World Class

July 26, 2009

Another document recently appearing on the Cabinet Office web site – if only you all had time to read them all – is “Power in People’s Hands: Learning from the World’s Best Public Services“. Its 70 A4 landscape pages may be picking up on the interest Liam Byrne and David Milliband have been demonstrating in Nobel prizewinner Amartya Sen’s work, whose latest book “The Idea of Justice” is freshly published.

I don’t know if the Cabinet Office realise how insulting works like theirs can be, since many of their examples of good practice are actually in use in the UK, but people are too busy doing them to shout about it! At least on this occasion they have started calling the government’s customers “citizens” and taking a look at all the good practice from Canada, who probably do better at service delivery since they have insited upon calling the users of government services “citizens” for many years!

Key conclusions of the report – common standards, greater incentives for improvement and promotion of equity!

I didn’t need a study tour to tell me that, just a bit of study!


If you are interested and, preferably, in UK local government please complete the survey, it doesn’t take long at all. I’ll keep feeding back through these pages, which are also covered by and PSF.



London calling! Revisiting NI14…

November 3, 2008

I travelled to an event today (3rd November 2008) hosted near the Tower of London all about National Indicator 14 for some further discussion of it. On the journey I was reviewing the literature about gaps and concluded that life was to short to cope with detailed gap analysis, so I’m hypothesising that citizen engagement feedback can be used to handle them, but hopefully that will all come out at the EiP conference in a week’s time!

Rather than a verbatim report, thought I’d pick up on the highlights or useful points that came out at the conference…

One of the introductions was by Sarah Fogden, reported to be inventor of NI14 and arch-nemesis of John Seddon, originator of the concept of demand failure, which Sarah highlighted by stating that she didn’t mind what the indicator was called but one was needed to satisfy the process-driven people at Whitehall, when I’d always thought they were target-driven and thought that all our problems would be solved if they were lead by process or system! She also tied the words ‘holistic’ and ‘transformation’ together – I wonder what Jan Smuts the South African statesman would think were he still around eighty years on? (Smuts’ definition – “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution”.

She did say to focus upon the key priorities of the organisation, use the CRM system to assist; that there is no right way to do it and that the overall figure for NI14 is meaningless…

Tom Wraith of the Audit Commission had little new to say but was still interesting when he stated that NI14 was:

  • the most frequently queried indicator
  • unlike most indicators
  • had far less prescription
  • moved on from BV157
  • a tool for self-improvement
  • AC won’t be directly comparing but they had a duty to make it public
  • what’s included is up to you!
  • The CLG edict that there was a need to ‘justify methodology’ was a little harsher than AC would have desired
  • It would be used as part of the conversation/dialogue with authorities about managing resources
  • Needed to be triangulated with the evidence

He was asked by Tony Hinkley who has been working for ESD-Toolkit on NI14 whether it was their intention to make it compulsory to use the Local Government Service List (LGSL) which I believe he confirmed?

Kate Batty from Tameside said that NI14 was not the whole answer but that ESD-Toolkit, Mosaic, customer journey mapping and customer service training were all part. Here words were that the order should be: people, process, then technology! One her snappy phrases was ‘lets stop worrying about measuring apples and pears and measure fruit’, which in NI14’s case was highly appropriate…

A fascinating presentation was made by Tom Benford upon the ‘call reduction strategy’ used at the DVLR. He stated that 60% of their customer wanted to use the ‘phone for service, despite frequently having got the number off the web site! In order to reduce avoidable contact and the number of telephone calls they’d looked at the end-to-end customer experience and the process times. As a result they’d made a number of changes:

  • revised the content
  • put their the actual questions being asked on the web
  • made their URL’s friendly
  • put a link from the online directory enquiries to the web site
  • adopted plain English
  • redesigned customer-facing documents especially the highly used ones
  • cross-referenced material with online content
  • moved away from using form numbers
  • agreed customer-meaningful turnaround times for metrics
  • revised telephone book entries – put web site address first but also numbers which may not be their services but which the public think they do

One question revealed that despite not being NI14, the resultant transformation was possibly more effective than NI14

It was also stated that no local authority had included NI14 within their quota of targets for LAA…

NI14 had shifted to being outcome focused

Blackpool had realised that their ‘Customer First’ wasn’t working so they listened to customer demand for six weeks, wrote everything down and from this extracted 4000 demands, 121 of true value under seven  broad themes. With their turnover of residents they found change of address to be the most frequent demand and focused upon that initially. Their motto was “in a perfect world, how would we serve the customer?”

A lesson from Halton to their staff when training was: “to think of it from the customer’s view!”

I hope the Cabinet Office don’t mind me publicising the fact that the presentations should be available on their web site.

NI14 – the new moneypit for IT suppliers?

July 10, 2008

A very recent promotion by a local government supplier included the following statement:

“In line with the objectives detailed in the NI14 indicator councils will be expected to halve ‘avoidable contact’ with citizens by 2011 and simplify lengthy, complicated processes, whilst reducing costs. It has been identified that face to face interactions with customers cost £9 per enquiry, telephone interactions cost £5 and web interactions just 12p. An average Local Authority that has 180,000 face to face interactions in a year could make a saving of approximately £799,200 if, in line with the objectives set by NI14 this number was halved to 90,000 (based on real figures).”

The supplier concerned hadn’t read the IDeA guidance since it hadn’t been published by that stage and was relying, I presume, on the earlier Cabinet Office information. However my main contention would be that Varney was asking for a 50% reduction in ‘avoidable contact’ by 2011, not for it to more than disappear!Even the IDeA guidance states that the private sector has 40 to 60 % ‘avoidable contact’ currently and only a few pilot authorities have actually started measuring it and attempting to reduce it. According to NWEGG the channel costs are £7.81, £4.00 and 17p respectively, which are slightly cheaper than those quoted, although there are a range of values being currently quoted however other research indicates that these vary greatly by service and an average figure may be meaningless as well as probably varying greatly by authority!

Anyway, I am completely befuddled by the figures in the example! Are we to presume that all the services were face-to-face? Or can we move some to telephone, losing some ‘avoidable contact’ in the process, but since this was a web firm I presume they are all being dealt with by e-forms, saving even more money.

It is thinking (or lack of) like this that does a dis-service to public service and the service to the public…

Satisfaction – Canadian style!

January 13, 2008

 Discovering two British Cabinet Office documents by chance when all the furore about National Indicator 14 (avoidable contact) was going on, I started to wonder why we weren’t paying further homage to activities in recent years in Canada. The structure over there is slightly different with federal and provincial governments but the Canadians have been at the forefront of e-government, from a customer perspective, for years.

So whilst we have two new documents:

How to measure customer satisfaction: A toolkit for improving the customer experience in public services

Promoting Customer Satisfaction: Guidance on improving the customer experience in Public Services

The Canadians produced:

Client Satisfaction Surveying: Common Measurements Tool

Client Satisfaction Surveying: A Managers Guide

In the late 1990’s and the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service (ICCS), which has taken over the Citizen-Centred Service Network from the Canadian Centre for Management Development  has a library of publications for download or purchase.  All the documents mentioned above are probably best sourced by ‘googling’ for them but in the case of the Canadian ones it is perhaps due to their age, the ICCS having a number of other documents available.

I must admit that Cabinet Office guidance does refer critically  to the Canadian CMT and states that Suffolk Customer Service Direct is using it, however in the model I am suggesting, granularity is kept to a minimum and equates to the CMT Outcome, since I am looking for a straightforward view across all channels. 

C’est la vie?