Top-down or bottom-up: the real choice for public services

Anneliese Dodds, Dan Paskins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article considers two contrasting approaches to reforming public services in order to meet the needs of people living in poverty. The first approach is top-down, involves categorising individuals (as 'hard to help', 'at risk', etc) and invokes scientific backing for justification. The second approach is bottom-up, emancipatory, relates to people as individuals and treats people who have experience of poverty and social exclusion as experts. The article examines each approach through providing brief examples in the fields of unemployment and parenting policy - two fields that have been central to theories of 'cycles of deprivation'. It is suggested here that the two approaches differ in terms of their scale, type of user involvement and type of evidence that is used for their legitimation. While the article suggests that direct comparison between the two approaches is difficult, it highlights the prevalence of top-down approaches towards services for people living in poverty, despite increasing support for bottom-up approaches in other policy areas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-61
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Poverty and Social Justice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2011

Bibliographical note

This is a post-peer-review, pre-copy edited version of an article published in Journal of Poverty and Social Justice. The definitive publisher-authenticated version Dodds, Anneliese and Paskins, Dan Top-down or bottom-up: the real choice for public services. Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, 19 (1), pp. 51-61 is available online at:


  • public service reform
  • poverty
  • welfare
  • unemployment
  • parenting


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