Sustainability Transitions’ (Routledge).

During the course 2022-23, IBEI has organised a series of research seminars, which normally take place once a week. Check the 2022-23 programme

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