How will the administration meet citizens' needs?

Tuesday - 1/27/2009, 2:46pm EST

WFED's Jason Miller Reports

Engage, listen, respond, new study says

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
FederalNewsRadio

No matter what else the new Obama administration does, it will be judged by how it engages with, listens to and responds to its citizens. And the better it can do that, the better its chances of success are.

That is one of the messages from a new report by Accenture's Institute for Public Service Value.

The 8th annual Leadership in Customer Service Report analyzes 20 countries' use of e-government to serve its citizens.

Greg Parston, director of the institute, says the study follows the evolution of e-government around the world and figures out where the next steps will be.

Parston says a lot of these worldwide best practices can influence what the Obama administration does to meet citizen expectations.

"E-government is developing rapidly around the world," Parston says. "Some governments are beginning to move beyond seeing e-government as service transaction and see it as more of a governance link to citizens."

Parston says while it's still too early to judge, the Obama administration is taking significant steps and talking about the right things to follow that trend.

President Barack Obama last week signed several executive orders that promote a more open and transparent government.

"What they have done in engaging people in different policy debates during the transition period with the health forums, for example, is very encouraging," Parston says. "There has been a lot of concern expressed about how the administration is going to be able to respond when hundreds of thousands of people begin to become more engaged in this way and that is something we will have to watch and learn from."

Accenture found that there are four tenets to improving citizen services:

  • Better service starts with better understanding;

  • Engage listen and respond;

  • Harness all available resources;

  • Be transparent. Be accountable and ask for and act on feedback

Parston says all four are equally important, but engaging, listening and responding must be done first.

"You can't understand, harness resources or feedback if you don't know what you need to respond to," he says. "But all four can reinforce each other."

Accenture found the U.S. federal government rates fairly well among its citizens, with 47 percent of the respondents saying the government is doing a good job or very good job delivering a better quality of life for them and their family.

But Parston cautions that you cannot compare the U.S. to other countries because there are too many variables including cultural and economic differences.

One area the Obama administration could focus on is soliciting feedback from citizens. Accenture found that only 36 percent of the respondents say the government wants to know what citizens think.

"The new administration is doing something very different by engaging with citizens in ways than other administrations did not do," he says. "If you look at what they did with the Change.gov portal and now what is coming out of the White House, they are building strong relationships between people and the government. The new administration also appointed a director of public liaison to engage people."

The end goal of this effort is to build trust, Parston adds.

"The U.S. falls in the middle of the pack when we looked at how good or bad is government in being accountable and how you they rate overall trust in government," he says. "The improvement of service, finding out what works in government is very important and making it work in order to improve social and economic conditions and be held accountable for that is not just a way to provide better public service, it is a way of building trust in government. And that is something all governments want to achieve."

Accenture offers recommendations based on their survey and findings for each of the four focus areas.

Some of the recommendations include segmenting citizens and making sure those who need help the most get it. The study suggests agencies use new Internet tools to engage citizens and work with citizens to design and improve specific services.

Parston says the Obama administration is aware of the challenges they face.

"One of important things that has come out of this and other research we've been doing, is the need for government to engage people in a much more adult and educative way," he says. "Asking people to give you their ideas is one thing, but asking people to give you feedback on performance is another thing. One of key things to ask is to what extent is the government going to be educative in its relationship with people through these Internet communicative exchanges?"

He says the extent the Obama administration can be educative and not dictatorial or hierarchical when engaging people will be directly related to their success.

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - Web 2.0 advice for the Obama administration

Accenture - Leadership in Customer Service Report: Creating Shared Responsibility for Better Outcomes (pdf)

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