According to the people who know it best – its residents – Toronto is clean, green and a great place to live. Residents see Toronto as a safe, cosmopolitan city, with world-class amenities, including a top-notch transportation system and excellent schools. Despite the high marks, however – and despite the comprehensive healthcare they receive from the Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP) – Toronto residents do see room for improvement in key areas including health, public safety and transportation.
Accenture obtained these insights through our Institute for Public Service Value’s Global Cities Forum program – a multi-city, multi-year initiative designed to explore how governments can improve the social and economic conditions of the people they serve. In September 2008, Accenture assembled 60 Toronto residents from all walks of life for a day of “deliberative research.” The Forum generated in-depth discussions on how residents feel about the delivery of public services, their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, and their relationships to their local and regional governments.
To a great extent, Toronto residents reflected the largely positive attitudes that we have seen Canadian citizens express about their government. We have conducted research in more than 20 countries over the last eight years to help government organizations better understand how they can serve their customers and citizens, and Canada is one of only three countries (along with Singapore and Ireland) in which more than 50 percent of respondents rated their government as “doing a good job in delivering a better quality of life for themselves and their families.”
As was the case in other cities, participants in the Toronto forum focused on ways in which government could maintain and improve the quality of their lives. There was plenty of good news. The Toronto participants felt, overall, that their city is an excellent place to live. A full 32 percent of Toronto residents rated their city as a “world class” place to live and work, more than in New York (29 percent,) Tokyo (8 percent) or Rome (3 percent.) Only the residents of Sydney rated their city higher, with 49 percent describing the Australian city as world-class. Participants described Toronto as “friendly,” “clean,” “vibrant,” “exciting” and “diverse.”
While residents gave their city overall good marks – especially in comparison to other large cities around the world – there were some areas that fell short of expectations, reflecting their belief that government could be doing more, not just in delivery of service, but in communicating measures taken to ensure transparency and accountability.
In the area of health, for instance, 70 percent of Toronto participants said that health care currently falls short of their expectations, with only 7 percent saying that it exceeds their expectations. Torontonians want government to take action to reduce waiting times and improve the accessibility of high-quality health care by reforming the Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and addressing the shortage of doctors in the city.
In fairness to OHIP, it should be noted that Global Forum participants all around the world tend to claim that health care falls short of expectations, with more than 60 percent of people in Sydney, Toronto, Tokyo, London, Los Angeles and Rome rating health services as failing to meet their expectations.
Public safety was another area where Toronto residents felt there was room for improvement. Toronto residents feel that their city is not as safe as it once was, as a result of rising gun and knife crime. “Crime in Toronto is fairly new. We were not prepared for it. Ten years ago you never heard of it and now gangs are everywhere,” said one participant.
Residents want government to address the root causes of crime, including unemployment, poverty, family breakdown and a lack of education. Participants also asserted that the criminal justice system needs to be reformed and longer sentences imposed by the courts to deter people from committing crimes.
Participants also said that congestion had worsened and that to improve Toronto residents’ quality of life they want government to make the public transport system more accessible, reliable and extensive so that taking public transport becomes a realistic alternative to driving. They highlighted the need for public transport organizations to be more transparent and accountable to ensure that public money is spent effectively.
Accenture also asked Toronto Forum participants to assess the impact of three global trends: the environment and global warming, the movement of people around the world, and the rapid development of information technology and collection of personal data. These trends are representative of what Accenture calls the “Multi-Polar World,” i.e., a world characterized by multiple centers of economic power and activity, in which countries have become increasingly interdependent, and the quality of life enjoyed by citizens in one country is greatly affected by global factors over which no single country has control.
In regard to the environment and global warming, Toronto Forum participants want government to develop long-term, coordinated strategies while engaging and educating citizens so that they can actively contribute to the effort to address environmental issues. Specifically, they feel that government has a responsibility to promote green consumer behavior.
Participants asserted that government should do more to maximize the benefits of immigration – for example, by making it easier for immigrants to transfer their qualifications from their country of origin to Canada. While Toronto residents welcome immigrants to the city, they also express concerns about the burdens that population growth places on transit, education and the environment.
Participants expressed some concerns about the development of information technology and the collection of personal data. They felt, for example, that members of the public do not know who is holding their personal data, what data organizations have collected (or how) and how it is being used. They wanted to see government and individual organizations instituting more stringent data-security mechanisms and data-usage policies to ensure that individuals authorize the use of their data and understand how their data is being used.
A Framework for Improvement
The Accenture Global Cities Forum format offers participants a chance to develop approaches to solving problems, as well. As part of the session, participants formulated a set of principles that they believe should guide service delivery across all public services. These principles seek to address what people perceive to be the current shortcomings in public service delivery and include:
1. A long-term outlook – Toronto residents feel it is vital for government to take a long-term outlook in order to improve people’s quality of life. In contrast to many of the other Global Forum cities, however, the residents of Toronto believe that people and government must act together to address the city’s problems. Citizens should not only be active in making decisions affecting public services, they should have a role to play in improving social conditions.
2. Coordination and communication – Toronto residents see tremendous value in an integrated approach among agencies and governments, with federal, provincial and municipal authorities working more closely and sharing results. This, they believe, would make public services easier to use, provide higher-quality and more personalized services, and help to address the complex root causes of social problems in