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Chapter Summary

Osborne, David, and Ted Gaebler. 1992. Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit Is Transforming the Public Sector. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Chapter 2: Community-Owned Government: Empowering Rather Than Serving

In chapter 2, Osborne and Gaebler describe efforts to improve government performance by including communities in the process of service delivery and giving them more control, sometimes even turning responsibility for service delivery over to communities themselves. Their examples show how bringing communities into the picture empowers the people who are the intended recipients of services and results in better performance. For example, community-oriented policing, through which police collaborate with neighborhoods to address their most pressing concerns, has been very effective in many places. Involvement of parents, community leaders, churches, and volunteers has led to improvements in services ranging from recycling to public schools.

Osborne and Gaebler discuss how community members can add special knowledge and experience that professionals and bureaucrats don't have. They quote John McKnight of Northwestern University, who believes that by pulling services out of communities into centralized bureaucracies, we have weakened our communities and undermined the people in them. McKnight feels that since communities are closer to their problems than government professionals, they are better able to understand and address them; they are also more committed, flexible, and creative, and can often accomplish tasks more cheaply than service professionals.

Public agencies can nurture community control by removing existing barriers; encouraging communities to take control of services; providing seed money, training, and technical assistance; and creating citizen advisory boards. However, government is still ultimately responsible for making sure services reach those who need them. The structures must be in place to identify corruption and ensure that decentralized programs are working properly.