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Building a citizen-centric culture

Across the board, confidence that public services can be improved has dropped. This is due to a combination of factors, including the continual turnover of politicians, changing political dynamics, and the resulting lack of understanding around the need for long-term policy and service design. When asked if the need for long-term planning of policy and service design is well understood at ministerial level – and not impacted by election cycles – more officials disagree (40 percent) than agree (34 percent).

Staff shortages present a further obstacle to meeting citizens’ needs. While a slim majority of leaders say they have the people they need for effective delivery, almost the same percentage of senior managers say they do not. Interestingly, the percentage point difference for frontline non-managers, who might feel most frustrated by the lack of staff, is positive – 52 percent agree.

Agreement with the survey statement: ‘We have the necessary people resources to operate in an effective way’

Inadequate procedures have also led to reduced confidence in the ability to improve public services. The proportion of officials who believe their organisation has a cyclical improvement process that integrates citizen and end-user feedback has fallen from 58 percent in 2021 to 45 percent. This is the biggest overall decline of any category, hinting at a wide underutilisation of user feedback. The same proportion of public and civil servants agree that their organisation has the necessary cyclical processes to support improvement, and only around a third of respondents say their organisation considers wholesale system change for streamlined administration. Here, leaders’ views match the overall response, demonstrating a consensus.

Agreement with the survey statement: ‘We have a cyclical process for improving services, which integrates citizen and end-user feedback’

Only in one country – Denmark – do the majority of officials agree that wholesale system change is considered within their organisation. Confidence in ministerial understanding of the need for long-term policy and service design is also highest in Denmark. The lowest confidence in ministerial understanding is in the Netherlands (21 percent) and, reflecting wider findings, the UK (23 percent).

“The view that political leadership in Denmark is better is to be expected. They have long term strategies that cross elections and are carried through over into the next government,” explains Anders Persson, public sector digitalisation expert. “There is less hierarchy, more understanding of where agencies are moving, and more communication. When only certain staff know this, change management will be tricky.”

Kim Lindskov Knudsen explains that since the 1990s, Denmark has experienced relatively strong coordination across local, regional, and federal government bodies despite various government changes.

“This has created more coherent development over many years and supported a culture of cooperation on integrated service delivery to the public. This is well reflected in digital cross- government channels delivering services that are in unified approach.”

Despite regional differences, the research suggests that governments have not taken advantage of citizen or end-user input to inform developments and lack appropriate processes to support improvement. Herein lies the problem – but also the solution.

Respondents agree there should be a greater focus on citizens when designing and delivering services. One respondent from Canada names timely responses to client feedback
as the single action that the central government should undertake to improve responsiveness, while a senior manager in New Zealand’s Ministry of Social Development wants their organisation to align decision-making to community-led responses.

Positive leadership has a part to play too in helping to highlight success and countering the mostly negative feedback public servants often hear from conventional and social media.

Next steps for responsive governments

Only through a citizen-centric culture can system-wide change be achieved and the necessary improvements be made. Processes need to be citizen-centred and developed iteratively based on ongoing feedback. Understanding requirements will support effective policy decisions and ease implementation. Leaders occupy a central role in helping civil servants to constantly improve public services. This can be achieved through use of robust measurement metrics, providing a benchmark for progress – much like the data set out in this report.

Internal systems and services should be designed with user input, testing, and redesign. By creating a citizen-centric culture that analyses user feedback to guide improvement, governments can transcend the limitations of electoral politics and make processes better for all users. Process improvement will contribute to alleviating staff shortages. Robust systems reduce administration, enabling employees to focus on what really matters – the user experience. The result? Whole system change.