Anyone who remembers the 1980s has to acknowledge how far governments and their agencies have travelled in improving service in the past generation or so. Government, which typically offered rude and uncompromising service, now has a (mostly) smiling face.
The quality of government services is acknowledged by respondents to various surveys and a key player in this field has been the Citizens First initiative piloted by the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service. (Full disclosure, I directed the Citizens First 2000 project a long time ago, and also helped establish the ICCS when I was Director of Research at the Institute of Public Administration of Canada.)
ICCS’s latest study on what people think of government service, showcased in the June 2015 issue of Canadian Government Executive by Michael Dziong, its Manager of Research, has to be read and studied by anyone who provides services to Canadians.
But more than that, we have to act on its lessons – and those of other authoritative surveys that document how Canadians feel about government services. Roger Oldham argues that there is still a “government-first” mindset in too many bureaucracies that is stemming progress. I was reminded of this a few weekends ago when Toronto held its ever-popular “Open House” day. That was a weekend the TTC decided to shut down the main subway line. This is service? Whose interest came first?
A few years ago, I worked with three brilliant fellows (John Langford, Cosmo Howard and Jeff Roy) to write The Service State: Rhetoric, Reality and Promise (University of Ottawa Press). We argued that government had to take bolder steps in integrating services and in designing new services (not just reinventing old ones) to help Canadians help themselves. As I look at the paltry use of the ServiceCanada channel on YouTube, I have to wonder. They are helpful, but people clearly are not aware of them. Why are these videos not used more often? And where are the municipal and provincial service agencies? Why are they not on YouTube? Are we to assume that government has answered every possible question?
If nothing else, a better YouTube presence might alert our politicians to the crying need for them to care about customer service. Their silence on these issues – to say nothing of their inadequate financial support – is troubling. That raises another issue for government executives: how to develop that sixth sense of political acumen in order to better communicate with ministers and parliamentarians. Peter P. Constantinou starts to address that sensitive question in this issue.
To view the June 2015 edition or other editions of Canadian Government Executive, sign up for a free membership by visiting our Digital Edition section.