Single-window service delivery (or one-stop shopping) has become an integral part of public administration. Operating under the new name of Integrated Service Delivery (ISD) agencies, it brings together services across departments and across governments, in a seamless experience based on citizens’ wants and needs.
This article considers emerging and possible future developments through four windows of opportunity.
1. Engaging the community
Much is heard about citizen and employee engagement, but little attention has been given to “community” engagement, especially as it relates to service delivery. In this context, community engagement entails ISD agencies leveraging their physical presence in communities to improve service to individuals. Those organizations with an extensive network of service centres are best positioned to pursue community engagement successfully – Service Canada has service centres in 320 communities across the country and Service BC has service centres in 59 communities across the province.
Community engagement for improved service involves staff members “stepping out” of the office to collaborate with such stakeholders as community and advocacy groups (e.g., those supporting new immigrants, the homeless and youth), business organizations, labour organizations, and other orders of government. The challenge is to bring these several community actors together in collaborative arrangements that integrate services for clients. This can be accomplished through arrangements such as partnerships, consultations and contracts.
Effective community engagement requires ISD staff to: seek information about their clients from a variety of service providers in the community; assess the needs of these clients; share this information among the stakeholders; and use the information to foster improved service in the community. Ideally, the data collected about each community is aggregated at a provincial or national level to inform central office policies and programs on service delivery.
Very few ISD agencies are pursuing community engagement in this sense. The international leader is Australia’s Centrelink, and there are helpful lessons from Service South Australia, the Strengthening Families initiative in New Zealand, and Jobcentre Plus in the U.K. Service Canada is currently examining the implications of implementing a community engagement strategy.
Among the potential benefits of community engagement are:
· increased collaboration among government, community and business;
· a fuller and more integrated picture of citizens’ needs and preferences;
· the creation of partnerships to provide services otherwise unavailable; and,
· a more positive view of agency staff dedicated to serving their communities.
The challenges to community engagement include:
· acquiring sufficient resources to develop and implement innovative practices;
· granting service centres sufficient autonomy from headquarters to enable them to adapt engagement activities to community needs and resources; and,
· providing training to foster a culture of service excellence in general and a strong commitment to effective community engagement in particular.
2. Cross-jurisdictional ISD
While Canada is a world leader in the transformation of service delivery, the integration of services across jurisdictions has proved, in general, to be much more difficult than across departments within a government. Nevertheless, progress has been made in the Canada Business Service Centres, BizPaL and Seniors Canada Online.
An obviously fertile field for cross-jurisdictional service integration is federal-provincial. However, given the many barriers to cross-jurisdictional ISD agencies and the recency of these agencies, joined-up initiatives have been limited. Among notable initiatives is the collaboration agreement between Service New Brunswick (SNB), Service Canada and Transport Canada to deliver pleasure craft licences on behalf of Transport Canada at SNB’s 36 service centres. And ServiceOntario, in collaboration with Service Canada, offers a Newborn Registration Service. This “3-in-1” system permits parents to register their child’s birth online and apply for a birth certificate and Social Insurance Number all at the same time.
Service Canada and ServiceOntario have 94 and 70 service centers, respectively, across Ontario, with outreach services to remote communities. The two have already established six co-located offices; Service Canada staff deliver scheduled outreach services at eight ServiceOntario local offices; and the two agencies are collaborating on linking Internet sites and making each other’s most popular publications available. In future, they might consider the cross delivery of services, including, for example, the delivery of federal Social Insurance Number registrations by ServiceOntario and Health Card registrations by Service Canada.
There are thorny barriers to the cross-delivery of services, but there are also considerable opportunities for improved service and cost efficiency. The challenges include: training staff to deliver the other jurisdiction’s programs; overcoming technological incompatibilities; coordinating outreach services; and managing the collection of fees for each other. The most formidable challenge, regardless of the project, is likely to be privacy and security concerns.
3. Safeguarding privacy and security
Advocates of inter-jurisdictional ISD are acutely aware of the barriers presented by the different privacy and security requirements of each government. Public servants understand that success depends heavily on information sharing, which in turn requires citizens’ confidence that this information will be kept confidential and secure. Since June 2006 Canada’s deputy ministers responsible for service delivery have given high priority to the cross-jurisdictional standardization of identity management and authentication (IdM&A) for citizens and businesses. They also established a task force, with representatives from all orders of government, to develop a pan-Canadian strategy for IdM&A.
In its April 2007 interim report, the task force identified three key challenges to implementing such a strategy:
1. complying with legislation – including some that is sector or program specific and may impede the use or sharing of data related to certain services;
2. balancing needs – recognizing that achieving seamless service delivery (involving more information sharing) and privacy protection (involving less information sharing) requires a delicate balance and creative solutions; and,
3. obtaining broad acceptance – by the public, and by multiple privacy commissioners.
The task force concluded that identity information can likely “be shared in many cases across departments and jurisdictions for the purpose of providing a seamless, multi-channel service experience” so long as this is “done in a controlled way and with the knowledge and consent of the client, where appropriate.” The task force is nearing completion of a pan-Canadian IdM&A framework that it will be asking Canadian governments to adopt.
4. Virtual service networks
Collaboration for service delivery between the public and business sectors has advanced more slowly in Canada than many ISD advocates anticipated. In the United States, governments have made more use of business organizations to pursue citizen-centred service. For example, BearingPoint consulting has partnered with Texas to provide an award-winning online portal that integrates state and local governments into