Magazine article Journal of Services Research

Citizen Surveys Impact on Decisions in Local Government

Magazine article Journal of Services Research

Citizen Surveys Impact on Decisions in Local Government

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

A major shift from a pure 'efficiency orientation' to a more comprehensive 'customer orientation' has been characterising the public sector in the last two decades (Kouzmin et al. 1999). The very use of the term 'customer' by local authority staff and politicians is a mark of the deep-seated change taking place (Skelcher, 1992). In this context, a large number of studies has been addressing the application of (Total Quality Management) TQM to local government and public administrations (e.g. Navaratnam and Harris, 1995; Redman et al., 1995). For example, recent researches demonstrate that in UK the public and the private sectors are at a roughly similar state of development in quality management, with about 50% of the organisations having a formal TQM programme (Redman et al., 1995).

In particular, citizen surveys seem to play a central role in order to implement a customer-driven continuous improvement, but they have still not reached their full potential as valuable instruments for urban decision makers and managers (Watson et al., 1991). Despite some recent studies about budgeting processes (Franklin and Carberry- George, 1999; Ebdon and Franklin 2004), it is not clear how satisfaction ratings should be incorporated into the decision-making activity. The result is that professional organisations endorse measuring outcomes as citizens perceive them, but they are largely silent on what to do in response (Kelly, 2005).

These difficulties are to be connected to a 25-year-long discussion about discrepancies among objective and subjective performance indicators (Kelly, 2005), from which robust critics against citizen surveys have arisen (Stipak, 1980). This seems to exactly reflect the mentioned debate between efficiency and customer orientations, emphasised by the particular complexity of political choices (Brudney and England, 1982). Up to now no shared agreement has been reached about how the decision process should treat these different indicators.

This article, adopting the decision maker perspective, try to fill that knowledge gap by suggesting a model building on some of the antecedents included in the well-known Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991; Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975) in order to explain how both subjective and objective indicators can serve as inputs in the complex political decision process. A quasi-experiment is also performed to test the suggested hypotheses.

The paper is articulated as follows: the first section includes a review of the available literature about the shift from 'efficiency' to 'satisfaction' together with a discussion of the role of citizen surveys in the public sector. After that the current use or non-use of survey results as inputs for the decision process is analysed. The proposed model, set of hypotheses and methodology are then explained, followed by a description of the results. Finally findings, implications and limitations of the present study are discussed.

PUBLIC MARKETING AND CITIZEN SURVEYS

The valuable contribution for non-profit organisations deriving from a careful application of marketing has been widely discussed and assessed since the classical article by Kotler and Levy (1969) was published. After that, many authors argued the need to introduce a total marketing orientation in the public sector and specifically in local government (e.g. Ritchie and Labréque, 1975; Yorke, 1984). Anyway such a debate was not immediately followed by a practical application of those marketing principles. Indeed the 1980s were characterised by a strong focus on public administrations' economy, efficiency and effectiveness (Brown and Pyers, 1988). Finally during the 1990s attention shifted to quality and consumer satisfaction (Kouzmin et al. 1999), with the objective of implementing total quality in the public sector (Navaratnam and Harris, 1995; Redman et al., 1995). Among the others, Swiss (1992) contended that if introduced without overselling and with sensitivity to government's unique circumstances, reformed TQM could make a useful contribution to contemporary public management. …

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