Find a government service with eContact – Rescuing the lost citizen

A new project keeps the vision alive

Why isn’t it as easy to find a government service as it is to find an electric drill in a hardware store? Peter Oberle has an answer: because the store has an inventory, and the government does not.

“If I call up Canadian Tire or an organization like that and ask them about a product, they can tell me in seconds whether they have that product in stock,” says Oberle, senior director of service policy with the Chief Information Officer Branch of the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat.
“And they can tell me about the product, what the price is, whether it’s going to be on sale, those kinds of things.

“That kind of quick service response is made possible by having at hand a comprehensive, up-to-date inventory,” Oberle says. “What if governments in Canada established a global, common-language inventory of services, the kind that would enable public servants to more consistently and quickly respond to Canadians’ service requests?”

Treasury Board thinks that’s a good idea. So do Service Canada, the Public Sector Service Delivery Council and the Government of New Brunswick. They are all involved in an emerging project that might finally give directions to the Lost Citizen.

A typical Canadian cannot easily find a desired government service at any level, and gets lost trying. That was a finding of the first “Citizens First” survey conducted by the Institute for Citizen-Centred Service. Subsequent surveys have confirmed the continuing plight of the Lost Citizen.

“Similar to previous ‘Citizens First’ studies, ‘Citizens First 4’ shows that less than one-third of citizens agree that they can readily access the government services they need,” says the latest report, published in 2005.

For a while, the Public Sector Service Delivery Council (PSSDC) and the Public Sector CIO Council, working together as the Joint Councils, thought they had an idea that would solve the problem. They called it eContact.

A multijurisdictional project intended for implementation across Canada, eContact established a repository of contact information relating to public services at all levels, available via partners’ Web sites to citizens and government call-centre operators.

The project began in 2002 with participation from the Governments of Canada, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick and proceeded with pilot projects. In 2006, however, funding collapsed with the cessation of the federal Government On-Line initiative.

Although eContact ceased to be a going concern, its goal of providing one-stop, easy access to government services for Canadians is alive, and is in fact the core mandate of Service Canada, says Daniel B

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