Modernizing Public Services in Local Spaces in Hungary


Local communities continuously face problems at the beginning of the 21st century that have no simple solutions. The questions of economy, the tasks of environmental protection, the conservation and maintenance of health, or the preservation of the coherence of the local community need complex responses that have long been embraced by the activities of professionally separated individuals and organizations.

This complexity is rooted in the fact that boundaries between certain fields of life and institutions became more blurred, and thus the complexity of functions, aims, and responsibilities are an attribute of modern life.

This complexity is reflected in the fact that the previously clear and, in most cases, legally contemplated boundaries between public policies became more relative in the case of various social problems. For instance, who is responsible for stabilizing the economic situation of people living in small villages? Should the individual be able to manage effectively? Should the state create a better economic environment (training, property conditions, legal environment)? Should it be the market that creates the space for economic activities? Perhaps it should be local government, as they are responsible for the wellbeing of the citizens living in the village? Or should it be civil organizations who undertake social responsibilities?

Until the 80’s, providing public services was almost exclusively the task of the state, therefore the role of local governments (in Hungarian local councils) seemed simpler. Local leaders offered public services in the traditionally understood public administration (PA) model and organized public tasks described within the law from resources provided by the state. They managed a healthy water supply, public lighting, kindergartens, public education, health care, and the maintenance of the local roads.

Because of the economic, social, and political changes during the 80’s, a New Public Management (NPM) model substituted the PA model. In this, the former monolithic, hierarchical and formal state provided room for the market sector. The private sector appeared in public services, and we saw the privatization of public services from waste management to health care and from managing child welfare institutions to elderly care. Preferring market mechanisms in public sector management resulted in undesirable effects, especially during the crisis period around the turn of the century. In some of the smaller settlements with little or no resources, even basic services were put at risk.

The New Public Governance (NPG) model that appeared after the millennium to counter the effects of the crisis is now compared to the previous public service models in the sense that, instead of/next to the hierarchical model of institutions and scope of responsibilities, horizontal processes and interactions have gained prominence. The ’governance’ type of public service facilitates, subcontracts, invites, bargains, builds partnerships and networks, thereby saving public resources and by mobilizing additional resources to be able to effectively execute its fundamental tasks: improving the quality of life of the citizens living in the village or town.

Changing a model in the case of local governments of small communities is certainly a difficult task. Instead of lobbying based on deficiencies, a proactive role building on locally available resources is within the focus, and hierarchical models yield to horizontal, jointly regulated and maintained models. For this to happen, local actors need to develop new approaches, new networks, and alternative operational forms.

The Hungarian pilot programme of CoSIE project aspires to develop, along with 10 local governments of disadvantaged rural communities, a public service that builds on the elements of the new (governance) type service model and aims at strengthening household economies, which are among the main pillars of the economic stability of people living in a community. The workshop on 28-29 May 2019 was a milestone in developing the framework of this service model.

Writer: Judit Csoba, University of Debrecheni