Information has been described as the fuel of government. This description was given by Katie Burke, the Government Programme Specialist at Laserfiche. In a recent article, she noted that, “For some industries, information is a means to an end. Business assets like friendly customer service and attractive inventory can overshadow information as the real ‘moneymakers’ of the enterprise. But when it comes to government, information – and the systems that manage it – take a front seat.”
I wholeheartedly agree with the reasoning and statement above. One may suppose that what sustains a government and, in fact, a system of government, is the will of the people. That may be true. But what influences the will of the people is information and the way it is managed.
This is why every responsible government will place premium on the establishment, maintenance, and sustenance of a modern, robust, effective and scalable information management system.
The responsibility for all these fall on the civil service, of course. In most democracies, the civil service represents the ‘permanent government’ that must be equipped to adequately advise the government of the day, implement government programmes, and effectively communicate the reasoning behind government-sanctioned programmes to the citizens. The net effect is that, if civil servants are well-equipped to discharge these tasks, the programmes of government will be positively perceived by the populace and will thus receive the needed support for success.
There is a school of thought in political science that posits that there are three key parameters that confer legitimacy on governments.
The first dimension identified is the dimension of competence. According to her, and I agree, “government must be seen as capable and effective in carrying out its activities.” The second is the dimension of fairness and the proposition is that “government must be seen as treating all people equally and impartially, without favouritism or discrimination.” Finally, she identified the third dimension as “the dimension of human concern and personal connectedness: government must be seen to be sincerely caring about each person’s welfare. Only when the government is seen as competent, fair, and caring does it have the kind of support that amounts to legitimacy.”
Indeed, it is difficult to argue or disagree with the postulations above and the reason why I have gone to some length to identify these parameters is so that I may point out what the objectives of information management by civil servants in Lagos State ought to be.
Having established the ultimate dimensions of the desired positive perception, we may now examine the strategies for formulating and implementing world-class information management systems. This is because the bottom line is that governments must find ways of operating what enable citizens to see them as competent, fair, and caring. But while it is admittedly harder than ever to secure all of these positive perceptions at once, a systematic approach can be fashioned out and executed to ensure that the details of governmental actions are communicated in the most accurate and positive manner possible.
One advocated strategy for ensuring positive perception is to innovate to make government services more customer-centric. In an article by McKinsey & Co., the point was made that, “the private sector’s responsiveness to customer demands has led to heightened public expectations of government. Because people can do their banking and shopping online, for example, they expect to be able to” conclude transactions with government agencies with similar ease and speed as well.
I am glad to note that this is one area that has captured the interest of the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration. In fact, in his inaugural address on May 29, 2015, Ambode said, “moving forward, the civil service will be strengthened and made to respond to the needs of all citizens in the same manner quality services are rendered in the private sector.” And, true to that promise, stakeholders are beginning to notice and appreciate the investments made to build and deepen capacity in the Lagos State Civil Service. From citizens to donor agencies, and from civil societies to the media, objective evaluations testify to a Lagos State Public Service that is better motivated, better focused, and better equipped to confront the challenges of modern governance and administration in an emerging, dynamic and rapidly-growing global city.
In a recent publication, PwC, United States, asked and answered a germane question as follows: “What does a customer-centred organization look like? It’s an organization that considers the customer in everything it does, from procurement to deployment to the entire customer experience. It also speaks to its customers in their own language and makes it easy for them to align their goals with the mission at hand.”
Going further, the publication noted that, “Many government agency executives have important messages to deliver, and the success of their communications is crucial to the agency’s success. Senior executives need to deliver effective mass communications to the agency employees, concerned citizens, and other stakeholders while maintaining impeccable standards that live up to the ever-increasing scrutiny of today’s communications environment.”
Furthermore, in making a case for a customer-centred public service, Christopher Brown, an organisational coach, noted that “many studies show that a customer-centric culture drives superior service and value for customers resulting in an experience that creates customer satisfaction and advocacy. This in turn drives exceptional organizational performance in terms of productivity, new product/service success, innovation and financial performance.”
What is deducible from the above is that customer-centricity is another strategy for ensuring the positive perception of government programmes by the citizens. When deliberate and systematic actions are taken to design processes and programmes with the citizen-customer at the front and centre of all considerations, we find that the citizen-customer will invariably have positive perception of both the interaction with the government and the government programme concerned.
•Dr. Benson Oke is the Lagos State Commissioner for Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions
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