Don't call me a customer: public service markets and the citizen

Prof Needham hi res-725The College of Social Sciences was delighted to present the inaugural lecture of Professor Catherine Needham, Professor of Public Policy and Public Management.

The event took place on Thursday 22nd March, and saw over 90 staff, students and members of the community join Professor Needham on campus to explore public service markets and being treated as a customer.

Professor Needham’s lecture was introduced by Professor Karen Rowlingson, Deputy Head of College. Professor Rowlingson spoke about Catherine’s background in studying politics, with a particular focus on the ways it incorporates the market research techniques of the commercial sector.

During Catherine’s time teaching at Queen Mary, University of London, she had a "lightbulb moment" and realised her research was better placed in public management rather than politics. Catherine joined the University of Birmingham in 2012 as part of the Health Services Management Centre.  

catherine-antenna-300Catherine's lecture looked at the implications of being called a ‘customer’ as a user of public services. She explored the customer language and the rise of a customer approach taken in a range of public services such as schools, hospitals, railways, care homes and universities. Catherine looked at the key issues in this area and discussed in detail four problems with the customer service model:

  • it preferences individual demands which can clash with collective goals
  • it wrongly assumes that public service choices are like private service transactions
  • it allows us to blame people if they don’t make good choices
  • it puts staff and service users in conflict

The lecture was live illustrated by graphic facilitator Laura Brodrick of www.thinkbigpicture.co.uk and closed by Professor Jon Glasby, Head of the School of Social Policy, before the audience and speaker mixed in a drink and canapé reception.

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Find out more

  • Inaugural lectures are a time-honoured tradition at the University. All newly-appointed chairs are invited to give a lecture to a public audience, on their area of specialism. Find out more
  • Read Professor Needham's blog post on this subject for the LSE