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UK: Putting Citizen Collaboration at the Heart of Public Services
Source: http://www.publicservice.co.uk/feature_story.asp?id=22661
Source Date: Wednesday, May 08, 2013
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Internet Governance
Country: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Created: May 09, 2013

There needs to be a dramatic shift in how the public sector sees its mission and delivers its services – putting the customer at the heart of the mission, writes Lior Arussy, president of the Strativity Group

In an increasingly austere economic climate, where governments must make difficult budget cuts and find ways to do more with less, the need to garner the support of the public has become critical. 'Citizen Collaboration' – the partnership created between government-backed organisations and the taxpayer – is what is needed to succeed. To work, this new concerted relationship requires a dramatic shift in the way that the public sector views its mission and delivers its services, treating people as customers and not figures or statistics.

Civil servants may not have considered citizens as customers in a traditional sense before but this must change. The current economic conditions are not set to improve dramatically in the foreseeable future. At the same time, taxpayers have higher expectations about private and public services than ever before. After all, if you consider taxes as a form of price for services, the government is the largest single provider to every citizen, and as such needs to deliver value for money. With these two dynamics in play, governments must think differently about the relationship they have with the public, paying greater attention to how they collaborate in difficult times.

A number of challenges must be overcome for the relationship to work. Based on our research and work with public sector organisations across the world, they face a number of issues, namely:

• Cultural – resentment of citizens' sense of entitlement
• Commercial – significant cost consideration
• Definition – lack of understanding about how to treat citizens as customers
• Operational – lack of 360 view of citizen; each agency acting independently
• Legal – data privacy challenges. Who can see? What can they see? Big Brother?
• Measurement – not required to deal with customer satisfaction
• Attitude – citizen at our mercy; where else would they go?
• Design – linear process orientation; no exceptions are allowed – one size fits all service
• Philosophy – all citizens are created equal and treated the same
• Citizens compare to private sector and demand more

Given these challenges, what can the public sector do to build their 'customer' relationship with citizens?

Put the customer at the heart of the mission. The emphasis can no longer be on operations alone. The human element must be factored in with equal measure. This requires a high level of tailored responses, personal connection and introducing new ways of thinking.

Developing good citizen collaboration hinges upon listening to what individuals want. This will be different according to each social segment. By gathering feedback from stakeholders, it becomes possible to segment what different public groups want in terms of service provision. It will differ according to the level at which they want government interaction. The message for organisations is: adopting a 'one size fits all' approach and treating everyone the same, will lead to lower citizen collaboration. Learning to adapt and customise your approach to the different kinds of people who use your services will go a long way to creating a connection and igniting collaboration.

Equally important is creating an internal platform and aligning in-house stakeholders, so that all departmental functions, whether human resources or financial services, understand the mission of citizen collaboration. Removing barriers to excellent service delivery is key, as is securing buy-in from the most senior echelons in the organisation. Without a commitment from the very top to this new type of relationship, it becomes difficult to engender the support needed to make the shift in perceiving citizens as customers.

After listening to stakeholders, external and internal, it is important to identify gaps between real and perceived service delivery, and to focus on closing them. Customer satisfaction is not always dependant on the service itself but on how expectations are met. Understanding expectations is therefore vital. You then measure the things that are genuinely most important to people, not what you think is important. If shorter hospital waiting times or more public transport routes are important, focus on giving them that, not what you think they want.

When launching or delivering public services, it is important to set clear and realistic expectations. Too often, governments are criticised for making claims they cannot meet.  The perception that individuals are being 'sold' to with empty words is damaging to any customer relationship, whether in the private sector or public. For a solid collaborative relationship to take hold, set attainable targets and expectations and gradually build upon the progress achieved.

The current economic climate presents a true challenge for everyone. For civil servants working on the front line of public service delivery, the economic threat can be turned into an opportunity by looking at citizens differently and growing lasting relationships with the most vital resource this country has: its people.
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