Citizen services and organization design

Two related items caught my eye – both about citizen services. The first is an 'In Brief" item in the McKinsey Quarterly that came this month. The second is about the way various Latin American Governments stand in citizen satisfaction with government services from the 2009, Latin American Public Opinion Project,

The first discusses metrics that are useful for measuring citizen satisfaction, and then gives an example of a government call center that developed a 'labor allocation model' that resulted in being able to "improve the service balance between the two channels while also raising overall customer satisfaction". (The two channels being phone calls and paper applications).

The second discusses the responses of national averages in 22 Latin America countries to the question "Would you say that the services the municipality is providing are: (1) Very good; (2) Good (3); Neither good nor poor (fair); (4) Poor; or (5) Very poor?" Their findings on a quantitative only survey find the following at an individual citizen level:

1. Richer individuals in Latin America show a higher satisfaction with municipal services
2. People living in urban areas, as opposed to people living in rural areas, manifest greater satisfaction with local government services.
3. Women are slightly more satisfied with municipal services than men.

Not surprisingly this study also suggests that citizens who have been victims of crime and/or corruption in the last 12 months are less likely to be satisfied with services, while those who are involved in the work of the municipality e.g. as elected members are more likely to be satisfied with services.

All this information is material to me as I am working with a UK city council which like many others has been set strict financial targets and is approaching these less from a citizen centric perspective and more from a cutting staff costs perspective. Having realized this they are now looking for ways of offering improved services while still reaching the financial targets. It's a very difficult balance beam to tread but provides an ideal opportunity for win-win creative organization design unfortunately the vagaries of financial accounting seem, at the moment, to be heading the work into standard headcount and service cuts.

This is an unfortunate tack to take as it gives rise to the paradox that in an area of high (and growing) unemployment 'letting go' of low-paid council workers releases them into the pool of unemployed who then are very likely to require council support as unemployed citizens who are then not getting the service levels they require.

In the long term the cheaper and better option may be to keep the workers employed and be creative in generating revenue from services or other efficiency gains e.g. by doing work differently.