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Sep 2018 | The Future of Public Service Delivery

Tyler Sutton, Editor-in-Chief


When the PSD editorial team set out to curate content for the Q3 issue of the Digest, we thought with the theme “The Future of Public Service Delivery” we would be editing content primarily related to technological change. We asked ourselves, and our network of editorial contributors, how will government organizations need to adapt in order to continue effectively serving the public in the face of significant demographic, political, social, and technological change?

The technology that government uses to interface with the public will certainly need to change, as explored in this issue by Michal Dziong from the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service. According to the results of the Institute’s latest Citizens First survey, more than two-thirds of survey respondents indicated that they would be more likely to access government services through an online channel if there was a live agent available to answer questions through a chat window. We’re now at the point where the expectation is not simply that government provides the public with information online, but that it must develop, test, and update online platforms for service delivery to encourage greater use by the public.

Technological change will not just be needed to improve the public’s experience interfacing with government, it will also be needed to make government operations run more safely and efficiently. PSD’s Stefanie Fisher discusses the expansion of automated garbage collection across municipalities. Manchester, New Hampshire reported losing 4,503 work hours on average per year to injury among trash collectors before implementing automated garbage collection. In the first year of their new automated program, zero injuries were reported.

After reviewing the sum of case studies, commentaries, and insights included in this issue, it becomes clear that technological change is just one lever that governments can use to cope with newly emerging challenges in public service delivery. Other levers may include changes in the human resource compliment of an organization, as explored by Kent Aitken of the Public Policy Forum, or negotiating new governance frameworks with other levels of government, as discussed by both Kate Graham and PSD’s Erin Orr. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) has been advocating for a dedicated portion of the provincial sales tax to be committed to municipal infrastructure renewal. According to AMO, with a seemingly insurmountable municipal infrastructure deficit, Ontario’s local governments require a new fiscal arrangement with the province as the property tax is an insufficient revenue generating tool. This lever for change – negotiating new intergovernmental frameworks – is not one to be employed with the hope for rapid outcomes.  

Ultimately, as argued directly and indirectly by several contributors in this issue, the most effective measure that governments can take to prepare for the future of service delivery may be to build skills and resources to enable organizational adaptability. Rather than putting significant resources into trying to understand what the future of your organization (and its stakeholders) might look like, followed by putting in place processes and solutions to better adapt your organization to that possible future, you would be better served by preparing for any possible outcome. What is the best way to prepare for the unknown? Staff your organization with flexible and adaptable people. Purchase software and technology that can change as needs change. Build policies and procedures with an understanding that they will need to be updated frequently. And yes, continue to think about how public service delivery will need to change in your organization, but leave some wiggle room for plans to change if and when that unforeseen circumstance unfolds before you.

Tyler Sutton, Editor-in-Chief
Public Sector Digest