Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), Public Service Delivery Division (Cabinet Secretariat) and UNDP Bhutan have launched an initiative to improve public service delivery by engaging citizens in its monitoring and assessment.  RCSC Commissioner Lhendup Wangchu leads the pilot project

Could you give us a brief overview of the initiative: “enhancing citizen engagement in public service monitoring and assessment”? 

Since the third Commission’s tenure started in April 2019, one of our focus areas has been public service delivery.  There are different types of public services – infrastructure development such as farm roads, as well as dzongkhag and municipal services such as census and land records.  We realized that the latter category in particular – what we call the “commonly availed services” (CAS) – needed to be improved since we don’t have systems to monitor and assess these services.  This is what this pilot initiative aims to address, by engaging citizens in monitoring and assessing public services to see whether they meet the required standards.

Why did RCSC decide to embark on this initiative? 

The absence of systems for monitoring and assessing public services leads to lack of accountability. What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done.  We realised the importance of measuring the effectiveness of CAS not by the service providers, but by the citizens – the users of these services.  We felt that, unless we hold deep conversations with the service users, we wouldn’t be able to improve the services that government agencies deliver.  This is why we’re embarking on this initiative to engage citizens to understand where the gaps in public service delivery are.

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted public service delivery.  How timely is this initiative?

This is something that we’d already planned before the pandemic.  Therefore, it’s purely coincidental that the initiative has been launched during the pandemic.  I think the recent Royal Kasho on civil service reforms gives us further impetus to address public service delivery and other reforms in the civil service.

How would this initiative contribute to shifting the (sometimes negative) public perceptions and building trust in public services?

I agree that trust is very important in public services.  If people lose faith and trust in the government, then our raison d’etre would be lost.  This is why it’s critical that we gain and live up to the trust of the people.  We intend to do this from the public’s perspective, by understanding what is most important to the citizens in terms of public services.  The recent Public Service Delivery survey that we conducted showed us that the top three values that people value when accessing public services are 1) promptness of service providers, e.g. maintaining a presence during office hours, answering phone calls; 2) professionalism of the officials, and; 3) time taken for the service to be delivered (turnaround time).  We’ll build on these findings to design a tool for monitoring and assessing public services, revise standards if necessary, and ultimately improve services that are more responsive to the needs of the citizens.

What would be some of the positive changes that the service users and the service providers can expect to gain from this initiative?

The citizens would be able to better understand their duties and responsibilities when availing services, such as coming with the right information and completing formalities.  Once these requirements are met, they have the right to receive services from the providers.  But if these are not met, citizens can’t expect the providers to deliver services.  Citizens will also have the right and responsibility to provide feedback so that the services will improve in the future.

Civil servants, as service providers, would also become more aware of the responsibilities and expectations regarding the services they provide.  When they provide the services to the required standards, the idea is to link this with their performance rating, which would then translate into incentives such as promotions.  We hope that this would drive the civil servants to perform more conscientiously and with greater empathy.

There must be a mutually beneficial partnership between service providers and users.  The civil servants have the duty to perform and provide services, while the citizens receive services and contribute to the growth of the economy and the country.  This convergence of positions is very important, and the citizens and the civil service must be able to recognise and ultimately realise this convergence.

What are your strategies for the long term sustainability of this initiative?

Citizen-centric monitoring and assessment would need to be integrated with the Government Performance Management System (GPMS) and Individual Work Plans (IWPs).  This integration might require a vertical accountability mechanism to not only hold the agency or division accountable but also the individual civil servants in charge of providing services.  We also need to provide incentives for motivating good performance.

What are you trying to do differently from past civic engagement initiatives?

Firstly, the pilot initiative aims to develop a framework with quantifiable measures for public services.  Secondly, this framework will be tried and tested in the field.  Thirdly, a principal element of the framework is to systematically engage citizens.  The objective of creating such a framework is to ensure 1) greater inclusivity and accessibility; 2) greater realization of citizen rights and 3) state responsiveness and accountability.  The initiative will incentivise service providers and increase the cost of inaction.  When tied to performance management systems, civil servants will be encouraged to actively meet citizens’ expectations and agency targets.

Would you have any additional remarks to share with us today?

The issue of improving public service delivery is dear to everyone in the country.  But more often than not, we don’t receive constructive feedback that would allow us to improve services.  It’s therefore vital to gain a comprehensive understanding of what is working and what is not by gathering citizen experiences.  We hope to transition from the conventional view of government as providers and citizens as users towards a mutually beneficial partnership, where both actors are of equal importance.

We look forward to furthering our pawrtnership with UNDP including the newly established Accelerator Lab.  The lab’s focus on accelerating experimentation will be useful for this initiative.  Testing our methods in the field will not only help us assess if they are workable but will also help improve acceptance from civil servants.