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This article is taken from the December 2003 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

S&T wins competitive tender to evaluate services standards in the Public Service

S&T were recently awarded a 13-month contract by the Public Services Commission to evaluate services standards in every single government department including the President's office. This critically important job will see S&T staff visit 130 national and provincial departments across the country.

The rationale for the study is relatively straightforward; by evaluating service standards we will assist each department measure to what standard services are being delivered. Moreover, the study will also be assessing whether the delivery complies with the Batho Pele principles.

The study will comprise three phases:

  • we will determine current standards of service delivery
  • we will make recommendations regarding the benchmarking of these standards and
  • we will develop a common understanding within the public service of how best to use these standards in the management of performance.

In theory, the service standards we will be assessing should comply with the eight Batho Pele principles, namely:

  1. Consultation, i.e. the extent citizens have been consulted about the quality and choice of services on offer
  2. Service standards, i.e. citizens should be informed as to the quality of the services they will receive
  3. Access, i.e. citizens are entitled to equal access to services
  4. Courtesy, i.e. citizens should be treated in a courteous and dignified manner
  5. Information, i.e. citizens should be fully informed about the services they are entitled to receive
  6. Openness and transparency, i.e. citizens should be informed as to how both national and provincial departments are run, how much they cost and who is in charge
  7. Redress, i.e. citizens are entitled to redress if the service delivered does not meet a promised service standard
  8. Value for money, i.e. services offered to citizens should be done so effectively and efficiently to ensure that citizens get value for the taxes they have paid.

From the outset in this study we will distinguish between service standards and benchmarking. For us service standards are indicators of the best level of service delivery a department can realistically provide given the resources available. Typically, whilst good service standards are meaningful to citizens and developed with citizen expectations and input in mind they also need to take into account the resources and the mandate of a particular department.

We view benchmarking slightly differently. For us, benchmarking is the search for best practices that can be applied with a view to achieving improved performance.

Benchmarking is a systematic and continuous process of measuring and comparing an organisation's business process against those of leaders anywhere in the world, to gain information which will help drive continuous improvement (Owen, 1999).

Benchmarking typically would involve the following steps in a department:

  • the identification of the area of operation to be benchmarked
  • identification of ‘best practice’ in selected organisations or sections of organisations
  • collection and analysis to determine the common characteristics of this practice
  • development of best practice indicators (i.e. service standards) and levels to be achieved on these indicators.
  • Simply described, the establishment of benchmarks attempts to answer the following questions:
  • Who is doing best?
  • How do they do it?
  • How well are we doing relative to the best?
  • How good do we want to be, relative to the best?

In more formal terms benchmarking development has three consequences for a department, namely the targeted identification of best practice and a consideration of whether this practice applies to the department; a thorough, sustained programme of external analysis and investigation; and the ability to reduce the findings of best practice to indicators which are meaningful as a management tool within the organisation.

Thus by evaluating service standards being used by each department S&T will ensure that by the end of this study each department will have indicators that:

  • allow the development of a common language in understanding what to measure and what constitutes good or bad performance
  • do away with ambiguity and subjectivity in performance assessment and evaluation.
 

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