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China: Complaints Management in Hong Kong
Source: futuregov.asia
Source Date: Monday, September 13, 2010
Focus: Knowledge Management in Government
Country: China
Created: Sep 20, 2010

There are complaints the Hong Kong government gets from the public that it can’t act on immediately, such as air pollution - a problem shared by neighbouring cities on the mainland. But complaints for more local issues it can now tackle, and even prevent, thanks to a text-mining tool introduced by the Hong Kong Efficiency Unit.

HKEU implemented the Complaint Intelligence System (CIS) one year ago (August 2009). The idea, explained W. F. Yuk, the HKEU’s Assistant Director, was to get a better understanding of why complaints are being made, and increase the government’s responsiveness to public gripes.

Complaints are fielded by the 1823 Call Centre, a single point of contact for public enquiries that fields 2.65 million calls and 98,000 emails from the public every year. The CIS processes these complaints, unearthing patterns and trends by picking up on key words and phrases hidden in the data.

“We want to uncover insights that were not prevalent in the past and act on them before they become a problem. We want to be more proactive problem-solvers,” he said.

Along with road defects, damage to railings, cleanliness in public areas, and air conditioning not working in the summer, collapsing trees is a common complaint made by Hong Kongers. This became a particularly sensitive issue when one fell on, and killed, a young girl.

“Tree management is now a political issue in Hong Kong. A special taskforce – the Tree Management Office - was set up to address the problem of collapsing trees,” noted Yuk. “By mining the comments we get from the public, using key words such as fungus or termites, we can help the TMO more accurately monitor the health of trees and prevent accidents from happening.”

Learning points
Yuk admitted that the CIS, which uses SAS software, is work in progress and there is scope to improve the tool’s accuracy. Prank or malicious complaints, for instance, can skew the data which leads to misleading findings.

“Sometimes lonely people call us in the middle of the night, just to talk to us. Sometimes people call us to complain about a rival business that has set up in the area. We can’t stop that.”

Yuk noted that text mining is more art than science. “Just because we now have access to more indepth intelligence on why complaints are occurring, that doesn’t mean that this information is perfect. One time out of ten it could be wrong. CIS serves as a useful guide to investigate cases.”

To improve the system, HKEU is looking to introduce other databases, including one for Cantonese. Given the structure of the Chinese language, this is no easy task, particularly with unstructured data, Yuk noted. “We’ve had to build an extensive library of acronyms and alias. This takes a long time to build and improve.”
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