Customer need and public service

April 6, 2008

Reading the paper by Fountain and thinking about the Circle of Need from the NWEGG report, I started to recall Heraclitus’ quotation that one can’t step into the same river twice.
This might been seen as an analogy of the public sector customer, who has a changing set of needs, rights and obligations. If the needs are met and the rights upheld, the citizen is satisfied, if the citizen meets their obligations, the government is satisfied and this is is reflected upon the citizen.
The river is bounded by the passage of time and its contents those needs, rights and obligations. The public servant, in this analogy, is therefore the trustee, warden or bailiff of that everflowing stream, attempting to make sure that the citizen gets what they deserve and the water keeps flowing.
Where does electronic government fit into all this? We need to be able to make the citizen aware of their obligations electronically, whilst providing for their needs through joined-up processes and observing their rights whilst doing this, and that is the role of the public servants on behalf of the politicians. What about the politicians? Well, they act as lifeguards making sure everyone gets what they need in and out of the river, whilst observing their rights are preserved and they deliver their obligations…

Is there a public service ethic?

April 5, 2008

I recently read a paper by Jane E. Fountain of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University (Paradoxes of Public Sector Customer Service, Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration, Vol 14, No 1, January 2001, (pp. 55 – 73)), where she states that:

“Civil servants and the political institutions that they enliven play an important role in the development of the polity. Not only do they respond to expressed interests; at their best, they foster dialogue among the polity, educate citizens, and broaden deliberation to include the voices and needs of excluded, poorly represented, and future participants. Public servants lacking deep socialization in their administrative duty are incapable of fulfilling their trusteeship obligations. Private sector employees – agents hired to deliver privatized government services – have no socialization into or incentives to fulfill any obligations of trusteeship.”

Whilst this is primarily an argument against outsourcing of services, it is also a reminder to public servants of their role in developing the democratic ideal, particularly if they don’t wish to be outsourced and instead be recognised for the added-value they provide…

This is incredibly important in the delivery of services to ALL the public.