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The following is a summary of a full-length article on this subject which appears in the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) publication “Governments that Serve”. “Governments that Serve” presents a range case studies and the findings of international experts on the subject of public service delivery and citizen-centric public policy which is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Citizens have come to expect a level of government service delivery that is comparable to what they normally experience in their daily lives, when dealing with private sector service providers, and governments are having difficulty keeping up. Everywhere, governments are falling below citizens’ expectations. Canada has taken steps to address this with the citizen-centric service model pioneered by Service Canada. This model integrates and reuses citizen information, focuses on the citizen, and bundles service offerings to ensure that citizens have “one-stop” for government services and to bridge partnerships across government in support of these objectives.
From its inception in 2006, Service Canada was supported by several guiding principles which have ultimately proven critical to the improvement of federal service delivery in Canada. This includes the division of the Canadian population into manageable “segments”, such as “newcomers” or “parents”. Each segment is then given a tailored navigation portal that bundles government services relevant to the population segment. In addition to technical expertise, this model requires shared governance arrangements with different departmental service providers to be successful. Shared governance in turn requires carefully delineated accountability processes, not just for operating budgets, but also for wider implementation plans and outcome evaluations.
The adoption of the Service Canada model was made possible by several crucial developments, including notably the creation of a Cabinet committee which specifically managed the “whole of government” dimension of Canada’s public administration. The creation of this committee signaled to the rest of the public administration that a “whole of government” approach was going to be a priority and one that required swift implementation across departments. This was part of a larger process of generating confidence in the new ways of working across government since ultimately, widespread confidence in the Service Canada venture was crucial to Service Canada’s success.
In addition to more formal organizational developments and reporting structures, generating confidence in the Service Canada venture necessitated an intervention in public service culture. More specifically, it required building a culture of service excellence through training, employee engagement and public consultations. This ultimately included the development of a dedicated “corporate university” and certificate program for Service Canada that incorporated private-sector lessons from psychology and training, like secret shopper exercises, for example. This dedicated training helped to evolve a common sense of mission and to promote a culture of service excellence that would prove crucial to the fulfilment of the agency’s mission.
With steady declines in public confidence in government institutions worldwide, the importance of effective government service delivery is moving to the front-and-centre of public policy. Service Canada has indeed been a leading voice that merits closer attention from practitioners, but the example itself is a confirmation of the importance of good governance to public confidence and value of seeking continuous improvement.