September 2, 2012

Policing is a public service that doesn’t often get viewed as a system or as a system of parts in the same way that health or government are. That was until Simon Guilfoyle, John Seddon and others looked at it. Simon is a serving officer with an interest in systems thinking and I had the pleasure of seeing a presentation by him earlier this year at a NET2 meeting. Following the meeting he kindly forwarded me a recent paper he’d had published entitled “On target? – Public Sector Performance Management: Recurrent Themes, Consequences and Questions“, Policing (2012).

As the paper’s title infers it puts policing performance management into the same context as the rest of the public sector with all the bad practices that are frequently pointed out there. In line with the theme of this blog there is the notion that public satisfaction rates are a potential indicator, although some refining may be required to gain understanding in context i.e. cold feedback won’t do on its own. The paper also warns of the likely effect of  gaming when employing emotive targets, something that Simon went into some detail in during his presentation.

In this context John Seddon is just starting his “The Evidence Tour” and launching the second volume of “Delivering Public Services That Work”. The presentations are free and I recommend those involved in public services give him a listen and ask questions. With the introduction of elected police commissioners later this year the whole matter of police performance targets is likely to take on added weight as pre and post election gaming occurs.


Uncivil service

June 12, 2011

My acquaintance John Seddon has much to say about how business practices within the UK government are focused on the benefit of those responsible for the service, rather than those receiving them. A recent need to contact the HMRC, our taxation body – once widely feared as ‘the revenue’ confirmed this in many ways.

I’d recently received the annual statement regarding Tax Credits, this consisted of  four pages of statement, largely repeating itself, along with two pages of densely packed explanatory notes. Within the four pages of statement was a question regarding mine and my partner’s income. I don’t believe our incomes have changed much in the last twelve months, but the government has and so I expect a bracket I once fitted in has been removed. Answering this question with a ‘NO’ required the recipient to telephone HMRC.

I tried ringing one day and I was advised that there could be a long wait due to industrial action, so I left it. I tried another time and gave up after a lengthy wait. On the third occasion of waiting, and having answered a lengthy series of ‘press 1 for this’, and ‘press 2 for that’ instructions a lethargic voice finally answered (this was after at least fifteen minutes of hanging on).

I explained that I was ringing in response to answering ‘NO’ to a question in Step 1, under Step C of their Annual Review. I gave her my NI number and she responded that HMRC and their partner organisation Experian required me to prove my identity, and commenced asking me a string of detailed questions including the month and year I had moved into my current home and my previous employer. Since both of these had occurred nearly 25 years earlier I had some problems recalling them at the drop of a hat.

I was then informed that my answers were unsatisfactory and that I would have to attend an interview at my nearest HMRC office to prove my identity. At this point I said ‘enough’. I know who I am, I bank online with a range of providers, renew my car tax online and many other things, but this was taking a liberty, not just any liberty but my liberty.

As stated with the mention of John Seddon, the HMRC is well known to be dysfunctional. It even has a website dedicated to its dysfunction ‘HMRC is Shite’, The issue I have described is raised amongst those pages in a piece called ‘Hanging on the telephone’. This new ‘system’ has to be one of the worst examples of central government bureaucracy gone mad, by turning the horror of the Tax Credit system into a nightmare for any user.

I await the response to my written complaint, there apparently being no other way to contact the HMRC in this context.

Promises, pledges and satisfaction

October 6, 2008

One of my regular correspondents, even if he doesn’t respond on the blog, is Angus Doulton of EiP, who I am presenting with at their annual conference in November.

Angus had been considering my conference paper and was criticising my proposal about using ‘satisfaction’ as a measure! I admitted that I had come to agree with that – its use for things like the Place survey had reduced any value it once had, citizens probably provide the quality of their last experience with the organization as a value, not an average figure or something of use!

A very current paper by Oliver James of the University of Exeter entitled “Evaluating the Expectations Disconfirmationand Expectations Anchoring Approaches to Citizen Satisfaction with Local Public Services’ supports this approach. Moving on from the classic work by Parasuraman et al and also Van Ryzin’s practical testing of it, James’ conclusion is that managing expectations and perceived outcomes is very important. He also reflects upon the binary measures of dissatisfaction and satisfaction.

Hence, perhaps slightly in parallel with Angus, I am getting a stronger perception that the value comes in collating dissatisfaction and measuring it as a binary by channel to consider channel use, migration and transfer. We need to have anchored expectations and determine what the gap is between that and what is delivered, these should be the variations that flag up when service improvement is required.

Vanguard (John Seddon and associates) in their latest report on National Indicator 14 (avoidable contact) make the statement that “managing value is the key to removing failure and that in managing value you need measures that relate to purpose from the customers’ point of view.”

Angus himself has proffered ‘service promises’ as a solution, which seems, coincidentally, to reflect a proposal in the new future of policing Green Paper about a policing pledge! These are not too far away the anchored expectations gap, the question is: what do we use for the actual metric for the range of services and channels, can promises or pledges be set for them all, or do we seek out dissatisfaction and cure it?

At the EiP conference we will be trying to clarify potential measures derived from promises and pledges and produce something of use to practitioners and of value to the citizen.

James, O. (2007). “Evaluating the Expectations Disconfirmation and Expectations Anchoring Approaches to Citizen Satisfaction with LocalPublic Services.” Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory: 1 – 17.

Van Ryzin, G. G., Immerwahr, S., (2007). “Importance-Performance Analysis of Citizen Satisfaction Surveys.” Public Administration 85(1): 215 – 226.

Parasuraman, A., Zeithaml, V.A., Berry, L.L., (1988). “SERVQUAL: A multiple-item scale for measuring consumer perceptions of service quality.” Journal of Retailing 64(1 Spring): 12-40.