The involvement of the public and service users in the management of public services has increasingly emerged as an ambition of governments worldwide in recent years. Efforts of this kind cast the public in the role of both citizens with a democratic franchise and consumers to be endowed with real choices about how their needs and wishes are met. Various authors highlight the tensions and contradiction faced by such efforts in practice; this chapter, however, takes a step back to ask why the views of the public, whether as citizens or service users, seem to command such attention and respect from governments across the political spectrum. Why is it that for state agencies to pay no heed to the views of the public now would be as unthinkable as it would have been for professionals and offi cials to accede to the whims and wishes of the public fi fty years ago? And how far can the insights that might arise from such a socio-historical understanding of the rise and rise of public participation explain the challenges that such initiatives now face, and suggest ways in which these might be overcome?