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  • Rich Haglund

Insulation isn't always a good thing.

Especially in government services.


Government agencies are generally insulated from any pressure to provide a quality service at a reasonable price (value). This is because they're usually the monopoly provider of a service and because their funding is disconnected from any fees which may be paid by the public consumers of the service. For example, public schools aren't funded directly by the subset of citizens who send their children there. Instead, all citizens pay property taxes and the county or city gives some portion of those to the local school district(s).


It doesn't help that these government agencies have 100-200 legislators--distant from the operational reality faced by the agencies--dictating what each agency should do. And these legislators often consider any cost to be bad since they want to gain votes by reducing the net tax burden on citizens.


Despite these challenges, government agencies have a responsibility to the citizens whose service it is and by whose consent the legislators govern. The government agencies have a responsibility to deliver the kind of services citizens need at a level of quality they rightfully expect.


The good news is that improving service quality and delivery doesn't always require more money. In a recent article, Danielle Barnes explained how state agencies can improve their services merely by taking some time to ask four fundamental questions and doing what is within their power in light of the answers to those questions:

  1. How do we put the right internal structure in place for change and sustainability?

  2. How do we use data to better serve citizens?

  3. How do we put people at the center when we design policies, programs and practices?

  4. How do we leverage community partnerships to help families?

At the Tennessee Department of Human Resources (TDHR), where Ms. Barnes served as commissioner, data analysis and putting people at the center of practice design led the TDHR to adjust their processes to reduce the wait time for job seekers from 2.5 hours to 5 minutes!


So, when will your agency take time to consider these questions? What changes could you make to provide better services to your fellow citizens?

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