Dec 12, 2012

Planificarea serviciului public pentru public

Astăzi, 12.12.12, este una dintre acele zile când ne dăm seama mai acut decât oricând de importanţa planificării serviciilor publice. Rareori înţelegem că acestea sunt o prioritate în viaţa noastră.

Se spune, mai în glumă, mai în serios, că autorităţile noastre au început pregătirile pentru sezonul rece. Acestea se vor finaliza până la sfârşitul lunii martie.

Pe de altă parte, planificarea nu ar trebui, cred eu, să se facă doar prin birouri, având în vedere că problemele sunt în stradă. Fireşte, strada nu se pricepe la toate problemele, deci avem un obiect de studiu aici.

Redau mai jos un text pe care l-am scris în limba engleză (în română nici nu aş avea bibliografie pentru aşa ceva) cu privire la argumentele pentru implicarea cetăţenilor în planificarea serviciului public, lucru care în România lipseşte cu desăvârşire.

Când o să avem noi acele jurii ale cetăţenilor la care mă refer la un moment dat, o să fim altfel de ţară. Până atunci, aceste idei abia dacă pot fi exprimate în limba română, darămite pe limba primarilor noştri.

Involving Citizens in Service Planning

       What considerations do public service managers need to take into account in involving members of the public in planning public services?

When a public service is planned, there are three main kinds of considerations a manager should look at. In the first place there are the reasons for involvement, why is it useful and how can it make sense in relation to the particular service that is planned. Than, the specific of the service is to be considered in order to establish the range of involvement and the techniques that are more appropriate. We can say from the beginning that, in planning, the specific of the service is mainly related with outcomes setting and, naturally, with the users and stakeholders. The third type of considerations is related to special issues about the public that is involved in the planning of the service. A very clear distinction between these three factors is hard to be done in the real life as long as they are obviously interdependent. However, because they raise different kinds of considerations I will treat them separately.

Looking at the reasons (values and policy)

The need to involve members of the public in planning is the first thing a manager should consider. In their study from 1981, “The Principles of Normalisation –A Foundation for Effective Services”, O’Brien and Tyne, referenced by Beresford and Croft (1993) distinguish five accomplishments due to citizens’ involvement for effective services. These are: community presence; protecting rights and promoting choice; recognizing interests and gifts; improving competence; promoting valued roles; and community participation. It is obvious that not every kind and manner of involvement can lead to all these benefits, but having them in mind is very helpful for a manager in shaping the approach to involvement.

Basically there are two ways of approaching involvement: the consumerist and democratic approaches (Beresford and Croft, 1993).

The consumerist approach means to perceive citizens as customers and, as a consequence, frame the issues around them in terms of “market preferences, consumer rights and product development” to quote Beresford and Croft (1993). This approach, obviously inspired by the private sector, has its advantages and its limitations. On one hand, there is not a better solution to find what people really want than applying the marketing techniques in which the customers themselves are involved. On the other hand, unlike the private sector, in public services citizens’ involvement implies a responsibility which some of the customers do not want to take.

The democratic approach means to understand citizens in terms of their civil rights and the equality of opportunities. Consumer Involvement Sub-Group, quoted by Barnes (1997), in the report “Consumer Involvement and the All Wales Strategy” points out that “consumer involvement can also act as a lever to start changing the traditional balance of power between providers and users which has usually operated in favor of the former”. This shows that the democratic approach, by emphasizing the role of an increased say and control of the citizens, has in its centre the idea of empowerment. A rationalist approach which tends to consider citizens as objects of study rather than active participants leads to an undemocratic disempowerment.

For a manager is important in this approach to consider the advantages and the limitations. It has been proven that, even for the same quality of the service provided, the beneficiaries tend to be happier when they have the opportunity to choose. But there are also situations in which people are reluctant to involvement, for example in the welfare service when, as Beresford and Croft (1993) say the nature of the service “actually isolate and inhibit them”.

It is important to notice in this context that the “White Paper on a European Communication Policy” made by the Commission of the European Communities (2006) states emphasize the fundamental principles of inclusiveness, diversity and participation of the citizens along with the empowerment. As stated in the act: “Any successful EU communication policy must centre on citizens’ needs. It should therefore focus on providing the tools and facilities – the forums for debate and the channels of public communication – that will give as many people as possible access to information and the opportunity to make their voices heard.

Looking at the specific of the service (outcomes and stakeholders)

Beresford and Croft (1993) explain that the involvement of citizens in planning a service is very important for them because it is preferable to get involve in setting a service than to express opinions on a service set by someone else. The same authors divide the citizens in two categories by the kind of involvement they have in planning a service: reactive and pro-active. People get involved in a reactive way when things have gone wrong for them and they feel a reaction is needed to redress the service. When the involvement is constant and consistent, being keen mostly on preventing wrong things to happen, it is a pro-active one. For a manager, it is unarguably better to empower and encourage citizens to get involved in a pro-active way, rather than waiting for their reactions.

The consequence of this is that citizens should be involved in planning, meaning in setting the outcomes of the service. Different types of services and of users lead to the specific of the outcomes that must be considered by managers in involving. For example, Parker, Ward, Jackson, Aldgate and Wedge (1991), looking at child care services, distinguish multiple outcomes such as: public outcomes, service outcomes, professional outcomes, family outcomes and outcomes for children. Every of these requires a different approach to involvement and has to be considered by public managers. It is understandable that a stakeholder analysis has to precede the decision about involvement.

Considering the specific of outcomes and stakeholders is crucial in choosing the range of involvement and the proper technique the manager will decide about. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities (1991) defines four main modalities of involvement, each of them of a different level: informing, consulting, participating and delegating control. Following the framework of Willis (2006), in planning, these modalities are applied along these lines:
·       Informing – decide on outcome and inform users
·       Consulting – decide range of possible outcomes, ask users to express views and then choose outcome
·       Participating – choose outcome in partnership with users
·       Delegating control – users determine choice of outcome

         Informing and consulting are seen by some authors (such as Arnstein, 1969) as a form of tokenism, while citizens’ real empowerment occurs in participation and delegation of power. This does not mean that the firs two modalities of involvement are avoidable. Depending on the nature of the service and on its outcomes these could be the most reasonable approaches. My own experience shows that, in a central governmental agency, developing financial services for small and medium size businesses, where the outcomes are more or less disposed by the Government in collaboration with the IMF and the WB, the managers are responsible rather for the procedures than for the outcomes of the services. As a consequence, the consultation is the most appropriate modality.

The main consideration in that matter is that the public is preferable to be involved as much as the circumstances permit. But, some limitation must also be taken into account. Lindow and Morris (1995) show that sometimes people encounter problems in making choices for themselves. Thus, they need the support and the information that are necessary. Also, the right technique for communicating with them must be chosen by the manager, whether is listening, observing or testing.

Another form of involvement deserving consideration is citizens’ juries. Situated somehow between participating and delegating control, this method was theorized by Professors Peter Dienel and Ned Crosby and described in detail by Stewart, Kendal and Coote (1994).

Looking at users

The third type of considerations has to do with the right manner of treating people for achieving the real advantages of involvement. Briefly, they regard equality, ethics, location and timing, cost and confidentiality.

Equality dimensions are of high importance from a democratic standpoint, given that they look upon the imperative of inclusiveness. These dimensions include gender, sexuality, race, religion, disability and age. In their research, Franklin and Sloper (2004) show not only the need, but also the modalities in which disabled children can be involved, with important results in shaping the outcomes of services. For instance, if an organization has to deal with people that managers basically do not understand, such as mentally disabled, specialists must also be involved in the procedure.

Ethics implies issues like respect, openness, integrity and honesty. For many managers it may seem easier to pretend that they consult people, just for the record, and, consequently, they simply manipulate consent. Such practices are dangerous and lead to mistrust and disappointment from the part of the public.

The time and the place chosen are of a great importance, as long as they have to offer the opportunity for every citizen interested to participate in the process. A manager should also take into account the cost of the process, both for people and for the organization.

Many consultations promise confidentiality in order to persuade people to get involves, but actually this is not respected and raises doubts. It is important not to lie about confidentiality.

If these considerations are not taken into account the whole process of involving faces the risk of loosing its meaning, given by opportunities and empowerment offered to citizens.

  • Association of Metropolitan Authorities (1991) - Quality and Contracts in the Personal Social Services, London 
  • Arnstein, Sherry R. (1969) - "A Ladder of Citizen Participation," JAIP, Vol. 35, No. 4, July, pp. 216-224 
  • Barnes Marian (1997) – Care, Communities and Citizens, Longman, London and NY 
  • Beresford Peter and Croft Suzy (1993) – Citizen Involvement; A Practical Guide for Change, British Association of Social Workers, Hampshire and London 
  • Commission of the European Communities (2006) - White Paper on a European Communication Policy, Brussels 
  • Franklin Anita and Sloper Alicia (2004) – Participation of Disabled Children and Young People in Decision-Making within Social Services Departments in England, Research Works, no. 2004- 2, SPRU, University of York 
  • Lindow Vivien and Morris Jenny (1995) – Service User Involvement; Synthesis of findings and experience in the field of community care, York
  • Parker, R., Ward, H. Jackson, S., Aldgate, J., and Wedge, P. (eds.) (1991) - Looking After Children: Assessing Outcomes in Child Care, London
  • Stewart John, Kendall Elizabeth and Coote Anna (1994) – Citizens’ Juries, IPPR, London
  • Willis Martin (2006) – A Model of User Involvement in Planning, Monitoring and Evaluating Outcomes, Managing for Service Effectiveness handbook
Mihai Cuza 

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