By Bakhtawar Khalid

Citizen engagement is on the rise and there is a need to close feedback loops to give communities greater ownership of institutions and processes. What are the innovative solutions to closing this feedback loop and making every voice count? What are the challenges and potential avenues of this advance in citizen engagement? How can we transform the consultative role of citizens in public service delivery in order to cultivate co-design and co-delivery of services? The experiences of other countries shared on OGP’s platform are helpful in learning about the innovative ways citizen engagement in public service delivery could be achieved, as well as the challenges in making that happen.

In Georgia, citizens interact with a single body for the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health and other public-private partnerships. This user-oriented model was designed based on citizens’ feedback and strives to achieve high levels of customer satisfaction. Effective learning and communication tools, such as satisfaction surveys, focus groups, and “mystery shopping” are crucial for improving public service delivery.  Surveys provide clarity on customer perceptions, concerns, and needs. Focus groups provide more qualitative data. Mystery shopping is quite an effective tool for staff assessments. Feedback systems such as call centers also help bridge the gap and their effectiveness can be measured based on the number of dropped, incomplete calls.

Georgia has adopted all these tools and channel to improved public service delivery. They’ve made service delivery systems customer friendly with exciting new innovations like Jus café, where you can receive your passport with your order of coffee, and Jus drive-through, where you can pick up your documents without leaving their car. These delivery systems are also more accessible to people with disabilities.

In Mongolia, a CSO called Education for Democracy launched the Check My Service campaign in 2012, which aims to create transparency in governmental institutions and public service delivery.  They focus and work directly with the communities to improve service delivery systems at grass root level. They teach citizens to collect information and verify evidence related to a particular service, present these findings to service delivery staff, policy-makers and local governing bodies for follow-up and track the implementation of action plans. This project closes the feedback loop and promotes the public-private partnership. The Check My Service platform is divided into service delivery areas, eg. Check My School, Check My Watertank and Check My Bus. There is also Check My  Parliament which monitors the transparency of parliament. Through these citizen-led monitoring platforms and collaboration with public service delivery staff, they are able to achieve more user-friendly delivery systems. One of there main learning was that all this is made possible due to ‘Right to Information’ law which provides organizations and individuals with data and sparks collaboration. They also believe that improving the quality of data will further strengthen the efforts of citizen engagement.   

Estonia, ‘The Digital Republic’ has digitized all their public service delivery systems, making services securely available online. This radical change led to a challenging situation where public service delivery became a customer-driven, rather than a  collaborative process. Social analysts raised questions around citizens’ rights and responsibilities in a democracy, which led to the creation of citizen engagement platform Rahvaalgatus, which translates to “citizens’ initiative” which allows citizens to give feedback on service delivery. A petition mechanism called Collect Address gathers feedback on existing public services and allows citizens to propose new services if endorsed by 1000 citizens. The parliament would then have to discuss this collect and reply back to the petitioner within 6 months.

The true spirit of democracy is seen when citizens are involved in feedback loops and their feedback is considered in the planning and development of the nation’s services. To effectively close the feedback loop CSOs, media and social entrepreneurs have a duty to provide platforms where citizen feedback is collected. In turn, public departments should provide more qualitative open data and develop iterative processes.