Adonis Diaries

How much Big, the Citizens are needed for Big Societies? Before the Covid-19 pandemics?

Posted on: September 9, 2020

Big Society needs Big Citizens?

Does a citizen centric approach delivers valued public services?

Prof. Jeff French delivered this speech to Uscreate on 2013

I want to start this blog by proposing a hypothesis:

“Adopting a citizen centric approach and relationship marketing principles is key to delivering valued public services“.

Change management in the public sector over the last 10 years has been driven mostly by focus on business planning, service delivery, better systems management and more recently, a growing focus on diversity of supply and competition.

There has been a concerted effort to import such management disciplines from the private sector to increase efficiency and effectiveness; concepts such as Lean Management have been widely adopted.

What the public sector has failed to grasp is that such processes are second order functions in most private sector organisations.

A few public sector organisations have also gone beyond this systems approach to apply some marketing principles.

However, in the majority of public sector, marketing is perceived in an outmoded way as being about slick information giving, promotions and a bit of market research to help understand user needs.

A new way of perceiving managerial responsibility and functions together with a more up-to-date view of marketing’s contribution to public issues and service delivery is needed throughout the public sector.

First order functions in successful businesses are focused on winning and retaining customers and delighting the customers through the development of innovative and desirable products and services.

Successful businesses do not start with the development of efficient and effective back room systems: these come in as supportive functions to the first order function of Marketing which is focused on understanding and building relationships with customers. This approach is known as Relationship Marketing.

To achieve success there has in the business sector over the last 40 years been more and more emphasis on delivering excellence by ensuring a consistent customer centric driven approach. This approach has been focused on building mutually beneficial long term relationships between providers and users of services or products.

Many of the basic business processes for developing products and services, such as total quality management, are well established and the delivery of excellence in these areas is seen as no more than a baseline requirement for success not the reason for success.

The shift from a product and service orientation towards a more customer relationship focused orientation has been profound in the private sector, but much less marked in the public sector, in which a systems efficiency and effectiveness focus still dominates management and professional thinking.

A more sustainable and culturally relevant approach

People who work in the public sector do so partly because such roles provide them with a strong sense of satisfaction.

In practice, they often find themselves dealing with the vagaries of working within a service on the edge of being perceived as institutionally dysfunctional, subject to continuous public disquiet due to a seemingly never ending scandals and perceived falling standards and cut budgets.

One way to move out of this negative space that would appeal to those working in the public service would be to switch emphasis from systems management solutions towards a culturally focused strategy that does what business does, put the user citizen at the core of all planning, management and delivery.

Building a public service culture that is constantly striving to improve services from a citizen user perspective rather than one that is driven by expert opinion about what is best and an obsession with systems efficiency would deliver more appropriate services, motivate and engage staff and deliver the kinds of services in the way people actually want them.

A ‘Citizen Centric’’ approach to service improvement will also gain new respect and regain trust from the public.

Public service providers would no longer be viewed simply as a once great but failing set of post war institutions, putting up with chronic adversity. A new perception would grow, over time, a perception of responsiveness and of a service driven by a strong desire to satisfy people needs and aspirations and engage in a continuous dialog and partnership with users of the service.

The boundaries between user and provider would soften with users and potential users being encouraged and have incentives to take part in policy selection and formulation, service development, implementation and evaluation.

A ‘Big Society’, as defined by the current administration in the UK is one that empowers, facilitates and supports its citizens to create a better life for themselves, their families and everyone else. Such an approach should need to have its foundations in an ethos of citizen centric service delivery.

Putting more emphasis on citizen driven as well as citizen responsive services is about ensuring that everyone not only gets their needs met but also that as many people as possible help others to get what they need.

The ‘Big Society’ concept is the flip side of a citizen centered approach to public service delivery. It represents a social contract that implicitly accepts that taking forward a citizen focused approach to public service delivery is not a one way street. It involves a change in approach from both providers and also from the consumers of public service.

Existing ‘Big Citizens’ are the thousands of local people who already give their time and energy to help others need to be encouraged, supported and praised.

In a new citizen centric public service approach incentives will need to be developed that encourage people to make an active contribution to helping public services become more responsive and also to help deliver some aspects of services or augment basic services.

One of the big challenges will be to develop and deliver forms of incentive, support and encouragement that promote this kind active contribution. The good news is that we know that people are generally disposed to helping others and want to make a social contribution but currently this is not as easy as it should be.

By applying a Relationship Marketing < link to first blog post> approach to building and sustaining active engagement and ownership of the development and delivery of public service these services can not only be sustained but enhanced as new energy, ideas and innovations will be introduced by citizens.

‘Public Service’ not ‘Public Services’

Applying a Relationship Marketing approach will only be possible if a new culture of public services is facilitated.

This is something that central government can encourage by putting in place financial incentives and possibly disincentives.

Central government can also foster a change of culture using ‘soft’ approaches such as training, capturing and making available learning and also by empowering citizens through free access to information about what local providers are doing and how they measure up to the best providers.

Relationship Marketing is also a key factor in reinvigorating public sector staff morale and pride in what they do.

Internal Relationship Marketing to engage and empower staff ideas and contributions will be key to any new reform of public service. Actively building relationships with staff will reinforces and build on their sense of vocation and desire to deliver better and more responsive services to the people that they work for.

Relationship Marketing also means that rather than automatically adopting any tactical approach such as Nudging, Shoving, Smacking or Hugging governments and public sector organisations should insist that systems are put in place that ensure that citizens views, needs and wants are given weight when making decisions about how to promote social well-being.

Intervention approaches such as Nudges are often key ingredients in a successful intervention mix but they are not a universal answer for success in every situation.

The recipe for successful public service delivery and to increase public sector staff morale is to adopt a citizen centric approach to planning and service delivery based on the Relationship Marketing philosophy of maximising dialog and the development of mutually owned solutions to social challenges.

Professor Jeff French is a global leader in the theory and application of behaviour change and social marketing.

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2020
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