Real-Time Governance – A Blue-print for Government Experience

Know what real time governance is and how it empowers citizens

11 min read

Introduction & Executive Summary

The pandemic has been tantamount to displaying just how essential services provided by the government can be to ensuring the protection of citizens’ lives and livelihoods. It’s no wonder leaders’ objectives transformed overnight to find pathways towards economic growth and prosperity by focusing on human capital but centering on bettering their experiences. Countries worldwide have begun to include the importance of citizen experiences through the delivery of government services, emphasizing digital transformation to help reduce longer timelines and complexities. 

The United States Executive Order, released at the end of 2021, directs Federal agencies to center everything the government does around its citizens. Thirty-six Customer Experience initiatives focus on commitments to improve 17 Federal agencies with one key objective – To improve the lives of the citizens. The focus on government service delivery is expected to be seamless across government entities to align with delivering last-mile citizen moments. Last mile operations are defined as the point of contact between citizens and governments – examples like applying for a replacement driver’s license, filing for veterans benefits et al. – Where governments truly interact with citizens.

Governance, especially last mile delivery of services, has been an issue that received little attention and focus. It is well known that the Department of Motor Vehicles in California has a highly negative connotation regarding service delivery. Typical wait times in most California DMVs are over 2-3 hours, and very little pre-published information about documents, policies, and procedures. This leads to frustrating citizen experiences, and because of a government monopoly in providing such services as issuing vehicle registration certificates, last mile agencies (like the California DMV that deals with the ultimate public) do not find the need to be citizen-centric and genuinely care about citizens as customers. 

The big question facing the government is – can we transform our thinking, process, and policies to treat citizens like customers? 

Service Delivery & Experience Measurement

Peter Drucker – the founder of modern management and the father of management principles like “management by objectives”, published a famous quote that the private sector has embraced wholeheartedly. He proclaimed that –You can only improve what you measure” – Metrics give organizations alignment and clear directional guidance – because they are objective, measurable, and comparable. Everyone within the organization can align themselves with it. Metrics bring about accountability and clear performance guidelines. 

In the private sector, metrics like revenue, profitability, and stock price define success. However, when it comes to public services like issuing Driver’s License, for example – these metrics cannot be used. Mission-driven organizations – like NGOs, Nonprofits, and Government Services cannot have revenue-derived metrics like these. They are mission and policy-driven – not revenue or profitability driven. Yet, to get organizational alignment and excellence in service delivery – we propose that policy-makers define success criteria using customer satisfaction and citizen acceptance as a metric. This forces the government agencies to be accountable for the policy implementation and the effective delivery and execution of the policy frameworks they are entrusted with. 

Effective Governance = Policy + Implementation

We’ve all heard that success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. From governance and public policy standpoint, delivery of government services is equally important, if not more, as compared to policy frameworks and decisions. Most governments spend disproportionate intellectual resources on policy development and strategy than implementation. In cases where the policy implementation and delivery is well-executed and thought out, the cumulative effect is exponential. A great example of exponential outcomes is the online replacement green-card project of the USCIS – the department in the United States charged with immigration and naturalization services. The USCIS – paper/mail-based replacement green-card process was 6 months – and through digitization and an online portal for digitally applying for a replacement green card, this wait time was reduced to 10 days. Green-Card holders can now apply for a replacement card online and more importantly, track the progress of their application and be informed throughout the process in real-time.

Policy decisions implemented poorly or without extensive research around their implementation strategy typically fail to achieve their targeted outcomes. Government agencies must be able to “listen” to their constituents in real-time, as program implementation is underway, so they can react to roadblocks and pitfalls before they turn into angry, hostile constituents. 

We believe there are two key areas for actively listening to constituents;

1.     Service Delivery Feedback – Immediately after the delivery / at the point of delivery

2.     Program Suggestions – Done post transaction to secure ideas for improvement

Government agencies should follow the lead of tech startups in implementation – where agile and lean startups constantly listen to their customers and make incremental changes to the process and the product. This model works if there is a culture and a system for listening and reacting in real time to the operational implementation of policy outcomes. 

Citizen Satisfaction & Experience Handling

Our proposal to improve citizen satisfaction is to define a trans-organizational satisfaction metric and align the multiple stakeholders to that. There are multiple models for measuring satisfaction – including ASCI, NPS,  5-Star simplified rating for customer satisfaction (CSAT) or customer effort score (CES)  et. al – and we will compare how each of the three case studies; the models that they’ve used and commentary around them.

We, however, would like to emphasize that the measurement model should include a completely digital solution that every citizen interaction can be measured. Our analysis is, that the simple ability to measure every single service interaction is important and registers enough data points to create validity around the process. 

We don’t attempt to define the validity or efficacy of each measurement model – for example, NPS Vs. ASCI Vs. 5-Star Rating System. We believe that any of these measurement models conducted diligently and comprehensively will yield positive results. Our recommendation is more on the need for measurement than the specific model used for measurement.

Comparability & Leaderboards

One of the benefits of having well-defined metrics around citizen experience and measuring them on a unified scale is that of comparability. More often than not, the individual metrics values are generally not used. It is the relative comparability of metrics that govern behavior and success. Comparability comes in two forms;

a)     Chronological Comparability – what were the metrics vs. last quarter/last month etc?

b)     Situational Comparability – How did Region 1 do Vs. Region 2?

The fundamental human trait around competition driving performance is valid for government organizations also. After all – organizations are a collective of people. Organizations are run by humans, and at the end of the day, when government organizations are compared and rewarded, it creates a competitive environment, it drives performance. 

Digital Connectivity

The fundamental structural shift in our society today is real-time digital connectivity. There are more smartphones in India than people – approximately 1.3 smartphones for each person in India – with a population of 1.2B. With the proliferation of mobile phones, we can safely say that every citizen has a digital footprint and the end-point being the mobile phone. In fact, most digital natives today do not have a landline phone at all. Their smartphone is their primary and, in many cases, the only digital device that connects them to their community. 

To emphasize & validate this thesis as it applies to governance, we conducted primary research – in three diverse markets – the United States, India, and the United Arab Emirates. We believe these three markets represent different governance models and are at different stages of maturity and thought process regarding customer/governance interaction. 

The conclusion we draw from the above 2021 data is that governments must make policy and procedural models based on 100% digital connectivity. The citizen’s mobile phone number is the primary digital identifier for this connectivity.

This 100% Digital Connectivity presumption has a profound impact on policy-making and decisions around implementation measurements. For the first time in humanity’s existence, we can reach out to every single citizen of a country in real-time and connect with them. The importance and impact of connectivity can be seen with Facebook and WhatsApp on a peer-to-peer basis.

Passive vs. Active vs. Sample Measurement

In general, there are 3 broad measurement models that can be applied for citizen service experience and feedback;

  1. Passive 
  2. Sample
  3. Active

We will discuss the pros and cons of each of these models;

Passive Measurement

Passive experience measurement models include systems like;

  1. Suggestion Box / Comment Box 
  1. Digital Feedback / Complaint Form
  2. Feedback / Complaint Email System

We believe that passive measurement models with their optional feedback processes are ineffective. This measurement model is fundamentally useless both for broad policy based decision making as well as operational decision processes. This is largely because only the most vocal customers use it as a vehicle for complaints only when some service delivery crosses a negative threshold in their minds. This, by definition, is skewed towards the negative and creates a significant perceived bias towards the data’s results. Therefore, stakeholders are reluctant to make decisions based on passive feedback – since they feel (and rightly so) that the data is skewed to the negative.

More often than not, passive feedback models are put in place by institutions for compliance reasons – to allow them to mark a checkbox that says that the agency is listening to their constituents. 

Pros:

  • Cheap & Easy to implement 
  • Low Technology overhead

Cons :   

  • Biased data – Unusable for policy feedback
  • Metrics cannot be used for accountability and performance 

Sample Based Measurement

A sample-based measurement model would be to survey a sample of all the customer/citizen transactions every so often and test for satisfaction levels and service delivery metrics. This typically involves administering an extensive survey questionnaire to a smaller subset of the overall population and drawing inferences from it. Typically – most government agencies are mandated to measure and report on satisfaction yearly. 

Pros:

  • Very effective in understanding broad policy implications and policy effectiveness – because you can do an in-depth analysis and study of the impact of some of your policy frameworks. Survey questions can be tailored to understand specific policy proposals and their impact.
  • Easy implementation – Low technology overhead. 

Cons:

  • Cannot help with daily operational decisions. Since the sampling model is done once a year or perhaps every 6 months, daily operational decisions cannot be measured and enhanced. 
  • Does not close the loop – for service delivery and cannot be used for continuous last-mile accountability.

Active Measurement

Text-Survey.png

An active real-time feedback infrastructure – that is based on digital mediums like Email, SMS and Mobile App – allows for all interactions between government and citizens to be rated and measured. Systems that measure 100% of all interactions make it easy for citizens to rate and give continuous service feedback via SMS, mobile apps – are called active measurement systems.

This model follows the very effective service feedback programs that companies like Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon have implemented, which are described as user-based post-transaction rating systems.

Pros:

  • Diverse and rich actionable intelligence along with service-level meta-data
  • Comparable objective measurement can be used for performance goals and metrics

Cons:

  • Higher technical overhead and implementation costs

Operational vs. Strategic Feedback

Closing the Loop

To be effective, listening systems must close the loop, providing both feedback to employees and acknowledgment to customers. Time and again, studies have shown that immediate acknowledgment and request for feedback – both positive and negative – create a virtuous cycle and keep the notion of customer centricity paramount. In fact, it has been documented that feedback solicitation without the ability to close the loop can actually degrade the perception of the service. 

Closed loop systems create passionate advocates out of detractors. A well-managed detractor recovery system can handle service and experience issues and have the correct escalation process. To effectively design a system that can close the loop, the internal organizational stakeholders need to map the service distribution layers. 

The best person to close the loop is what we call the “local maxima” – the line level manager that has direct authority over the service. There is no point in closing the feedback loop if the managers who have line-level authority to fix, compensate and address the core issue are not involved. 

Democratizing Insights – Real-time Distribution of Data

As real-time feedback systems become larger and more complex, the need for advanced reporting tools becomes essential. Line managers need access to real-time data around their group’s service delivery, which has to be in their preferred format.

Reporting systems should be designed with what we call “Operational Dashboards” that include manager-level insights to make responding and reacting to feedback easier and more effective for them. This is distinctly different than executive dashboards in most reporting systems – which are geared towards strategic, not tactical and operational goals. 

Multi-Agency Challenges

One of the fundamental challenges for government is unifying and delivering service based on the use cases as opposed to segmented government agencies. Having a unified feedback and service measurement model across different citizen-to-government interactions allows agencies to be more citizen-centric. 

Dubai has created a separate agency to address all these issues – as a central clearinghouse for both the delivery of technology enabled government services as well as measurement of the experience. This was originally called Dubai eGovernment and was subsequently renamed to Dubai Smart Government. 

In the United States Federal Government eco-system, a new office of US Digital Services has been created with the explicit purpose is “Building a more awesome government through technology”. This office is responsible for helping the federal US Government digitize and provide next generation technology services. This office acts like a “Startup” within the federal government eco-system, enabling other agencies to react and improve digital citizen services. 

We believe that a dual approach – a unified measurement and accountability model, as well as an office with the explicit purpose of being citizen-centric, is the best way forward for governments. In the private sector, large organizations have a “Chief Customer Officer” role that represents the views and thrust behind being customer-centric. A similar model would work for governments trying to be citizen-centric also. 

Case Study: Uber & The Social Trust EcoSystem – Real-time feedback

Ride-hailing service – disrupted the transportation business – by allowing anyone with a car to become a taxi driver and transport anyone who needed a ride. This peer-to-peer connection model unlocked tremendous possibilities – but it was all based on a fundamental social construct – Trust. 

Trust between the driver and the passenger – and to manage this trust factor, Uber introduced a real-time feedback system after every ride. The sheer volume of data, along with all the structured meta-data (rider, passenger, location, ride-distance) – allowed Uber to systematically and efficiently evaluate both driver’s and passenger’s performance. It’s not well known to the general public, but just like Uber passengers can rate drivers on a 1-5 Scale – Uber drivers can also rate passengers’ performance/behavior!

This real-time rating and feedback model allowed both drivers and riders to be accountable to each other and Uber’s image in the marketplace. Drivers know that they have to provide a level of service that is not only acceptable but delights their customers – the passengers. Because of that customer-centric focus, drivers themselves have come up with innovative solutions to make the passenger experience more delightful – by doing such things as offering free water, iPhone cables for charging, and in some cases, even small snacks and chocolates. These service enhancements came from the ground-up – not from top-down corporate policies – because the drivers knew that the passengers would rate every ride. That fact has created a level of self-accountability that could not be achieved using the traditional top-down approach.

Passengers, on the other hand, also have to behave appropriately. Nothing destroys the evaluation system more than the perception of a system built on negative customers who unfairly grade performance. There have been many documented cases where passengers with inappropriate and bad behavior have been rated low after the Uber service ride. This allows for future drivers to be aware of the passenger’s past behavior – in the form of low passenger scores. These passengers may not receive discounts and preferred pickup times – since they had lower scores – putting pressure on them to moderate their behavior on future rides. 

Case Study: Washington State Transportation Commission / Ferries

The Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) provides a public forum for transportation policy issues and future directions.  It reviews and assesses how the entire transportation system works across the state and is critical to developing the state’s 20-year Transportation Plan.  As the State Tolling Authority, the WSTC sets tolls for state highways and bridges and fares for Washington State expansive ferry system – the largest Ferry system in North America.

Research Mandate

Since 2009, the Washington State legislature mandated that the WSTC conduct at least 2 or more comprehensive studies per biennium around satisfaction, toll use, and pricing/cost analysis for the Washington State Ferry System.

To enable this mandate to be cost-effective and reliable, the WSTC created and maintained a huge community (via an online panel) of Ferry Riders – called FROG – Ferry Riders Opinion Group. 

This community is surveyed every few months to measure;

a)     Satisfaction with the service

b)     Toll / Off-On Season Pricing of Ferry Tickets

c)     Areas of Improvement with Terminals, boats, and procedures

Focused Benefit & High Response Rates

Having a panel/community of ready-to-respond ferry riders allows WSTC to tap on-demand into the collective intelligence of the riders. Typically, the ferry-satisfaction and use projects are fielded and analyzed in under 2 weeks. The panel/community is constantly being updated by online sign-ups and on-boat recruiting.

Since the users are aware of the impact – that the research finds its way back to the state legislature and data from the research is used for determining ticket and toll prices – compliance and participation rate are between 30-40% in each study, which is very high and impactful.

“Our (WSTC) real-time research practice helps us keep lawmakers in the state informed about public opinions around road-use, tolls, and ferry fares. The on-demand nature of the community is very much appreciated by not only the lawmakers – but also administrators like Reema Griffith – the Executive Director of the Washington State Transportation Commission” – said Bill Young, from Research Assurance – the research agency tasked with operating and maintaining the WSTC panel/communities.

Conclusion

The key to the success of continuous improvement is continuous and real-time measurement. 

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  • Sindhu works as the Managing Director of QuestionPro MENA and is a technology ambassador with 13+ years of industry experience specializing in scaling businesses, driving go-to-market strategies, and building high-performance cross-functional teams and products.

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