TED Conversations

Olena Ursu

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Local governments provide better services when they engage citizens in co-designing and improving the service

Fullly agree with Beth Noveck: transparency of the Government itself does not change anything and does not solve the local problems without combining it with the next step - meaningful citizens' participation and collaboration for the chage.

In Ukraine where I'm from 54% of citizens are fully or mostly unsatisfied with the quality of administrative service provision. Reasons include complexity of the administrative procedures; lack of proper information from the authorities; lengthy terms of service provision; uncomfortable work schedules of the administrative bodies; and many others. But can citizens influence this situation?

Effective mechanisms of raising citizens’ concerns to provide their feedback to the local authorities and, most importantly, to make sure that this feedback is translated into the real actions to improve the quality of service provision, are still lacking.

One of the models which was experimented in L'viv municipality is a "Secret Client" model within which the organised groups of volunteers attend the administrative bodies to get some service and then report to the municipality through the active local CSO with their recommendations for improving the quality of this service.

There is also a number social innovation projects helping to engage citizens for constructive monitoring and oversight on administrative service provision in the couontry.

Our idea is to collect the most efficient models of engaging citizens by the local governments for the sake of improvement of the administrative services they provide.

We are sure that the TED community accumulated rich knowledge on the topic, which you could help us to reach. Please tell us about all experiences which you may recommend as a smart practice of public oversight on administrative service provision, be it Web 2.0 based initiatives or real-life exercises accomplished in your countries. We will be sincerely grateful for all thoughts and ideas you share with us.

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  • Apr 13 2013: I just really dont think "Governments" are the solution federally or locally. I Live in Chicago which, as far as local governments go, is the most corrupt in America. A good government is much like a good economy in that it works the best when people have both freedom and faith in the system. I dont know Ukraines deal but if there isnt a level of legitimacy in your government there is no hope. As corrupt as politics is here In Illinois, at least 4 of the last 7 governors have been indicted and two are in prison. I say that because it re enforces the notion that nobodys above the law. When people feel like the governments untouchable they become disillusioned. Media and organizations a good way to spark change.
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      Apr 15 2013: Hi, Keith, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think governments are our reality, so we just have to find the best way to deal with them. If we doubt their legitimacy, the only thing we can do is to permanently monitor and control them. We are going to use the civil society organisations for this purpose. And we'll definitely involve media, sure. Hopefully, we'll be able to demonstrate the change.
  • Apr 1 2013: Olena, in essence, you would be taking away the power and control from the administrators. Don't the administrators get kickbacks or bribes, to arrange details that would benefit some more than others? That's what happens here. If gov use intelligent actions in one place, the general public might demand the gov use those same actions everywhere. It takes oversight to bring about what is best. People in power won't allow that. You have a good idea.
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      Apr 1 2013: Thank you very much for your support, Jim, it's really important for us as the project team at this stage. In our Ukrainian public administration system local governments are responsible for the administrative service provision to citizens not only in part of their own responsibilities as defined by legislation, but also in part of the state responsibilities delegated by the central government. So actually all the interaction with the citizens takes place through the local governments. With the help of public oversight we hope to improve the administrative service provision to the citizens of at least 15 Ukrainian municipalities. Thanks for your contribution!
      • Apr 1 2013: Interesting Olena. I hope it works great. It would be the first time gov limits its own power. The problem is, the top gov will be limiting local governments power and in so doing, local governments will want to help to limit the top officials in return. That would be great. It will be interesting to see how far it goes. Please keep me informed if you can and thank you. I love it!
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    Apr 1 2013: The internet has made direct participation in government more feasible. There's a US House Representative, Justin Amash (R-MI), who reports his votes to facebook and explains the bills. He's been pushing for other congressmen to do the same. Maybe that's what got him kicked off the budget committee... but he set an example.

    Also for the federal level in the US we have sites like govtrack.us and opencongress.org. But these are third party solutions. From what I read here, you seem to be more interested in structural changes, bringing various institutions up to speed with the 21st century. I don't know how things run in Ukraine, so I have no comment there. Most US agencies wield outsourced executive power with absolutely no democratic system to them, so here I expect solutions to look more like a feedback page on a company website. Like the White House's "We the People" page - https://petitions.whitehouse.gov. They have a "terms of service" that sounds like a software license; they maintain "signature thresholds" and you agree they can remove signatures and petitions, block IP addresses, you must be 13 and older, etc. In reality, there's really no benefit to using this system over a petition hosted elsewhere. The administration did it for their image, for the same reason any company would. Personally I'm a fan of third party solutions and community effort over any actual structural change. But I absolutely agree with you and Beth Noveck, a brilliant system is pointless if the citizen base is lame.

    I would love to see a more open government. But open is a degree, open-source is not. A free market (without patents) is open-source. Anyone can contribute to anything, and if a controlling party turns down a change then the would-be contributor is free to fork the whole project. So if I don't like your restaurant Sizzling Steaks, I'm free to start my own called Sizzling Sirloins. But government is not at all open-source, it can't be forked. It's totalitarian and pervasive
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      Apr 1 2013: Dear Fred, thanks for your great comments indeed. I really enjoyed reviewing the platform "We the People". In Ukrainian reality all possible crowdsourcing platforms are just starting to develop, there are just a few really good projects which proved their efficiency, and the process is really slow. http://ukryama.com/ is one of such projects - it's where citizens report about the condition of the roads where they walk/drive. It may not be interesting for you, but for Ukraine where the quality of the roads is really poor it is critically important for all citizens, drivers first of all. Yes, we would also like to see the open-source government. We'll see what kind of projects our partners will come up with. Thanks for your contribution!
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    Mar 26 2013: Olena

    This conversation may be of some use:

    http://www.ted.com/conversations/9808/how_do_we_get_back_the_neighbo.html

    I still think in your case the question is the answer. This subject might be in pioneer land
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      Mar 27 2013: Thanks a lot, Pat, for this very interesting link. I will explore the conversation in details.
  • Apr 2 2013: "Serving for people" it is our goverment's working slogan.It was from our first premier Zhou.Mr.Zhou EnLai was the most great premier in my country.He devoated his whole life for chinese people.He is the best example of being an official to implement what is'Serving for people'.
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      Apr 2 2013: Thank you! I wish all the governments in our countries followed the same slogan.
  • Apr 1 2013: I would also point out, that if any gov actually does what's best for the people, that country will far surpass all other nations in so very many ways, of course depending on size and resources. Of course all the other countries would then be very angry with the nation that allowed such, because it will expose the other nations leaders as inept.
  • Apr 1 2013: Olena, depending on your position, you might want to keep a watchful eye on the future. This project is doomed to failure---at least from what I know. I would say to you, if you have any position and power, push it as hard as you can, until the top people call a halt to it. Once they call a halt you will have 2 choices. The first choice is to acquiesce and the second is to fight, showing all the good things. If you acquiesce, its likely you get nothing. If you fight, they may offer you a better position, just to shut you up. That's how power works, from all I see.
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      Apr 1 2013: Jim, I'm a project manager, so trust me, I will do my best to keep a watchful eye on the project implementation. In order to minimize the risk of failure we will select for partnership those municipalities with which we have long history of prior partnership and good track of record of the successfully implemented initiatives together with the local communities. And I'm a fighter by nature :)
      • Apr 1 2013: Understood, stay smart!
      • Apr 1 2013: Thank you and your welcome.
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    Mar 31 2013: local governments as central ones they care about their personal benefits at present and in the future, they should be eliminated and replaced by virtual citizen contributions.
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      Apr 1 2013: Impossible, I think. At least, in Ukraine. No virtual citizens contribution will replace the function to coordinate public services provision; in our local context, it's all done by the municipality. Citizens' associations perform this function only for 15% of citizens living in the multiapartment houses
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    Mar 29 2013: You might want to look at the site of the BMW Guggenheim lab. They have spent twelve weeks in the last year in each of three cities, engaging local populations in discussion of the cities' most urgent problems in the eyes of the citizenry and strategies they can and are taking to address these problems. This engagement included professionals as well as anyone interested.

    In 2012, the Lab visited New York, Berlin, and Mumbai. Their findings in each place are on the site as well as video of many of the events. There has also been a thorough blog keeping account of descriptive details.
  • Mar 26 2013: My career involved much training and some practice in systems analysis. We learned very early that close and thorough engagement with the users of a system was necessary to develop a decent system.

    It is amazing to me that governments can be so far behind the private sector. I have recently been helping a recipient of government health services. The processes involved are absurd. They expect people who are chronically ill and debilitated to absorb thick books of information and fill out forms that require twenty pages. I am sure that many people never manage to complete all the work required and just go without services they need.

    When developing government service processes, it is ESSENTIAL to engage the citizens who are being served. The "Secret Client" approach would be a good way to check on the results, but not a good method to design a new approach. My method included interviewing everyone involved and developing lists of everyone's requirements. When one person has the whole picture and understands all of the requirements, then that person can find an approach that will best satisfy everyone. In the case of government services, the needs of the people being served should have top priority.
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      Mar 27 2013: Thanks a lot, Barry! It is very interesting. How did you prepare your interview questions? Did you follow some specific pethodology of systsms analysis? In Ukraine, the area of "administrative service" is quite specific - it's the results of some beurocracy, the fact of getting an administrative service is some paper document - certificate, allowance, approval etc. So I am just trying to understand did you adjust some typical questionnaire to your area (heath care services) or just used a standard questionnaire from some methodology? I would be interested to learn more about the latter in this case.
      • Mar 27 2013: I became acquainted with a few methodologies, and found all of them to have deficiencies. (In part because they are intellectual property and one cannot copy features of another.) Whenever possible I observed people while they were performing their jobs and learned everything I could about the whole process. Often, the most important aspects of a job are the things people do without thinking about them, and these things are often forgotten during interviews. I am sure that some government clerks go the extra mile and do things for their clients that are not technically part of their job. They may not want to admit doing those things that their clients consider to be the most valuable. If you get involved in the nuts and bolts of this, be sure to check the top drawers of every desk for little note pads. These will have hand written notes about how the job really gets done.

        Good luck.
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          Mar 27 2013: Thank you, Barry, for the very inspiring and practical; advice! Much appreciated. Honestly, office clerks in the municipalities often to their job nicely, but also are relucktant to any changes, even if those changes are for the better. One city mayor in Ukraine issued an official regulation regarding the telephone conversations with clients. Intead of "hello, ____ listening" he obliged the municipal staff to say "Good morning. ____, internal policies department, how can I help you?". This last part "how can I help you" was the most difficult for the employees in practices, they really couldn't force themselves to ask citizens how they could help them :)
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    Mar 26 2013: It i true, probably too much! Internet search is what we are already doing. By the way, Internet mostly says about the cases of web 2.0 projects of this nature, and very little about real-life experiences. Also, we haven't met any examples about citizens' monitoring specifically over administrative service provision (interaction with the authorities regarding issuance of various allowances, certificates, etc). And also we are still hoping that we'll find people with firt-hand experiences to talk to:)
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    Mar 26 2013: Much has been written about engaging residents of a place in problem-solving, or "bottom-up" approaches for improving quality of life in cities. An internet search would probably be a very fruitful first approach.
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    Mar 26 2013: Absolutely

    But you came to wrong place for advise. Most TED participants are retarded on this subject and in favor of being told what to do by a central government.

    But the main thing is have a small government. Which is in opposition to Beth Noveck as in all reality government is mainly to supply a rule of law and a national defense. Everything else is superfluous or counterproductive to a better life for it's citizens. It has been proven endlessly that economic freedom is the key to a better standard of living.
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      Mar 26 2013: Thank you, Pat! I went to many different places at a time. And I also have hopes for TED community as people with the most innovative and unbiased thinking!
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        Mar 26 2013: Olena

        I like the idea that this foments people doing for themselves and a reciprocal reduction in the size of government.

        I recommend that you be your own adviser (NO ONE KNOWS BETTER THAN YOU) and keep doing what is working.

        But this crowd likes centralized government that makes them feel warm fuzzy. Which is the antithesis of what you are talking about.
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          Apr 1 2013: I agree with you, Pat, we should go for the working approaches. But it's always good to listen to some other people's thoughts and advice, even just for inspiration or maybe for some great news ideas. E.g. your recommendation helps me to feel more confident about my future plans :) Thank you for that!!
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          Apr 24 2013: I have to disagree Pat. Central government is the reflection of the desires of the majority of the people. 300 million people with 300 million different ideas about what a governemt should be does not create governmental bodies. They are constantly at odds with one another.

          It is only through consensus, particianship, and negotiation that they can form a body of communalisim.

          Only when a central functioning body of govenment is established that can care for the basic needs of the active body of partisipants, can the size of the govenment be established. Once established, the size can vary according to the creative inputs of the individuals.

          For instance. If we all obeyed the traffic laws, there would be no need for the expenditure of traffic police. If everyone were educated in the activity of Emergency services, and maintained basic equipment at home or in our vehicle, we could reduce the size of emergency services to transportating stabalized victems to the hospital.

          It's the cumulative desire of individuals to live together, in harmoney and self-sacrifise to the common good, that will reduce the need for a central governing body.

          In the meantime, we need to sucure our rights by instituting govenments that deprive us of individual self-justice, hopefully giving us a warm and fuzzy feeling of comfort and knowledge that we have a functional governing structure that will enable us to jointly solve all of societies problems.
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        Apr 24 2013: I'm shocked that you disagree with me.

        Centralized government squashes the individual and creates a collective of zombies.