|With the public sector continuing to experience a squeeze on its finances, decision-makers have been under pressure to use their budgets wisely. But making the best use of available funds and resources depends on many things, such as fully understanding the context in which key services operate. So do public sector bodies fully understand the needs and circumstances of the people they serve? Do they have a detailed understanding of what people think of existing services? And do they know what changes and improvements people would like to see put in place?
If there is any uncertainty over any of these issues, the public sector cannot be entirely confident it is getting the most out of its limited resources – or certain it is sending out relevant and attention-grabbing messages to service users. But there are ways to overcome these hurdles, so they can engage effectively with the people who rely on them and operate in a more targeted and cost-effective way…
Be a visible presence in people’s lives
Consumers interact with brands regularly and across many different platforms, so it makes sense for public sector bodies to try to cultivating a similar relationship. As Michael Sanders of the Behavioural Insights Team notes, “it’s important that government is a part of people’s lives,” so when they interact with government, it doesn’t feel like a “weird and alienating experience”, but instead “feels part of their everyday lives.” This means they should give them plenty of opportunities for mutual engagement, such as interacting with the public via social media and setting up display banners at locations such as market square or shopping centres.
Engender trust in service users
In a free market and globalised economy, people have plenty of choice when it comes to what brands they transact with. But even when private sector alternatives to public services exist, many consumers still feel they are entitled to rely on the state-run option. It’s therefore vital that they trust public sector bodies, so any communications put out by service providers must reflect this trust and the expectations people have of them. Making sure customer-facing personnel are not nameless faces can also help build this kind of relationship, so small steps such as asking these staff to wear name badges or lanyards could also be beneficial.
Streamline data storage process
Many public sector bodies use different systems to gather and store data which can be expensive and also make information more difficult to collate and interpret. Adopting a more unified approach can both save money and make it easier to garner meaningful insights from data. As Civica Services notes in a recent report, the public sector is “data rich but information poor,” even though data insight is “pivotal to enabling organisations to act smarter, identify opportunities for greater efficiency and deliver services at the point of need.” Without the infrastructure to extract actionable insights from data, it has little value, so public sector bodies must make it simple to tap into this resource.
Observe best practice in the private sector
Whilst most private sector bodies are driven by profits – many of their operating methods are compatible with the public sector. For instance, organisations don’t always rely on the cheapest way to get a message across, but the most effective. They consider who they want to target and how to get a point across to them, so a campaign aimed at the elderly, for example, would be unlikely to be run largely via social media. Public sector bodies can adopt a similarly smart approach and consider what channels a target audience could be using, so they can disseminate information and gather feedback and data via the most appropriate channels.
The government recently unveiled new legislation that requires every public sector employee in a public-facing role to speak English fluently. This is the first time the state has taken a co-ordinated approach to enforcing proficient English speaking in the public sector and is part of an effort to “create a consistent experience for taxpayers, while promoting integration and British values in the UK.” It’s a reminder of how each and every person who deals with a member of the public needs to be able to communicate clearly and fluently with the people they deal with day after day.
Building a strong and meaningful relationship with service users benefits everyone involved. Members of the public can get the services they need while providers will have a genuine insight into what is happening on the front lines and use this information to drive their future strategy forward – in a targeted and affordable way.
Enabling a new world of public service delivery Civica
All public sector employees who work directly with the public to have fluent English Gov.uk
How government can engage with citizens online – expert views The Guardian