An inconvenient e-Truth

Recent surveys by the Dutch CFES (Centre for e-Government Studies) about progress in e-government show a wide gap between the availability and the actual use of e-services. Even though the number of e-services increases over time and broadband penetration grows, take up does not accordingly. There remains an unused potential of about 50%. International comparisons show that all countries face this problem. Actually in the top ranking countries in e-government this very gap is even wider.
Although there are indications that getting used to e-services may induce more people to use them, one cannot assume that this will eventually bridge the gap. Real take up will be dependent on a different approach, i.e. the introduction so called user driven services. Burgerlink (Citizenlink) is an example how this done in the Netherlands. It advocates an integrated 3 step approach for standardization of quality requirements, measurement of customer satisfaction and stimulating of citizen engagement.

Anyone living in The Netherlands is being served by many more authorities than he or she is aware of. Even though an inhabitant may only infrequently visit the town hall or the city website, that person is dependent on all kinds of authorities for living, care, education, transportation, safety and so on. The same holds for business or civic organizations.

Fortunately each government agency is enthusiastically busy improving its service delivery process. They may perform better, but as yet a breakthrough has not come about. The reason being that they usually operate separately, mostly supply driven and seldom customer centred. In order to remedy this situation, a common vision and a concerted action is necessary in three areas: quality requirements, satisfaction measurement and citizen involvement

First government agencies should apply common service quality requirements. Not only because a citizen is entitled to an identical level from all agencies serving the general public, but also since it is a prerequisite for intergovernmental cooperation. That’s why the e-Citizen Charter has been conceived as a common standard that from the citizen’s perspective summarizes 10 basic principles. These cover all kinds roles and address information provision, service delivery and citizen participation. Individual government agencies can convert these into specific departmental quality norms.

Secondly government agencies should practice satisfaction measurement. In order to ascertain whether citizens actually profit from all changes, satisfaction measurement should not be restricted to separate products or services. So a national survey is conducted about citizen satisfaction on the basis of life events, taking into account the e-Citizen Charter criteria. The results of the survey show that the necessary chain cooperation is lacking in the field of coordination, communication and treatment. Chain partners can use the data from the annual survey for business process redesign.

Finally improvement of public service delivery can only come about when citizen involvement is embedded. In stead of consulting citizens when and where government deems fit, it is much more rewarding if forums for interaction are created that stimulate and facilitate open discussion. Web 2.0 (social media, open data, co creation) supports e-participation that contributes to business process redesign. In order to satisfy both government and citizen, this should be part and parcel of everyday operations. At present e-participation is still in its infancy, but there are promising examples.

Modern government should be prepared for empowered citizens. The ABC for improved government is: Always Burger Centric. A successful performance incentive for better government requires that politicians and managers implement this triple approach.