WASHINGTON, USA -- The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has launched two studies that show the low regard citizens, including those in Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, have for the quality of public services they receive and how innovation can help make these services less bureaucratic.
In the first report, Simplifying Lives: Quality and Satisfaction with Public Services, citizens of Latin America and the Caribbean give a low rating to common government procedures such as getting a doctor’s appointment or reporting a robbery, in a survey that used Facebook to increase reach and lower costs.
A second study, Governments that Serve: Innovations that are Improving Service Delivery to Citizens, looks at innovative ways to provide government services.
Low score for common procedures
The first study on quality, the average satisfaction score for procedures was 4.8 on a scale from 1 (worse) to 10 (best) – below similar measurements in developed economies (64/100 in the United States). Two out of every five individuals surveyed want to complete the procedures online.
The study looked at satisfaction levels in Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. The idea was to obtain a representative sample that tracked the institutional, social and economic reality of all Latin America and the Caribbean.
The poll was done online using Facebook to reach more citizens. Over 11,000 responses were obtained on six common procedures: getting disability benefits; getting a doctor’s appointment in the public health system; reporting a robbery; registering for a birth certificate; registering a child in a public school; and renewing an identification document.
The highest score was to renew an ID, with a 5.8. Reporting a robbery received the lowest rating, with 3.6. The satisfaction or dissatisfaction scores were similar across all countries, with Uruguay getting the best rating with 5.1 and Trinidad and Tobago getting the lowest, with a 4.6. Surprisingly, younger people rated services higher than older people.
Each procedure was scored on multiple variables, from the treatment meted out by bureaucrats to delays. Citizens said they valued most that the procedures were done quickly, followed by the courtesy shown by public officials and receiving a fair treatment.
“To better serve citizens, you need to measure satisfaction. This is something any company already knows and governments are no different,” said Carlos Santiso, the chief for the Institutional Capacity of the State division at the IDB. “the low level of satisfaction is a powerful warning that procedures are too complex and bureaucratic. This undermines trust in public institutions.”
Using Facebook enabled researchers to reach a broader audience at a cost that is one third of a person-to-person survey. The final sample was adjusted to reflect the overall population in terms of gender, age, location, and income levels. In addition, in Paraguay a traditional survey was carried out in parallel with the Facebook one and results were similar in both instances.
How to innovate in public services
The second report shows how it is possible to reform bureaucracies to improve citizen services. Using a common analytical framework, the study reviews select cases to better understand how innovation works by looking at multiple dimensions such as technological platforms, regulatory frameworks, inter-agency coordination, citizen participation, and governance.
The study includes contributions by experts such as Stephen Goldsmith, from the Ash Center of the Kennedy School of Government in Harvard University, and Maryantonett Flumian, of the Institute on Governance, in Canada. Drawing from lessons learned in several countries, it provides a guide on government interventions based on three recommendations:
• Better integrate to guard against multiple level institutional information fragmentation
• Simplify, to facilitate transactions and reduce costs borne by users and
• Manage, to ensure reforms are sustainable, with an adequate use of resources and quality of service.
“Bureaucratic dysfunction and institutional weaknesses in the public sector have distanced governments from the citizens they serve,” said Santiso. “Many governments understand that providing good service is a way to regain public trust quickly. The good news is that many governments are looking for ways to make bureaucracies nimbler to help the day-to-day lives of citizens. These studies can help in the implementation of these reforms.”