Some of July’s literature findings

July 16, 2008

On the subject of metrics, in his introduction to Shewhart (1986, p. i), W. Edwards Deming states that:

“There is no true value of anything. There is, instead, a figure that is produced by application of a master ideal method of counting or of measurement. This figure may be accepted as a standard until the method of measurement is supplanted by experts in the subject matter with some other method and some other figure.”

On the choice of metrics, Anderson & McAdam (2004, p. 476) argue that:

The design, implementation and use of measurements should be a simultaneous and continuously evolving process in which changes in the strategic direction and learning requirements of an organization are constantly accounted for, a speedy and effective implementation of the formulated strategy is to be achieved.

Thinking about when and where to measure Adcroft & Willis (2006, p. 394 – 395) argue that: “much of public sector provision should be treated in a gestalt manner where the overall quality of the provision is determined by how the individual elements fit together.” This would appear to be supported by Johnston (1995, p. 99) who states:

“Attempts to increase satisfaction rather than the removal of dissatisfaction maybe has been the down fall of many quality improvement or so-called TQM programmes.[…] Maybe without a strategy that includes both dissatisfaction removal and satisfaction increase, or at least dissatisfaction removal first, staff and, indeed, customers could become justly cynical of the organization’s attempt to improve service quality.”

Johnston (2001, p.67) has further argued that:

“Financial benefits accrue from satisfying and retaining dissatisfied customers through service recovery, by using information from complaints to improve both operational and organisational-wide processes and by satisfying and retaining employees.

In Johnston (2004, p.131), the same author concludes that:

“Dealing with problems and queries appears to be a critical determinant as to whether an organisation is perceived as excellent or poor. Customers much prefer an organisation to deliver its promise but are prepared to accept problems.”

In fact, Roch (2004, p. 25) concludes that:

“citizens with low trust in government that monitor government more closely will translate negative personal experiences into negative perceptions of collective-level experiences. The resulting political judgements will have  larger degree of bias, and these biased judgements may lead to the creation of an environment in which it is difficult for government to succeed. Thus, this research suggests that what might appear to government officials as changes in the level of citizens’ satisfaction with government services, may in fact be the effect of the changing levels of trust on the relationship between citizens’ perceptions of personal and collective-level experiences.”

This may indicate the lesser value of the general annual or biennial satisfaction surveys. The general opinion from the above supports the Parsimonius e-Government Management Theory that I outlined earlier in the blog.

Another survey approach is to measure the gap between service expectations and what is delivered, which is explored and described by Accounts Commission for Scotland (1999, p. 3) which states that: “It is only by explicitly assessing expectations as well as perceptions that we can determine whether there are any service quality gaps in terms of the services we provide.”

In terms of customer metrics the U.S. General Services Administration (2005.p. 92) lists eight practical guidelines” around citizen satisfaction information. The first has a quantitative “value” of satisfaction for use as a yardstick against trends, the second proposes using qualitative information for areas where they are not meeting expectations, the third employs satisfaction information to correlate performance against performance metrics to ensure best use of resources. The fourth guideline encourages the use of surveys at the end of a contact or within reasonable timescales.

Considering whether to call the pubic customers or citizens, the  debate was developed by Denhardt & Denhardt (2000, p. 555) in their critique of New Public Management where as the fourth of seven lessons they propose that:

“The public interest results from a dialogue about shared values, rather than the aggregation of individual self-interests. Therefore, public servants do not merely respond to the demands of “customers,” but focus on building relationships of trust and collaboration with and among citizens. […] Government also serves those who may be waiting for service, those who may need the service even though they are not actively seeking it, future generations of service recipients, relatives and friends of the immediate recipient, and so on. There may even be customers who don’t want to be customers – such as those receiving a speeding ticket.”


Denhardt, R. B., Denhardt, J.V., (2000). “The New Public Service: Serving Rather than Steering.” Public Administration Review 60(6): 549 – 559.

Johnston, R. (1995). “The determinants of service quality: satisfiers and dissatisfiers.” International Journal of Service Industry Management 6(5): 53 -71.

Johnston, R. (2001). “Linking complaint managment to profit.” International Journal of Service Industry Management 12(1): 60 – 69.

Johnston, R. (2004). “Towards a better understanding of service excellence.” Managing Service Quality 14(2/3): 129 – 133.

Roch, C. H. (2004). Using Citizens’ Judgements as an Accountability Mechanism in Democratic Governance: Considering Perceptions of Personal and Collective Experience. Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science association. Chicago, IL.

Shewart, W. A. (1986). Statistical Method from the Viewpoint of Quality Control. New York, Dover Publications

U.S. General Services Administration (2005). Improving Citizen Customer Service, U.S. General Services Administration


Systems thinking, control charts and philosophy

May 30, 2008

Spent an interesting few hours on the 29th May at a meeting of the ‘north of england transformation network’ meeting in Brighouse, West Yorkshire – – thanks for the invite, folks!

Bizarrely, the talk by Dr Mark Wilcox entitled ‘Predicting performance – our debt to Shewhart’ was a fascinating journey through the sources of thought in both Shewart and Deming and brought up Heraclitus who I mentioned in an earlier item. Mark was relating the link with the philosophical school of Pragmatism, popular in the USA in the early 20th century, along with A.N.Whitehead. It appears that both Shewhart and Deming had read C.I.Lewis’s book ‘Mind and the World Order‘ on multiple occasions. Since Shewart was originator of the control chart, which is a fundamental aspect of systems thinking, hearing the part various other authors helped to play in its development demonstrated to me how it all came together and was still developing.

I also tested out my theory, that dissatisfaction would make a suitable metric for customer service in local government despite my inability to express it as a variation, without any serious disputes with some of the other attendees.

Perhaps some things are becoming clearer to me, if they weren’t before?

  • Those seeking to improve services before, since and during the e-government era, continue to do so!
  • Whilst seeing better ways of doing things, they might have failed to join up in a crusade against the promoters of targets (in practice) but are able to be joined up quite nicely around the theory.

Why I’m taken with this is that the promoters of lean thought argue for the sorting out of processes initially with the customer involved, then we do the IT stuff!