During the 1990s, governments in developing countries began to carry out wide-reaching reforms of the way public services such as health and education are delivered. New Public Management
(NPM) heavily influenced the reform agenda that has emerged, in part as a result of the influence of international actors such as the World Bank and bilateral donors.
An important component of NPM, drawn in part from social choice theory, that made its way into the reforms is the emphasis placed on empowering end-users as agents of accountability. This article argues the abstract notion of end-users of public services found in NPM-inspired reforms – either that of generic (maximising) individuals or undifferentiated households – is mistaken, makin invisible the particular agents who in reality access public services on behalf of the household. Worse, it hides the constraints these agents face when seeking access to such services, which can limit their efficacy as agents of accountability.