Paid officials and community engagement in governance

Funded by: Joseph Rowntree Foundation


January 2007 to September 2008

PSI researchers:

Kathryn Ray

Background, summary and aims

Changes in governance structures over recent decades have entailed a shift towards ‘participatory governance’, extending the involvement of service users from consultative approaches to shared responsibility for decision-making. However the extent to which this has led to better outcomes for communities is unclear. The focus of much research has been on developing capacity in the community sector, but it is now being recognised that strengthening government responsiveness is also necessary. This research aims to address this by exploring the experiences of paid officials across a range of organisational types and governance mechanisms.


  • to explore the impacts of a variety of community engagement mechanisms on the every day working lives of paid officials, in a context of multi-sector partnership working;
  • to explore the range of factors that impact on the ability of paid officials to:
    • effectively engage with a diverse range of communities, and
    • ensure that the views and priorities expressed by residents and communities are reflected in changes in services;
  • to explore the role of organisational structures and cultures in shaping the responsiveness of paid officials towards community engagement in governance.

Research design

The research focuses on the experiences of paid officials across five service areas (environment, education, housing, health and policing) in Haringey, North London. The study will include three case studies of: the local authority, the police and a Primary Care Trust, all of which are engaged in inter-agency working. The research methods are designed to explore the views and experiences of a range of stakeholders, including middle managers and senior managers in the organisations concerned, Councillors, frontline service delivery staff and community workers and representatives from the community sector. Research methods will include in-depth interviews and observational work, as well as a feedback and dialogue session for research participants.


The research will provide evidence about the opportunities and barriers to paid officials’ effective engagement in governance mechanisms, and provide examples of good practice. It will have relevance for a range of tiers of government and a variety of organisations concerned with improving local services. Findings will be disseminated both nationally and locally through a range of networks and events.


Summary of findings, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, November 2008