Why can’t the Public Sector deliver efficient services?

One of the “neverending” questions that citizens continually ask is why are public sector frontline organizations that serve the public so ineffective (with few exceptions). Go to any government office that provides front line services such as the Passport office or offices where you can obtain a drivers license or permit, or worst still, a health card or a birth certificate or information on pensions ( keep in mind that older folks don’t always have access to the Internet. )

While on the subject of Internet why are government sites so inferior to that of the private sector or why is it impossible to get the right person on the phone. why! why! why!

A recent article by S. H. Zaidi called “Why public sector organizations don’t deliver” may give us some clues

“The reasons for the ineffectiveness of most of these organizations according to Zaidi lie largely in a lopsided approach to ‘human resource management’. Mostly they seem to be untouched by fresh ideas in the field that focuses on business strategy and goals while not ignoring the genuine interests and concerns of the employees. We have a whole gamut of organizations ranging from public sector, where unions have hijacked the organizations and milked them dry, thus killing the goose that laid the golden eggs”

Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee, in their new book, Marketing in the Public Sector: A Roadmap for Improved Performance, note citizens expect performance comparable with the private sector. “The public sector needs to improve its performance to raise the public’s confidence and satisfaction and thereby their support. Some public sector administrators question the use of marketing, claiming that government operations are inherently different from business operations.””These differences,” Kotler and Lee say, “are often exaggerated and should not be used as an excuse for inefficiency, ineffectiveness or waste.”

Kotler has written this book to “support current and future public sector managers and staff in discovering [the] clear link between meeting citizen needs and improving public agency performance. The focus is on how to use fundamental, proven marketing principles and techniques to accomplish these goals. The aim is to choose goals and actions that serve the Common Good, those that create the greatest possible good for the greatest possible number of people. Good in this public sector context is defined in terms of social good, economic good and environmental good – measures often referred to as the triple bottom line.”

It’s important to note at the outset that Kotler and Lee take a broad view of what constitutes “marketing” – it’s way beyond just “selling.” It encompasses the identification of need for a service, the development of ways and means of responding to that need, and then creating awareness and interest. The authors use the American Marketing Association definition: “Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.”

The book begins in Part I with two introductory chapters that talk about, first, the vast opportunity for public sector organizations to improve their offerings, and second, an overview of the basic “marketing mind set” – developing the attitudes and approaches that reflect the definition quoted above.

Part II of the book gets right into the nitty-gritty of the various dimensions of the marketing process, profiling real-world experience to illustrate key topics.

In each chapter, the authors weave theory and practice together seamlessly. For example, in the chapter on program development (Chapter 3), they present standard concepts: the notion of “core product” (benefit), “actual product,” and “augmented product”; the eight-stage process for new program development ; the product life cycle concept; a discussion on product enhancement; and a review of the importance of packaging as a key marketing element.

Part III of the book discusses the management of the overall marketing enterprise: gathering citizen feedback, monitoring and evaluating progress, and developing a compelling marketing plan that embraces all of the foregoing elements. Again, numerous examples and case studies are used.

Finally, recognizing the growing importance of marketing in the public and non-profit sectors, the Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing and Phase 5 conducted a study in May 2006 to assess the health of the marketing function. They surveyed 600 professionals in marketing-related positions in government and non-profit organizations across Canada.
report presents detailed findings and benchmark results in the following aspects of marketing management:
§ Accountability and how the marketing function is organized
§ Marketing culture
§ Knowledge and skills related to marketing
§ Planning processes and practices
§ Practices in managing and marketing programs
§ Use of marketing information and systems, and
§ Outputs and results of marketing programs.

The survey results show that government has not adopted strategic marketing management in any significant way. Respondents indicated that their organization has adopted very few of the best practices of leading marketing organizations. There do not appear to be significant pockets of leading marketers in government. Organizations interviewed lack the culture and organizational support to advance the practice of marketing. They lack a common understanding of strategic marketing principles, from the senior executive level down.

In the next blog I will discuss some of the things I believe we need to do to improve the public sector’s “service to the public”

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