Public sector managers have a lot on their plate, and it’s easy to get lost in the data, spreadsheets, and consultants that are supposed to help them make decisions. However, relying solely on these can lead to a distorted view of reality, and managers may find themselves making decisions that are based on information that is disconnected from what is happening on the ground. To be effective, public sector managers need to stay in touch with the reality of their organizations and the citizens they serve.
We’ve seen too managers lose touch with what is happening on the ground level of their organisations because they hide away in their ivory towers. This is because they don’t take a proactive and holistic approach to understanding what is actually going on. They are over reliant on what the spreadsheet or consultants are saying and have no way of cross checking it against the realities on the ground and what their own people are saying. This is why having a mechanism to capture the stories (i.e. micro-narratives / grand narratives) that are being told within the organisation and outside it is so critical because it provides context to what the numbers / spreadsheet data and consultants are saying. You need both data and narratives.
One of the biggest challenges that we’ve observed that is faced by managers is balancing the needs of the organization with the needs of its people. This requires a deep understanding of the organisations culture, the work that your employees are doing, and the challenges they face. While spreadsheets and consultants can provide data on things like productivity, costs, and user satisfaction, they don’t always capture the human element of work. To truly understand what’s happening in your organization, you need to get out of your office and spend time with your frontline staff.
- Spend time in the field – Whether you work in an office or a factory, make an effort to spend time in the areas where your employees work. This will give you a firsthand look at what’s happening and help you understand the challenges that your employees face.
- Talk to your employees – Don’t rely solely on surveys or consultants to gather feedback from your employees. Make an effort to talk to them directly and listen to their concerns and ideas.
- Encourage open communication – Create an environment where your employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas with you. This will help you stay in touch with what’s happening on the ground and make better decisions.
- Use data as a tool – Don’t let data drive your decisions. Instead, use it as a tool to help you identify trends and patterns that you might not notice otherwise and pair it up with the stories that you are hearing from employees and customers to provide you with context.
It’s crucial that public sector managers don’t lose sight of the human element of service delivery when dealing with delivering digital government services. While spreadsheets and consultants can provide valuable data and insights, they don’t always capture the experiences and needs of citizens and the staff responsible for delivering the services because people aren’t data driven , they’re narrative driven. To truly understand what’s happening in e-government, public sector managers need to get out of their offices and spend time with both citizens and frontline staff listening to the stories.
Here are some ways public sector managers can stay in touch with reality:
- Conduct user research – Public sector managers should conduct user research to understand the needs and expectations of citizens. This can help them design services that meet citizens’ needs and expectations.
- Engage with citizens – Public sector managers should engage with citizens to get feedback on the services they provide. This can help them identify areas for improvement and ensure that services are meeting citizens’ needs.
- Monitor service delivery – Public sector managers should monitor service delivery to ensure that services are being delivered effectively and efficiently. This can help them identify areas for improvement and make changes as needed.
- Use data as a tool – Public sector managers should use data as a tool to help them make decisions. However, they should not rely solely on data. They should also take into consideration the experiences and feedback of citizens.
- Engage regularly with frontline staff – Engage regularly with staff on the frontlines. In small organisations you can do this by allocating a day to do a walk about to staff to do an informal catch up. If your organisation is larger setup a distributed system to capture micro-narratives to get a feel for what stories are coming through.
By taking these steps, public sector managers can stay in touch with the reality of their organisations, the citizens they serve and the people that they manage. They can make better decisions and deliver better services by understanding the needs and expectations of citizens. While spreadsheets and consultants can be valuable tools, they should never be a substitute for direct observation and feedback from citizens.
In conclusion, to get a complete picture of what’s happening in your organization, you need to combine data with stories (micro-narratives) from citizens and staff on the frontlines to ensure you stay in touch with the reality of the digital government service delivery. You should deploy user research, staff & citizen engagement tools, monitor service delivery, and use the data to tell you what is going on and stories to tell you why it’s happening that way. By doing so, public sector managers can make better decisions and deliver better services to citizens.