It’s imperative for Governmental public-sector agencies to utilize public infrastructure to provide social benefits to citizens. While large amounts of public money is spent towards these initiatives, there’s often a perception that public sector services don’t give enough bang for their buck.
On the other hand, take a look at the innovation in service delivery happening in the private sector. We have things being delivered at home in hours if not days, a comfortable ride can be hailed almost instantly and you can even get someone to help you file your tax returns. The question arises; why can't public transport services be as easily accessible and user-friendly or why can't filing taxes be simpler for citizens?
Table: What differentiates Private vs. Public sector services (version 1.0)*
Private / Commercial Services
Public / Social Services
Expectations are around value received for price paid
Expectations are around value received against taxes paid or vote given (responsibility of the government mindset)
Governed by ‘Returns’ goals
Governed by ‘Impact’ goals
Accountable to stakeholders first
Accountable to Service receivers (and society first), then stakeholders
Driven by competitive metrics
Driven by transparency metrics
Focus on consumer experience
Focus on wider reach
Align stakeholders to valuation
Align stakeholders to inclusive impact
At liberty to ‘discriminate’ and exist for a targeted group of the population
Obligated to maintain equitable provision for all sections of society
Generally have go-to-market agility
Generally slower, difficult to implement
Offerings typically operate within government defined regulations. Innovations that operate in gray areas are soon subjected to new regulations
Regulations and policies need to be defined before operationalization. Innovations are typically implemented only after regulations are in place
*The contents of this table are meant to evolve. That's why the versioning.
What does this mean?
Even though the motivations and operation mechanisms of both the sectors might be quite different, eventually services exist in the interest of people. There’s much to be learned and shared across both the sectors. What steps do public sector entities need to take in order to innovate for the greater good?
First line of thought: Creation of opportunities in private and unorganised sectors
When the government fails to provide user friendly experiences of services, the private sector will fill that gap. For example, a company like Cleartax exists because citizens find it difficult to use the Income Tax department's Income Tax Return filing digital service. Secondly, it leads to the formation of an unorganised market and an ecosystem that works outside of regulatory control and legal protection. E.g. unauthorised agents, illegal medical supplies distribution etc.
While governments can regulate the private sector, in a capitalist system, it's difficult to control all aspects of what the private entities might take from citizens in return for the products and services they offer. For example, Personal data security laws and frameworks like DEPA are only now being formulated to overcome past occurrences of massive data leaks and threats to citizen security and economic stability.
The country's own systems are not able to capitalising on its rich data, the same information by which private companies build their empires. The larger, more worrying question arises when one observes companies owned by stakeholders and holding companies in unfriendly nations doing their bidding.
In the case of the unorganised sector, entities operating in the fuzziness of legal boundaries, have an opportunity to exploit citizens in ways that are unethical, unreasonable and illegal. For example, unauthorised agents help citizens get their driving license faster. On paying steeper service charges, they offer the option to bypass the driving test altogether). Imagine the safety of our roads if drivers keep getting licenses without passing proper driving tests! It is also very apparent how unsafe and damaging some of these unregulated service providers can become. For example, vials of fake covid vaccines and medicines were detected in the black market during the first wave of the pandemic because of the inefficiencies around vaccine delivery in India.
For these reasons, it is much better for a nation's citizens if their government provides an ecosystem for safer and secure services. Applying user-centered frameworks like ConOps and ethnography to systems thinking should help get the ball rolling in the right direction for public services that are used and liked by all.
Second line of thought: Making Better Services
In an ideal world, public sector services should be desirable, caring and transparent, just like citizens expect. However, in developing nations, we see quite the contrary. To launch major programs, governments tend to focus relentlessly on getting the processes right, policies in place and inadvertently ignore the people who will use the services.
This calls for a change in mindset about how public sector services are thought about and rolled out. Along with all the administrative requirements, ministries must take into account the human and emotional elements that might govern the design and implementation of public sector services. The following is a proposed high-level methodology to start designing public services by following a more systematic approach.
Take a human-centered approach to identify pain points not only from the point of view of citizens, but also the workforce that provides the service
Inculcate a culture of better accountability by incentivising better service delivery within the service provider organisation by setting up benchmarks, rewards and recognition systems
Measure service quality using metrics like NPS, CSAT etc. that are already adopted in the private sector and make departments accountable to those metrics
Encourage a learning mindset so that government service providers feel empowered by digital technology and that their skills are relevant even in the face of digitalisation
Anticipate the need for future services based on evidence from the past evaluating current citizen needs, and imagined future states. Frameworks such as future-casting and transition design can help anticipate such services
For new service concepts, start conversations early and create an environment for policies to support the new programs
Adapt to the political functioning of the nation so that services can be rolled out with lesser friction
This method is by no means 'one size fits all' because the nature of public services vary in scale and application based on administrative prowess and willingness, geography, economics and social acceptance. However, it can be considered as a starting point for anyone looking to design new services that will eventually reach citizens through government machinery.
Have your own thoughts about designing public sector services in emerging economies? Let's talk!