It has been recognised world over that good governance is essential for sustainable development, both economic and social. The three essential aspects emphasised in good governance are transparency, accountability and responsiveness of the administration. “Citizens’ Charters” initiative is a response to the quest for solving the problems which a citizen encounters, day in and day out, while dealing with the organisations providing public services.

The concept of Citizens’ Charter enshrines the trust between the service provider and its users. The concept was first articulated and implemented in the United Kingdom by the Conservative Government of John Major in 1991 as a national programme with a simple aim: to continuously improve the quality of public services for the people of the country so that these services respond to the needs and wishes of the users. The programme was re-launched in 1998 by the Labour Government of Tony Blair which rechristened it “Services First”.

Citizens’ Charter is based on the promise that the Citizen is “King” and government organizations exist not to rule but to serve the citizens. Citizens’ Charters are merely reflections of this principle. In order to ensure that both the service provider as well as citizens realizes that public agencies are meant to provide service, each organization should spell out the services it has to perform and then specify the standards/norms for these services. Once this is done then the organisation can be held to account if the service standards are not met.

The Citizens’ Charter is an instrument which seeks to make an organization transparent, accountable and citizen friendly. A Citizens’ Charter is basically a set of commitments made by an organization regarding the standards of service which it delivers. Every citizens’ charter has several essential components to make it meaningful;

  1. It is the Vision and Mission Statement of the organization. This gives the outcomes desired and the broad strategy to achieve these goals and outcomes. This also makes the users aware of the intent of their service provider and helps in holding the organization accountable.
  2. Secondly, in its Citizens’ Charter, the organization must state clearly what subjects it deals with and the service areas it broadly covers. This helps the users to understand the type of services they can expect from a particular service provider. These commitments/promises constitute the heart of a citizens’ charter. Even though these promises are not enforceable in a court of law, each organization should ensure that the promises made are kept and, in case of default, a suitable compensatory/remedial mechanism should be provided.
  3. Thirdly, the Citizens’ Charter should also stipulate the responsibilities of the citizens in the context of the charter.

 

Evolution of the Citizens’ Charter

The Citizens’ Charter, when introduced in the early 1990’s, represented a landmark shift in the delivery of public services. The emphasis of the Citizens’ Charter is on citizens as customers of public services. The Citizens’ Charter scheme in its present form was first launched in 1991 in the UK. The aim was to ensure that public services are made responsive to the citizens they serve. In the “Introduction to the First Report on Citizens’ Charter” that was released by Prime Minister John Major in 1992, it was clearly defined as follows: “The Citizens’ Charter sees public services through the eyes of those who use them. For too long the provider has dominated and now it is the turn of the user… The Citizens’ Charter will raise quality, increase choice, secure better value and extend accountability (Cabinet Office, U.K., 1992)”.

 

Charter Mark

The Charter Mark Scheme was introduced in 1991 in the United Kingdom to improve the efficacy of the citizens’ charters. It was a tool designed to help organisations focus on, and improve, their customer service and delivery to users. A set of six criteria made up the Charter Mark standard:

  • Criterion 1: Set standards and perform well
  • Criterion 2: Actively engage with your customers, partners and staff
  • Criterion 3: Be fair and accessible to everyone and promote choice Criterion 4: Continuously develop and improve
  • Criterion 5: Use your resources effectively and imaginatively
  • Criterion 6: Contribute to improving opportunities and quality of life in the communities you serve.

A Citizens’ Charter is a public statement that defines the entitlements of citizens to a specific service, the standards of the service, the conditions to be met by users, and the remedies available to the latter in case of non-compliance of standards. The Charter concept empowers the citizens in demanding committed standards of service. Thus, the basic thrust of Citizens’ Charter is to make public services citizen centric by ensuring that these services are demand driven rather than supply driven. In this context, the six principles of the Citizens’ Charter movement as originally framed were:

  1. Quality – improving the quality of services
  2. Choice – for the users wherever possible;
  3. Standards – specifying what to expect within a time frame;
  4. Value – for the taxpayers’ money;
  5. Accountability – of the service provider (individual as well as Organization); and
  6. Transparency – in rules, procedures, schemes and grievance redressal.

Evaluation of the Citizens’ Charter scheme in the UK has been conducted by experts from outside agencies as well as Government committees. The Public Service Committee concluded in its ‘Report on The Citizens’ Charter (1997)’ that the initiative had made “a valuable contribution to improving public services”. The Committee came to the conclusion that Citizens’ Charter had led to improvements in the delivery, culture and responsiveness of many services.

 

“Service first” – Tony Blairs Charter Programmes

The charter programme took a new name called Service First, and the Citizen Charter unit was renamed as Service First Unit in the government of Tony Blaire’s in 1997. 9 new principles of service delivery were further built in and expended to the already existing.

  1. Set standards of service;
  2. Be open and provide full information;
  3. Consult and involve;
  4. Encourage access and promote choice;
  5. Treat all fairly;
  6. Put things right when they go wrong;
  7. Use resources effectively;
  8. Innovate and improve; and
  9. Work with other providers.

Set standards of services: Set clear standards of service that users can expect; monitor performance; and publish results, following independent validation, wherever possible.

Be open and provide full information: Be open and communicate clearly and effectively in plain language, to help propel using public services; and provide full information about services, their cost and how well they perform.

Consult 3nd involve: Consult and involve present and potential users of public services, as well as those who work in them; and use their views to improve the service provided.

Encourage access and the promotion of choice: Make services easily available to everyone who needs them, including using technology to the full and offering choice wherever possible.

Treat all fairly: Treat all people fairly; respect their privacy and dignity; be helpful and courteous; and particular attention to those with special needs.

Put things right when they go wrong: Put things right quickly and effectively; learn from complaints; and have a clear, well publicized and easy-to-use complaints procedure, with independent review wherever possible.

Use resources effectively: Use resources effectively to provide best value for taxpayers and users.

Innovate and improve: Always look for ways to improve the services and facilities offered.

Work with other providers: Work with other providers to ensure that services are simple to use, effective and coordinated, and deliver a better service to the user.

 

Developments in other Countries

Some of these initiatives are very similar to the UK model, while others chart new ground by leaning on the service quality paradigm of the Total Quality Management (TQM) movement. Other initiatives are pitched somewhere in between. Even in the UK, in the context of the Next Steps/Modernising Government Initiatives, Citizens’ Charters have acquired a service quality face for delivery of public services. The quality tools adopted for improving public services include the Business Excellence Model, Investors in People, Charter Mark, ISO 9000 and Best Value (Government of UK, 1999).

The Government of Malaysia issued Guidelines on the Client’s Charter in 1993 to assist government agencies to prepare and implement Client’s Charter, which is “a written commitment by an agency to deliver outputs or services according to specified standards of quality” (Government of Malaysia, 1998). A Best Client’s Charter Award was instituted in 1993. The Malaysian system of Client’s Charter closely follows the UK Model. A distinction is made between agency-wide and unit charters. The concept of ‘service recovery’ enjoins taking steps to restore the trust and confidence of the client in a proactive manner when things go wrong.

The Commonwealth Government of Australia launched its Service Charter initiative in 1997 as part of its on-going commitment to improve the quality of service provided by agencies to the Australian community by moving the government organisation away from bureaucratic processes to customer-focused outcomes. Service Charters are considered a powerful tool for fostering change and require the organisation to focus on services delivered, to measure and assess performance, and to initiate performance improvement. By providing goals for agencies to strive towards, a Charter acts as a surrogate for competition where none exists (Department of Finance and Administration, 1999). Centrelink is a one-stop shop that provides access to Australian government services for over six million customers. Centrelink has adopted one-to-one service as an innovative and personalised approach to service delivery. One-to-one service treats customers with respect and consistency and takes the complexity out of dealing with government.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat started a Service Standard Initiative in 1995 which took its cue from the Citizens’ Charters of the United Kingdom, but enlarged the scope considerably. This Service Standard Initiative in Canada was started against the backdrop of citizen expectations relating to friendly, respectful and courteous service; faster response times; extended hours at government offices; and “one-stop-shopping”. At the same time there was need to reduce the deficit and provide value for money through more efficient use of resources (Treasury Board of Canada, 1995).

A comparison of these four major Citizens’ Charter initiatives shows that the service quality approach is embedded in them in different degrees. Once a decision is taken to make public services citizen-centric, the customer focus of the Total Quality Management (TQM) variety cannot be far behind. In fact, the Citizens’ Charter approach has several things in common with TQM. Both begin by focusing on meeting customer/citizen requirements. Other key common elements are conformance to standards, stakeholder involvement and continuous improvement.

In summary, the key drivers of customer satisfaction within public services are considered to be:

  • Delivery of promised outcomes and handling problems effectively;
  • Timeliness of service provision
  • Accurate and comprehensive information, and progress reports provided;
  • Professionalism and competence of staff and treating customers fairly; and
  • Staff attitudes – friendly, polite and sympathetic to customers’ needs.

Pursuant to the recommendations made in the Bernard Herdan Report, the Charter Mark Scheme was modified and the ‘Customer Service Excellence’ scheme was launched in 2008. Like the Charter Mark Scheme, under the new scheme also, public service organizations are encouraged to seek ‘Customer Service Excellence’ through a formal independent assessment process based on the following five criteria :

  1. Customer Insight
  2. Culture of the Organisation
  3. Information and Access
  4. Delivery
  5. Timelines and Quality of Service

 

Topics in Continuation of Citizens charters

  1. Indian Experience of Citizens’ Charter
  2. Sevottam Model
  3. ARC Seven Step Model for Citizen Centricity
  4. Public Service Guarantee Act

 

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