ARTICLE | 25 AUGUST, 2014 | BY FAISAL CHAREUF
Governments everywhere are under great pressure to increase efficiency and respond to the ever increasing demands of citizens and federal policies aimed at public sector reform.
In the UAE, the federal and local government authorities continue to push for excellence in government performance and strive to become one of the top performing governments in the world by 2020. This ambitious plan has put pressure on government departments and authorities to adopt the new culture of continuous improvement and innovation.
According to McKinsey&Company’s extensive research on the matter of international public sector reform and transformation, four key principles lie at the core: the use of better evidence and data for decision making, greater engagement and empowerment of citizens, and better investments in talent acquisition and competency building. Each of these principles is essential to creating a more effective and efficient public sector.
Public Sector organizations are increasingly making use of data and statistical analysis to make better informed decisions. Among the most useful and widely used tools and techniques for this are the following:
Collection and reporting of performance data
In Abu Dhabi, as part of the mandatory annual strategic planning process, government departments and authorities set performance metrics and targets to measure and report on. Recently, as part of an open government initiative, agencies have begun reporting on key performance metrics such as health, education, industry and business, emiratization, and social statistics to name a few. These metrics are collected and reported through government organizations and their associated websites such as the Abu Dhabi e-government website www.abudhabi.gov.ae, Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (www.scad.ae), Department of Economic Development (www.ded.abudhabi.ae) and many more.
One ongoing issue that exists in the collection and reporting of data is data integrity and reliability. Although technological advances have allowed for the accurate measurement of various metrics across the public sector, there are still a large number of metrics that are measured using manual data entry and collection techniques which sometimes results in inaccurate statistics. This issue will gradually be solved with the introduction of business analytics tools, workflow automation, and improved transparency and access to interdepartmental data.
Continuous benchmarking against peers
National and international benchmarks are powerful inputs for strategic planning and performance management across the public sector. Governments all around the globe have faced similar issues and in some cases have developed great solutions for common issues that Abu Dhabi government agencies may face. Benchmarking good practices nationally and internationally is a very cost effective way of finding the best solution for local issues. It is important to consider “best fit” while benchmarking. Just because a program or initiative has worked somewhere else does not mean it will work at home. Abu Dhabi government organizations must be sure to select benchmarking peers that operate in similar political, economic, social, legal, and environmental landscape.
Evidence Based Data to design and improve initiatives
Reliable, evidence based data is the best input for the design and improvement of public sector initiatives. Before initiating new initiatives to solve problems that may not exist, it is important for government agencies to collect as much hard, clean data as possible to form a good business case. Second hand research may not be enough in some cases. Abu Dhabi agencies will slowly be pushed out of their comfort zone of receiving directives for action towards becoming more active in the continuous assessment of local issues and priorities through first hand research techniques such as field studies, surveys, and other research techniques. Collaboration among government and semi-government entities is also a very important mechanism for data sharing and information gathering that needs further refinement in the capital.
Evidence based decision making creates real value for citizens. If it is done correctly, it allows governments to assess policy and program effectiveness, measure outcomes, and engage in more articulate and well informed debate on sensitive local topics and issues.
Innovative governments are making it easier for citizens and residents to access public services. In keeping up with global trends, the most forward thinking governments have begun shifting away from traditional public sector practices and moving towards the engagement and collaboration of citizens and residents in the design and delivery of public services. This trend is part of the “open government” policy that has been adopted by many governments around the world and started to be embraced locally in the UAE.
Using new channels to improve customer services
The private sector is continuously offering citizens and residents easier access to their services. People can now shop online, pay bills online, applies for services and much more from the comfort of their home or mobile phone. As the private sector fulfills this demand for easily accessible goods and services, expectations for public sector service improvement increases. Many government entities have answered with the launch of effective and customer friendly e-services including bill and fine payment services, online applications for government services, and more. We will continue to see more innovation as Abu Dhabi public sector agencies continue to offer more e-services and mobile applications focused on improving customer experience and accessibility.
The next wave of innovation in customer service delivery will involve integration of service design and delivery processes through platforms that bring together forms, business process and workflow automation, integration, and analytics.
Seeking citizen and resident inputs to improve public services
Forward thinking and innovative governments have begun creating new ways to seek their citizens and residents’ feedback and inputs. Some governments have opened up channels that allow citizens and residents to provide input into regulations, public policies, budgets, and public services.
In Abu Dhabi, the government has launched a number of such projects through the Abu Dhabi e-government program and the Shared Government Customer Relationship Management Program which integrates the customer relations of more than 70 government entities on a single platform. These efforts have been mirrored by numerous initiatives across local government entities aimed at improving customer interaction and input. Many government entities have begun to employ digital marketing strategies to improve their online presence through channels like official websites, e-portals, and social media pages of which facebook and twitter seem to be the most popular.
Some governments have gone even further than online and social media forums for citizens’ feedback, comments, and suggestions. Iceland in 2010 chose 950 random citizens to participate in drafting the new constitution. After the Arab Spring, arab governments are paying closer attention to citizen needs and are finding new ways of collaborating and seeking participation from its citizens and residents.
The Abu Dhabi government has fast become one of the leaders in the region for government and e-government excellence and we are sure to see many new innovative solutions to increase collaboration and participation from the people.
Enabling citizens to help deliver better services at lower costs
Citizens and residents can play a major role in the design and delivery of public services. Many governments around the world have developed systems to enable its citizens to help improve public services through mobile apps, sms services, online portals, telephone and more.
The Abu Dhabi government has launched numerous initiatives to this regard. A good example of this is the Abu Dhabi CityGaurd mobile app that was launched by the Abu Dhabi government. Citizens and residents can download the app and easily report any incidents or submit complaints related to Abu Dhabi directly through the government. Incidents such as public safety, consumer protection, and environmental issues are the main incident types that can be reported to participating entities including Abu Dhabi Municipality, Abu Dhabi Police, Department of Transport, Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, and Health Authority among others. Such applications can effectively empower citizens and residents to act as city inspectors at no fee at all!
The trend towards participatory governments will only gain in strength over the coming years. By engaging the public and seeking their participation in improving public services, governments can not only improve public services, but can share some important public sector roles and responsibilities to its citizens and residents.
It is no secret that the private sector general operates more efficiently than the public sector. With profit being the main goal of any private organization, systems, policies, and company practices are all designed to improve the bottom line, profit. Quality and continuous improvement techniques such as lean and six sigma process improvement are employed to reduce errors, improve quality and speed of delivery, and reduce costs. Training and development play a crucial role in ensuring continuous improvement practices are embraced and employed across the organization.
Although it is known that government entities spend vast sums on training and development every year, the problem may be that the public sector is investing in the wrong kind of training. Research has demonstrated that adults learn significantly more through practical, hands-on training as opposed to in class training taught through lectures which is something that public sector organizations need to look into more often.
Some of the key areas of focus when designing competency building programs include:
Government Entities must focus on building the core competencies that are required to deliver the products and services that their organization offers to the public. Non-technical competencies such as managerial skills, problem solving skills, and communication skills have been proven to be the reason for failure more often than a lack of technical abilities.
Government Entities must carefully design their training and development programs to the training needs of their employees at all levels to ensure that employees are equipped with the right skills to get the job done right.
In highly specialized sectors such as energy, transportation, and infrastructure, government entities need to pay special attention to the need to develop highly specialized technical capabilities to ensure successful delivery of critical projects and services.
In some cases where capabilities are not available locally nor are there any academic or training institutes equipped to deliver the right training, organizations need to explore other options such as benchmarking international leaders in the field and sending employees on international attachment and rotation programs to get practical hands-on experience with international partners, peers, and suppliers if possible.
Strategic Thinking and Risk Management Skills
The public sector landscape has become more complex over the years. Government entities face new challenges and issues every day. With many stakeholders including customers, governance bodies, and other governmental entities constantly applying pressure from different angles, government leaders must constant stay vigilant. They must be able to forecast, assess, and react to complex problems and scenarios.
Strategic thinking and risk management skills will be part of the essential set of skills that leaders must acquire and/or improve in order to respond to growing demands from multiple stakeholders in a complex environment.by