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Public Reviews Of Public Services

Measuring the performance of government agencies has been a hot topic among government managers over the last several years. Frequently, these performance measurement projects end up using lots of resources, with dozens of different measures and the computer systems necessary to manage all that data. But the odd result is that, with all these measures, what matters to the people who are served by your government is often overlooked.The same thing was true in medical care, another service area of great personal importance to people. Then the Zagat folks entered the picture. Much like their website for reviews of restaurants and the like, in conjunction with the WellPoint health insurance company, they started a website where patients can rate their physicians. imageOf course, Zagat isn’t the only such service. has been known for, among other things, reader reviews of books.None of these Internet-based rating services — and there are many — is without criticism. The worry in the Amazon reviews is that they can be gamed for commercial purposes. With Zagat’s application of their review process to physicians, there have been criticisms about the lack of expertise of the reviewers. But both of these services can provide a perspective that the physicians or restaurants or authors or any other service provider couldn’t get in any other way.Similarly, if the public gets a chance to rate public services, you will be able to learn things about those services that none of the internally generated performance measurement systems alone will give you. Where could you use this in government? Well, think about the services you offer, particular those that are used by enough people that ratings might mean something.How about ratings of:• each of your parks• each of the major roads in your area• each bus route or other transit service• each health clinic• each school• each library or library branch• special events that you run, whether holiday events or educational eventsJust like restaurant reviews, which have many dimensions — quality of food, ambience, service, etc. — so too you could have many dimensions in any reviews of public services. Roads, for example, can be measured by the smoothness of the surface (the opposite of potholes), congestion, perceived safety, and clarity of signs.You don’t even need to think all that hard about these dimensions because you can also let the public suggest the dimensions they want to rate services on.And, based on the experience of the other reviewing services, there shouldn’t be too much concern about criticism boiling over. While there are the bad, sometimes really awful, reviews, in most cases people have good things to say. And their suggestions for improvements are well meaning. Of course, if there is some public service that you offer which garners extremely negative responses from a majority of reviewers, then you probably have a real problem — and it’s better to know about it early, before it becomes an election year issue.Bottom line: unlike elaborate performance measurement systems, this is just a fairly simple website that can engage your residents and provide you with valuable information, inexpensively.Norm Jacknis {encode=”” title=””} March 30, 2009

Calculate The Benefits Of Telework

Telework is getting a fresh look because the factors that make telecommuting attractive are converging from various directions. Telework is a green strategy in both meanings of the word: (1) saving money and (2) doing things that will help reduce greenhouse gases and sustain the environment. First, in the current very tight — even dire — financial circumstances of local and state governments, public employees are being asked to accept payless workdays, no salary increases and other budget cutting measures. Telecommuting is one way to help employees to reduce their costs of getting to work that will not add anything to your budget.Telecommuting also helps save money by reducing your costs for operating your buildings. While statistics on this subject are not yet generally available, I can draw upon the experience of Cisco. Converting the employees in one building in San Jose to a less office-oriented work pattern resulted in reduced building costs — a 40% reduction in space per employee and 55% less money spent on IT infrastructure and cabling. And the employees were happier and more productive.Second, there is also an increasing emphasis in governments not only on developing new policies to sustain the environment, but also to set an example by operating in a greener way. Telecommuting helps reduce greenhouses gases by getting vehicles off the roads, especially during rush hour. (And that again reduces local government costs by reducing highway maintenance.)Sun Microsystems has had a telework program for 10 years with more than half of its workforce at home or in flexible work spaces. The company found that office equipment consumed twice as much energy in a Sun office as in a home office — 130 watts per hour versus 64. But that was not the greatest factor in greenhouse gas reductions. Employees who eliminated the commute to a Sun office also slashed their carbon footprints, with commuting accounting for more than 98% of each employee’s work-related carbon footprint; running office equipment made up less than 1.7% of a person’s total work-related carbon emissions.Of course, you will want to tally up the benefits of telecommuting for your particular area. Fortunately, a pair of dedicated telework experts have made that easy for you by creating a telework calculator at [While you are there, you might want to take a look at the home page for a variety of other telecommuting resources.]The Telework Calculator has data for every city, county, region, Congressional District, and State, so you can see the results just for your area. There are a couple of dozen metrics, including savings to your government and your employees, as well as the reduction in greenhouse gases. You can even play with the assumptions behind it, such as what percentage of workers could easily switch to telecommuting. Their estimate may be on the high side.Much of the work that government does is especially suitable for telework. The Federal government, which has been developing its telework expertise for years, has found that 52% of its employees are eligible for telecommuting. You can find more Federal information at and from the Federal-private sector partnership, the Telework Exchange at (which also has its own telework calculator).At the State level, Arizona has led with telework in the Phoenix area. See for more information. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance has used this approach to create what is in many ways a virtual, but much more responsive, agency.Bringing this discussion back to your policy making role, you can use the Telework Calculator to measure the value of telecommuting in your area if every public and private entity ran a telecommuting program. Last week the folks behind the Telework Calculator released a study in which they added up the numbers and suggested that, if telework really took off, “working from home could save United States consumers $228 billion, add $260 billion to companies’ bottom line.”Some ideas on how to encourage more telecommuting by the business community in your area will be a subject for a future blog.Norm Jacknis {encode=” ” title=” “} March 16, 2009

Create Public Services By Enabling People To Serve Each Other

When computers were introduced into white-collar businesses a couple of decades ago, one of the first effects that people noticed was that companies began to shrink the ranks of middle management. Middle managers, whose major job was collecting, summarizing and reporting data to higher management, were no longer needed once the computers could do the same thing, only faster. The very highest management, the CEO, essentially could get direct reports from the lowest person in the hierarchy. This phenomenon was labeled”disintermediation” because it eliminated the intermediary.With the presence of personal computers and Internet connections in the majority of American homes, there is now the potential to similarly reduce some of the barriers between you (the chief elected official) and the average citizen. Traditionally, the top officials of government would almost always deliver public services through paid civil service staff or the equivalent paid staff in non-profit agencies or private companies through outsourcing contracts. This staff is the intermediary between you and the public.This goes beyond the various forms of citizen suggestions that some government websites offer today -elected officials can facilitate the creation of public services by enabling citizens to help each other. In the current recession, some leaders will immediately think of the potential cost savings that can occur when shifting some public services from paid staff to volunteer citizens. But an even bigger and longer lasting problem is the pending retirement of the baby boomers, who account for a large fraction of government workers. How will they be replaced? Should their positions be filled or should we look for new ways to deliver services?The network connects citizens to each other and the government; the software technology is available. The missing piece is the leadership to put this new approach in place. What kind of services might you start with? One good way to start is the first line of services -for example, finding out how to get a park pass or sign up for”meals on wheels”. This kind of service does not require years of specialized experience, but just having gone through the process. One slightly more experienced citizen can help another inexperienced citizen with such information. If you’re concerned about the quality of information, you can have paid staff monitor the discussions -but that will take considerably less staff than having them answer all of the questions to begin with. The paid staff can then be focused on the more complex problems that do, in fact, require their special skills and background.And there are three other benefits to this approach. First, it draws more people into the process of governing -voters who might feel more a part of your team or, at least, have a better understanding of what your government deals with. Second, when the private sector has set up similar mutual support for its customers, they found that the customers preferred this way of solving problems. Also, many customers felt that someone who was not a paid staff member of the company was more credible. Third, although there can be criticisms of the government on these sites, that acts as an early warning system to you as the head of the government. Without this direct citizen support, it might take much longer for you to learn about a festering problem in the bureaucracy, which makes it that much more difficult to fix the problem.For some examples of how private companies have done this, take a look at these websites:- Apple’s discussion groups on the iPhone ATT’s Samsung Forum Linksys’ website on its home wireless routers – Samsung UK and these sites mostly use text, it is also possible for citizens to talk to each other as well. And, as you develop more experience with this and network broadband becomes a reality, there are bound to be greater advancements and uses of citizen collaboration to deliver public services.Norm Jacknis March 2, 2009

Get The Most Out Of Your Construction Money

Construction is a major expenditure for state and local governments. This is going to be the case even more as many billions of dollars will go into infrastructure from the Federal Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It’s also important to realize that construction costs are a major factor in projects that are not officially called construction projects. For example, over the last few years, many governments have invested in public safety radio projects or broadband projects. While these are about communications and technology, often the construction costs associated with these projects are larger than the cost of acquiring the technology.So the key question is whether you are getting the most from every dollar spent on construction. The answer is that, if you just let the construction proceed as it always has been done, you are increasingly wasting money.The construction industry’s productivity picture is below that of US industry, in general. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, productivity in the construction industry has declined since 1968. Stanford University Professor Paul Teicholz reports that”construction work per hourly work hour has gradually declined – over the past 40 years at an average compound rate of -0.59%/year.” But there is hope on the horizon. A few forward thinking architects, engineers, builders and computer experts have banded together to create a new four dimensional approach to construction projects, which goes by the name”Building Information Modeling” or BIM. Despite the name, BIM can be used in any construction project -highways and sewers, for example -not just buildings.BIM is still a developing technology and approach, so the most dramatic benefits are still in the future. Already, though, those who have used BIM have seen substantial reductions in costs and shrinkage of project schedules. Some have reported reductions of as much as a third over the traditional construction approach. A significant cause of these reductions is that BIM results in a reduction in claims for errors, which traditionally have meant costly rework and ad hoc redesign on the job site. Since BIM coordinates the work of all the trades on a job, it virtually eliminates the problems that ensue when, for example, electrical wiring and water pipes are put in the same place.BIM also enables the prefabrication of customized components. This gives you the savings of pre-fab manufactured buildings, without the need to conform to the manufacturer’s stock designs. For example, a 50 foot component wall could be built off site from the specifications and just be put into place. The US General Services Administration (GSA) has started to require firms who construct federal buildings to use BIM. Hopefully, State and Local governments will also start to require BIM of their construction bidders.For further information about BIM: – The best starting point is a 12 minute video that GSA prepared about their”Journey Into Building Information Modeling” at This video is part of a general GSA website devoted to BIM at It includes all kinds of publications that you might want to pass along to your public works or other construction staff.- The buildingSMART alliance is the organizational leader of BIM. Its”focus is to guarantee lowest overall cost, optimum sustainability, energy conservation and environmental stewardship to protect the earth’s ecosystem.” Wikipedia, of course, has an entry on BIM at An introductory article,”Intelligent Design Through BIM” can be found at Jacknis February 22, 2009

Fix My Street

With digital cameras and cameras within mobile phones, your citizens can be your eyes and ears. Don’t wait for a problem -or worse, a pattern of problems -to get out of hand. Encourage people to help you identify those problems fast. They can take a picture or even a video, identify the location and send it to you.In tough financial times, this approach helps in a number of ways. It opens up the possibility of reducing staff that just go around looking for problems, since citizens would be volunteering to do work that was paid for. Some of these positions can be shifted to fixing the problems. All in all, this should allow for a faster resolution of problems and more satisfied citizens.It is, of course, conceivable that you might be overwhelmed by complaints. To handle this situation, you can explain on the site how you prioritize problems so people know what to expect. You might indicate that high risk problems or those in busy areas or those that are costly come first. You could even ask the person submitting the report to rate the problem against your criteria and then let other visitors to the site agree or disagree. That way, to some extent, you let public opinion help you determine the order in which problems are to be addressed. You could even copy some of the websites that encourage people to rank products, except in this case, they would be encouraged to rank problems. FixMyStreet -at -was developed by a British non-profit,, so that citizens can”report, view, or discuss local problems (like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting).” In the UK, a citizen files a report and the non-profit group sends it in to the local government. But you don’t need a middle-man; you could set up such a website yourself. And the FixMyStreet software is free (open-source) software, so setting it up is not expensive. Finally, while FixMyStreet focuses on these simple physical problems on a street, you don’t have to limit yourself to those kinds of problems, of course. Any kind of problem or incident could be reported.imageNorm Jacknis {encode=”” title=””} February 12, 2009