On what we should call the folk who engage with local public services

Bit of an old chestnut, this, that I referred to in another post and I have been mulling on for a while.

User feels a bit techie, a bit too transactional, and sometimes like somebody who indulges in illicit substances. However it is delightfully generic.

Customers tend to have somewhere else to go, unlike many of those who engage with local public services. It does have it’s benefits though – it works for businesses and communities as well as individuals, and it is helpful to get colleagues to take improving the ‘customer’ experience seriously.

Citizens is a very complicated term in the UK, and besides, many of the people we work with are citizens of other places, not the UK.

Residents is one that I have liked for a while, but it doesn’t cover people who commute in, or visit for other reasons.

Businesses and community groups need to be factored in and the more individual terms don’t really cover this base. In work in the past, I have used the long and rather awkward ‘residents, communities, and businesses’. I now look on this period with a sense of shame.

On LinkedIn, Craig Hervey from Solihull asked why we don’t just use ‘the public’ – and he had a point. On mulling this though, I find the need for the definitive article a bit clumsy sometimes, and often plain old ‘public’ sounds just a bit weird.

On a current project working on digital strategy for a small local authority, I’ve needed to come up with a term to use, and this time I am trying to stick with ‘people’. Sometimes it can appear vague, which is a problem, but I then do a bit of work on the rest of the sentence to try and provide any additional context that is needed.

So that’s that, for now, for me. Those who engage with local public services are people.

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