What is citizen-centred service?

What is citizen-centred service? Why is it different from client centred service, and why is the ICCS founded upon this concept?

Since 1997, the Canadian approach to service improvement in the public sector has consistently described itself as “citizen-centred”. The collaborative institution established by the Canadian service delivery community is now called the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service. Why should service delivery in the public sector be “citizen-centred,” and why do we use this term? There are at least six reasons:

  1. The delivery of government services should be conceived and executed from the “outside-in” – not inside-out – with the needs, perspectives, improvement priorities, and satisfaction of Canadians foremost in mind. An “outside-in” perspective will therefore lead us to pay attention to citizens’ service improvement priorities and needs, and to their levels of satisfaction with individual services. In a citizen-centred approach, citizen satisfaction becomes the criterion for success, and the basis for results measurement in public sector service delivery.
  2. A citizen-centred, “outside-in” approach also helps to highlight the challenge of “access”: citizens have to work through the maze of public sector organizations and services to get what they need, and we can only truly meet citizens’ complex service needs by working together across organizations and governments to provide seamless, integrated service to citizens.
  3. Even more important, the clients of government services are not “just” clients, as they might be in the private sector. They are not just consumers of government services. They are usually also taxpayers and citizens, that is: bearers of rights and duties in a framework of democratic community. As taxpayers and members of a civic or democratic community, citizens “own” the organizations that provide public services, and have civic interests that go well beyond their own service needs. While clients of the Government of Canada are usually citizens of this country, they may also be potential citizens of Canada, or citizens of another country with a business, professional or personal interest in Canada.
  4. Many of the clients of government are “involuntary clients,” whose service relationship with government derives not from choice but rather from their obligations as citizens, or from the rights of other citizens. That is one reason why “fairness” is among the five top drivers of Canadians’ satisfaction with the quality of government service delivery.
  5. Those who deliver government services may have to balance the distinct interests and needs of different categories of citizens, within the broader framework of the public interest. They may also have to balance the interests of immediate or direct clients with those of the citizens of Canada as a whole. The satisfaction of immediate “clients” needs to go hand in hand with the confidence of all citizens in the institutions of government.
  6. Perhaps most important, service delivery in the public sector should be citizen-centred because every act of service is a “moment of truth” in which Canadians form an impression – positive or negative – about the effectiveness of public institutions and about the potential of democratic government. The service experience either increases or decreases Canadians’ confidence in public institutions, and in the degree to which they are capable of fulfilling their democratic missions. It thus enhances or diminishes Canadians’ confidence in the potential of their own democratic citizenship. Those who deliver government services should always bear in mind that the quality of government service delivery can and should contribute to strengthen democratic citizenship, and the bonds of confidence and trust between citizens, and between citizens and their democratic institutions. Public sector “clients” are also citizens, whose pride and belief in their own democratic citizenship can be strengthened or weakened by the service experience.