Tail wagging dog?

The document produced by the Improvment & Development Agency ‘Reducing avoidable contact – a gude to NI 14’ only further confirms the limited value of this ministerial indicator.

On page 13 it states that an approach is being exploited that will “design services that reflect the needs of customers not arbitrary targets or performamnce measures”, which seem to contradict the ‘raison d’etre’ of NI 14 itself?

On page 18 is the statement “Understanding the demand and thus avoidable contact will not necessarily be easy”, which is true but I can’t see how the relationship has been established at this stage, ‘avoidable contact’ or ‘failure demand’ cannot by themselves indicate where the problem exists, they indicate an issue with the whole system of in the case of a summary indicator, the entirity of council services.

On page 21 we have the very obvious: “local authorities should look for what is regularly (in other words predictably) being raised by customers as a problem”. I would argue that regularity and predicatbility are an indication that the citizen has waited too long! The first report of a problem. or dissatisfaction, should set alarm bells ringing, if only quietly!

Primarily, page 34 says it all: “Finally, we should not forget the contribution of customers themselves. Not only will they often help you to identify instances of avoidable contact (…), they may also be able to suggest improvements (…). You may therefore want to consider how you can pick up key instances of avoidable contact in any surveys or focus groups you run with citizens. And where your analysis is telling you there is a problem is a particular service area or customer group, you will need to think how best to get customer input into the redesign of the service.”

Which all seems to be to be the tail wagging the dog! If the systems are designed around the citizen in the first place and recording of dissatisfaction is in place and actioned, the ‘avoidable contact’ will be only what is required as part of the system, where legislation enforces it for example and which central government needs to resolve or leave. Some of the classic examples are around electoral registration where an e-form can be made available but cannot be returned electronically, since it requires a signature and then must be returned by post or face-to-face, which probably falls in the realm of exceptional circumstances (page 40).

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