Laura Massoli of the Italian Department of Public Administration interviewed Matt Poelmans
Q1. The release of the eCitizen Charter in 2006 provided clear and common requirements for Government in the provision and delivery of public service. How did you come out with the Charter? Which was the general process and the kind of stakeholders involved in the design of the charter? Which the general aim?
A1. The charter was originally developed by the eCitizen Forum, an independent advisory body to the minister of the Interior. Composed of institutions like the National Ombudsman, the National Consumers’ Union, the Internet Society and other representatives form civil society, its task was to monitor developments in eGovernment policy form the citizen’s perspective. It created the charter in order to be able to found its recommendations.
The charter was also used by the national eCitizen Panel, consisting of 2000 persons, in its assessment of eGovernment building blocks. And the jury of the annual National Web Awards and later the eParticipation Awards used it to select the nominations. Finally the Citizenlink Program promoted the charter under its threefold task (increasing service quality, measuring customer satisfaction, stimulating citizen participation).
Q2. What about the use of the charter by the Dutch administrations? Did they find it useful and easy to apply?
A2. The charter is not mandatory, but has been adopted as a common standard for public service delivery by a so called Administrative Convention between the three tiers of government: national (ministries, agencies), regional (provinces, waterboards) and local (municipalities). The majority of these administrations have implemented the charter in one way or the other. Moreover it was incorporated in the national eGovernment Interoperability Framework (NORA). The eCitizen Charter Workbook has been widely used for training purposes of civil servants.
Q3. As you mentioned, the charter was translated in 22 languages (Italian included). Did you start any comparative project on this? Or did you involve other administrations outside The Netherlands?
A3. The Dutch charter was spontaneously copied by other countries to support their policies for public sector reform. After receiving the European eDemocracy Award 2007, I have been invited all over the world to present the charter. In the same year it was nominated for the EU eGovernment Awards at the ministerial conference in Lisbon. Estonia took it as an example to base its eState Charter on. France used in the Administrative Modernization Program. The EU Institute for Public Administration (EIPA) uses it for eGovernment seminars in Greece and trainings in the Balkan. OECD recommended implementation in their reports and in 2011 the UN Convention Against Corruption selected it as an instrument to enhance social accountability in developing countries.
Q 4. Based on the quality requirements of the charter, the Dutch Government has carried out –since 2008 – a yearly citizen satisfaction survey which aims at measuring citizen’s perception regarding some life events (having a child, starting a business, going abroad etc)? Which are the latest results of such a survey?
A4. The survey covers 55 life events and measured whether or not the citizens having experienced those situations were satisfied about the way the were treated. The reference was the extent to which the10 requirements of the charter were fulfilled. Some interesting conclusions are: the longer the service chain (i.e. the greater the number of organizations involved), the lower the satisfaction rate. And when citizens do have a choice in the way their problem is solved, their satisfaction rate is higher. It must be noted that there are big differences in rating between the life events.
The survey produces detailed content about the reasons for the results and gives clues for improvement action. Both successes and failures provide lessons learned.
The highest rated life event is Buying (and Owning) a Car. The reason is that it is a short chain (the number of organizations involved is limited: Car register, Police, Garage, Insurance Company), they work closely together (both public and private organizations), there is a clear chain manager (the Car Register), and the procedures have been highly digitized. Citizens find the charter requirements about convenience important and rate the cooperation highly. In case your licence plates are stolen, the Garage takes care of all things that have to be done with the chain partners.
Two events in the bottom 10 are: Being Fired (Unemployed): Citizens find the charter requirements about active involvement important, but rate them low, mainly for lack of choice and poor support. And Having a Handicapped child: 8 to 10 organizations involved, complicated regulations, different insurance, many patient files, and so on.
Q5. The life event survey is focused on the “service delivery chain”, without any specific input on the performance of the single administration. Have you foreseen any form of integration between this kind of measurement and those that are undertaken by the individual administration?
A5. The survey actually measures the satisfaction on three levels: the individual organizations involved, the service chain for a given event and government as a whole. In the 2010 survey the aggregate marks were 6.9, 6.7, and 6.4 (on a scale from 1 – 10). This implies that there is a “loss” of quality perceived when collaboration is required.
The figures about the performance of a single organization have indeed been compared with the outcome of already existing measurement frameworks. These turned out to be roughly the same. The mark for the service chain being lower than for the single organization is mainly due to contradictory information and lack of cooperation.
Q6. Going through some results related to the 2008 survey, the method “Customer Journey Mapping” is mentioned as a tool for better tackling the “service experience”, starting from the point of view of the user. Could you tell as more about this method and the related application in terms of service improvement?
A6. Since the rating of single organizations composing the service chain differs quite a lot, “the good ones suffer form the bad ones”. This very outcome created consensus for the next step: how to improve performance together. The customer journey mapping approach does exactly what is says: mapping step by step, with people from both supply and demand involved, what happens to the “victim”. In this way chain deficiencies were discovered which until then were unknown. In order to remedy these, a number of life events were selected that were deemed critical (low rating or high exposure) such as Bereavement, Unemployment and Moving. Lessons learned (also from successes) were subsequently applied to other life events.
The eCitizen Charter covers all aspects of the relationship between citizen and government: information, transaction and participation. The charter does consider the citizen not only as a passive customer, but also as an active member of society. So it is also applicable today in the field of web 2.0 and social media. Therefore it plays an important role in the current transition from Electronic government (public service delivery) to Collaborative Governance (creating public value).
The relevance today of the charter is that enhances transparency, which not only is a condition for improving service quality, but also helps to reduce the administrative burden of bureaucracy. So it supports austerity measures that are necessary to fight again corruption and to resolve the present debt crisis.