By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Government should adopt instant feedback features

In my last blog post, about my visit to Beijing, I said I had read in a newspaper while there that the Beijing city government is proposing to introduce a touch screen inside taxi cars so customers can rate driver service in real time. Just before customers gets out of the cab, they press a button to indicate whether they were happy with the service. A similar button exists at the Singapore airport allowing people to rate the service of passport officials.

Modern distributed IT allows many such easy and quick point-of-service rating opportunities. Think, of course, about the customer satisfaction rating systems that both Amazon and eBay use. The Facebook "Like" function is another example. This approach is easy and done in real time, which is the key to its success. There are scads of opportunities to gather performance information for government through expanded use of this approach.

The U.S. government has been painfully slow to adopt such rating systems, and the idea meets with resistance in many quarters. Although Federal Acquisition Rules on simplified purchases under $150,000 specifically authorize use of simplified procedures -- including customer satisfaction surveys -- to gather past performance data for these purchases, the Defense Department has forbidden it. What a terrible waste of the benefits of contemporary technology. The government should make available overall statistics about the percentage of satisfied customers as indicated by these ratings.

This approach should also be applied, in the contracting arena, when payment vouchers a contractor sends for approval to a program official are approved. Have the official rate the work for which the invoice was submitted a simple five-point scale (“excellent” to “poor”). This would provide the contractor with ongoing, real-time performance feedback.

As the Beijing and Singapore examples suggest, this approach can apply to far more than contracting as a way to gather past performance information about contractors. It should be used more to allow quick and simple feedback on features of government websites (some do this already, although these features are sometimes more kludgy than necessary). We should scour government for opportunities to do this. It will provide better information about performance, spurring better performance. And it will provide an opportunity for citizen feedback that people unfortunately don't often associate with their encounters with government.

Posted on Mar 07, 2011 at 12:09 PM


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