Changing the way we engage with citizens through public service delivery experimentations

Collective intelligence workshop with service users in Thimphu held in May 2021

Citizen engagement remains a timeless tenet of democratic governance. Today, public service delivery structures are changing and becoming more complex than they were in the past. In Bhutan, the institutionalization of public meetings (zomdues) in the villages began in the 1980s to decentralize governance and produce better democratic decisions. This grassroots platform aims to directly engage citizens in policy making and discussing issues of local importance.

Citizen engagement is a necessary feature for innovation in the public sector. Citizens have the first-hand knowledge of the challenges the service users face, and the problems that they confront on a daily basis. Therefore, innovative solutions applied in the public sector are more likely to be effective if citizens are involved in co-constructing decisions for a particular issue or a challenge. It is only through fundamental changes of behaviour and attitudes of citizens that we can solve complex challenges.

However, over the years, we have learned that maintaining quality citizen engagement is an uphill battle. A survey indicates that only half of the adults attend zomdue, and among the attendants, more than two-thirds are passive participants which means they do not share insights or opinions. It only exacerbates the challenges when the attendants do not share what they heard from the meetings with their family members.

Nowadays, elected leaders are in constant touch with their constitutes through various social media and digital platforms.

So, how else can we embed citizens’ participatory activities in our daily decision-making processes to bring about the expected beneficial outcomes?

In February 2021, UNDP initiated a collaboration with the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), Public Service Delivery Division (PSDD) under the Office of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Gross National Happiness Commission (GNHC), to innovate how we interact with the community in improving public service delivery. To set the stage, we asked two fundamental questions: 1) are there innovative ways of engaging citizens?, and 2) what interventions can we test out to build inclusive citizen participatory avenues?

To answer these questions, we undertook a systems approach to gather insights on the elements that influence public service delivery. Comprehensive systems thinking helped recognize the inter-dependence of the multiple elements interacting in the service delivery ecosystem. For instance, siloed approaches across service-providing agencies may lead to limited avenues in improving delivery processes. Likewise, a limited citizen-centric accountability mechanism is inter-dependent with poor feedback culture. The lack of service-providing agencies seeking out avenues for coordination towards enhanced PSD has been clearly spelled out in the Royal Kasho on Civil Service Reform “Agencies pursue isolated sectoral objectives while administrative processes burden efficient service delivery.”

A systems map outlining the key barriers and interrelations within the public service delivery ecosystem helped understand the complexity of how service delivery systems function and how the interdependencies between different barriers can lead to unintended consequences and unforeseen complications.

Deep user interviews were held, user journeys were mapped, collective intelligence and sensemaking workshops were carried out to engage citizens at various stages of this systems approach with varying degrees of participation. Citizens engaged in co-design, co-creation, and co-production of a portfolio of interventions to improve public service delivery. The portfolio of interventions here refers to a highly interlinked and inter-dependent set of interventions, to be tested out to overcome a portion of the systemic challenges faced in the service delivery ecosystem.

The portfolio of interventions included 1) co-designing and experimenting with a public service evaluation tool to enhance accountability 2) co-creating and testing the training module for building empathy in front liners of service centres 3) testing the involvement of service users in improving accessibility to service centres and 4) shortening the service delivery process by revising service delivery standards. For all four interventions, solutions are being tested in collaboration with the Department of Civil Registration and Census on two services; issuance of new CID and inter-Dzongkhag census transfer. All four experimentations, we may have used different intervention formats but were founded on the same design thinking techniques that bases citizen (or service user) centred design approaches as follows:

Of the four interventions, our big bet initiative is the service evaluation tool which is aimed at normalizing feedback culture and receiving near real-time feedback from citizens to provide insights on the issues they are facing in the service delivery processes and enable real-time course correction in fast-evolving situations.

Please stay tuned, as we share our learnings and key insights through our trial experiment report which will be out by October 2021!

Contributed by Azusa Kubota, Resident Representative and Tshoki Zangmo, Head of Exploration, Accelerator Lab, UNDP Bhutan

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