This paper presents findings from a multimethod study of pilot elections held to choose members of health boards in the National Health Service in Scotland. We begin by proposing that much current public involvement practice is dominated by a volunteerist model, in which members of the public with time and skills to offer play essentially supportive and non-challenging roles within health care organizations. This model contrasts sharply with the adversarial, political model of electoral democracy. Nonetheless, drawing on a postal survey of voters, non-participant observation of Boards, and semi-structured interviews with candidates, elected Board members and other stakeholders, we demonstrate that the introduction of elections did not overcome the volunteerist slant of current public involvement with health care organizations. Far from offering a ‘quick fix’ for policymakers seeking to ensure accountability of health care organizations, elections may produce remarkably similar outcomes to existing mechanisms of public involvement.
- health system governance
- public participation