Civil servants can utilize data to generate ideas and communicate actions and performances to ensure positive perception of government by the citizens
Akintola Benson Oke
There is a school of thought in political science that posits that there are three key parameters that confer legitimacy on governments. In an article titled, “The Three Keys to Government Legitimacy” by Amanda Greene, a lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University College, London, the question of how governments can secure their legitimacies and translate secured legitimacies into tangible benefits for the citizenry was addressed. According to her, the proposition that the “popular support that translates into legitimacy has to enable government to deliver benefits to all implies that citizens’ support for government has to be more concrete than some vaguely positive feelings.” In order to go beyond the ‘vaguely positive feelings,’ she argued that there must be positive perceptions of government along three distinct dimensions.
The first dimension identified is the dimension of competence. According to her, and I agree, “government must be seen as capable and effective in carrying out its activities.” The second is the dimension of fairness and the proposition is that “government must be seen as treating all people equally and impartially, without favouritism or discrimination.” Finally, she identified the third dimension as “the dimension of human concern and personal connectedness: government must be seen to be sincerely caring about each person’s welfare. Only when the government is seen as competent, fair, and caring does it have the kind of support that amounts to legitimacy.”
Further buttressing the point, Ms. Greene said, “These three dimensions – competence, fairness, and caring – are all necessary, because a lack of any one of them is enough to weaken legitimacy. For instance, if the government is perceived as unfair, then its legitimacy is reduced even if it is otherwise seen as being competent and caring.” Indeed, it is difficult to argue or disagree with the postulations above and the reason why I have gone to some length to identify these parameters is so that I may point out what the objectives of information management by civil servants in Lagos State ought to be.
Information has been described as the fuel of government. This description was given by Katie Burke, the Government Programme Specialist at Laserfiche. In a recent article, she noted that, “For some industries, information is a means to an end. Business assets like friendly customer service and attractive inventory can overshadow information as the real ‘money makers’ of the enterprise. But when it comes to government, information—and the systems that manage it—take a front seat.” She then proceeded to explain why government entities should treat information as a valued asset.
I wholeheartedly agree with the reasoning and statement above. One may suppose that what sustains a government and, in fact, a system of government, is the will of the people. That may be true. But what influences the will of the people is information and the way it is managed. This is why every responsible government will place premium on the establishment, maintenance, and sustenance of a modern, robust, effective and scalable information management system.
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The responsibility for all these fall on the civil service, of course. In most democracies, the civil service represents the ‘permanent government’ that must be equipped to adequately advise the government of the day, implement government programmes, and effectively communicate the reasoning behind government-sanctioned programmes to the citizens. The net effect is that, if civil servants are well-equipped to discharge these tasks, the programmes of government will be positively perceived by the populace and will thus receive the needed support for success.
The Governor Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration is, of course, unrepentant and unapologetic in its dogged belief in the all-important role of the civil service as outlined above. This is what informs the many varied and in-depth trainings that have been delivered to all cadres of the Lagos State Civil Service since the assumption of office in 2015.
Today’s training continues in that laudable tradition with a focus on how the Lagos State Civil Service can be better equipped to accurately, effectively, and positively communicate government decisions, actions, and programmes to the citizens of Lagos State and the world at large. I propose to briefly highlight three of the strategies for formulating and implementing world-class information management systems that will result in the positive perception of government programmes. This is because the bottom line is that governments must find ways of operating that enable citizens to see them as competent, fair, and caring. But while it is admittedly harder than ever to secure all of these positive perceptions at once, a systematic approach can be fashioned out and executed to ensure that the details of governmental actions are communicated in the most accurate and positive manner possible. I now turn to a consideration of three of such suggested systematic approaches and strategies.
In an article titled, Government by Design, Diana Farrell and Andrew Goodman of McKinsey & Co. argued that one of the strategies for improving government perceived performance is by becoming better at collecting and analyzing relevant data. According to them, “Governments must decide what to measure and how, always with an eye on the overall goal of the programme or initiative”. The authors of the article then proceeded to cite the examples of strategies employed in France and Moscow to improve the perception of government performance.
With respect to the French example, they wrote that, “One of the goals of a government-wide transformation effort in France between 2009 and 2012 was to reduce the perceived complexity of dealing with the government. As part of this initiative, the government identified 50 life events—such as getting married or starting a business—during which citizens have to interact with public agencies. It then sought to simplify each of these interactions, all the while measuring citizen satisfaction to track whether the changes were actually working.”
Respecting the cited Moscow example, the authors explained that, “as part of a broader open government initiative, the city of Moscow is beginning to publish a dashboard of around 50 key performance indicators relating to the city’s health, education, safety, business conditions, and transportation outcomes. The dashboard acts as a scorecard for citizens, showing the city’s performance against these metrics.”
From the examples referred to above, one begins to see how civil servants can creatively utilize data to generate ideas and communicate government actions and performances in order to ensure positive perception (or, in the least, accurate perception) of government by the citizens.
Dr Oke is the Commissioner, Lagos State Ministry of Establishments, Training and Pensions