Let’s face it – most citizens don’t know much about how government works. They don’t know which department or agency should attend to their problem, request or inquiry. But you can bet they want a timely response. After all, that’s what this whole service delivery thing is about – right?
Responding to this prime imperative of modern government, Manitoba has implemented a multi-channel service delivery program to give citizens better access to government through a “no wrong doors” approach. The program – At Your Service Manitoba – gives citizens direct access to government programs, services and information through three channels of contact: in person, on the Internet and over the phone.
“We started off with the realization that the government’s Web presence didn’t necessarily reflect overall government priorities,” said Donne Flanagan, executive director of Manitoba’s Coordinated Services Unit. “An uninitiated citizen coming to the province’s Web site would have great difficulty finding what they wanted without knowing how the government works.
“From that starting point it turned into a large service strategy that examined how we could make government services, programs and information easier for the public to access. The bottom line is to put an easy face on the government – one phone number, one Web site. You don’t need to know what department you’re looking for. Contact us and we’ll help you connect to the right place.”
At Your Service Manitoba was approved by cabinet in September 2001. It came to life last October, in a revamped front end to the government Web site.
“We’ve had nothing but positive responses,” Flanagan said. “We’re still working on significant enhancements on the government’s Web presence to make it more of an interactive tool for citizens to access what they need.”
Just one month after the Web launch, the Coordinated Services Unit followed up with a four-week advertising campaign.
“It’s the first initiative I’ve heard of where the government has actually advertised that it gives good service and is in business to help citizens,” said David Primmer, CIO for the province.
“It makes a pretty bold statement that we’re here to serve people.”
On the telephone front, the province launched an education campaign to ensure that public servants were equipped to answer all requests for government access irregardless of the agency they worked for.
“We started by trying to let employees know that the government was promoting this no wrong doors philosophy,” Flanagan said. “So we’re involved in a large education campaign to let everyone know that if you can’t answer a question, don’t say, ‘I don’t know.'”
Flanagan said public servants have been told to refer telephone inquiries to Manitoba General Inquiry, a central call centre where trained personnel are available to provide answers. In the past, when it was known as the Citizen’s Inquiry Service, the unit responded to 200,000 requests a year, but that figure is expected to rise as the At Your Service initiative takes hold.
“We already know from the data coming out of Manitoba Government Inquiry that civil servants are using the call centre to a much greater extent than they were in the past,” Flanagan said.
As for in-person inquiries, Flanagan said his group is looking at one-stop access centres. The goal is to direct people to the appropriate department or agency.
Flanagan noted that from the beginning of the project, the Coordinated Services Unit sought to ensure support from public servants.
“There was a bit of cynicism at the start,” he said. “Sometimes a government will be interested in a project for a few months and then it falls off the map. I think with launching the large public information campaign at the onset, we demonstrated the government’s commitment to using an access channel strategy.”
From an IT point-of-view, Primmer said At Your Service Manitoba is a bold statement of how important multi-channel service delivery is.
“I’m excited about the project as a CIO,” he said. “I see that it will drive the IT agenda. The whole idea of IT standing alone doesn’t make sense. It’s there to improve service delivery.”