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Active Participant

Cynicism among citizens is not just demoralizing for the public sector – it makes public work harder and more expensive. The public needs a solution.

In my previous blogpost "transforming-public-service-before-your-first-cup-of-coffee", I discussed Rio, and how social media messages from citizens were monitored and cross-referenced with CCTV camera footage to target public services during the Carnival.

Those citizens, I suspected, would probably have passed and ignored hundreds of problems on their way to the Carnival – leaving the public bodies of this connected city still, effectively, groping in the dark for information on where to direct their resources.

"Good enough for government work" is a cliché – a shorthand for a rushed or incomplete job. It is often incorrect and unfair – public servants work hard to make their towns, cities, districts and regions better places. However, it is also often hard to communicate progress to disengaged citizens. And, if citizens are not engaged, it becomes harder to understand their concerns and react to them. This can become a vicious cycle.

Reengaging citizens

The mobile solutions I discussed in my previous post are an important part of the response to this citizen disenfranchisement. They simplify the process of reporting concerns on one side and responding to and updating citizens on the other.

They also help to generate data that flows immediately into reporting systems, without needing to be transferred manually. This helps to paint a clearer picture of how every department is performing – what it has achieved, and how its achievements match up to its promises.

The next, and vital, step is to take the data and export it back to the citizens – in easily understood, accessed and investigated forms. Boston’s About Results iPad app is an example of how this can be done – the city’s performance in each critical area is provided in a simple format.

By giving citizens easy access to this data, Boston provides both transparency and accountability – the people they serve can see how they are performing, and where there is room for improvement.

Taming the vicious cycle

Meanwhile, the public bodies themselves benefit from the same information-gathering abilities. The data shared externally at a high level with citizens can also be used as a tool for internal strategic management.

With a detailed, granular picture of every department and powerful tools for analysis; benchmarks, scorecards and performance indicators can be created based on realistic assessments of performance. Month by month, and even day by day, performance can be compared against strategic goals.

In Boston, the ability to go into planning meetings with a clear picture of performance, and to give public workers easy and accurate comparisons with their peers, is already having a positive effect. In June 2012, the number of overdue cases recorded was over 600. In March 2013, it was 13. 91% of cases were completed on time, compared with 67%  according to Devin Quirk AT SAP SAPPHIRE's conference.

The vicious circle I described earlier can be reversed. Instead, informed and engaged citizens and public workers can help each other towards better public service.

To learn more about SAP’s contribution to unwiring government, take a look at the SAP Solution Explorer for the Public Sector. We can also be followed on twitter at @SAPPublicSector.