Expert opinions

Government services need to operate like businesses

Photo: Sergey Mamontov | RIA Novosti

15-second rule

Attention is a novel type of capital. These days, information is not the only valuable resource; user ability to focus on something specific and important is also critical. In the modern world, people quickly lose their involvement in anything they do, with information noise around them snowballing.

The ability to concentrate on the task and not get distracted by anything else for a long time is a crucial meta-skill we badly need. It is believed that in the age of gadgets, one needs to hold a person’s attention and generate their interest within the first 15 seconds; otherwise they become bored and leave. This often leads to inconveniences in everyday life or work: we fail to read user instructions to the end and break equipment, sign disadvantageous contracts because we have not read the small print, make bad purchase decisions without studying the market, and lose professional efficacy. Economies around the world lose billions of dollars over poor productivity of workers who are unable to complete their tasks without getting distracted.

Modern business has long learned to take this into consideration. Companies would never present their content to investors or potential customers as plain text – the production of colorful presentations that keep the viewer’s attention has grown into an entire industry.

Services are becoming simpler, with convenient apps, voice assistants, game-like environment and social media interactions with customers.  Well-packaged and ‘light’ solutions shape the market while competition for attention develops customer service.

What do government agencies have to do with it? 

Government agencies should follow a similar path. Public services website and mobile app can now successfully process requests. As of the end of 2018, the service had 87 mio users who filed 67 mio requests and complaints over the year. But unlike businesses, public services do not take the initiative to achieve a new level of quality. This is where market mechanisms may help. 

For example, entrepreneurial developments could be used to engage the public in social projects. A good example is Solnechnogorsk where a hybrid of a loyalty and a social card was created for local residents. Card holders can get discounts at a number of local stores while a QR code on the card provides information about the owner’s medical history, his or her current medication and emergency contacts. The concept of the card belongs to a Skolkovo startup.

What else could government agencies take on board? The most evident thing is integration with popular commercial services or companies. For example, bonuses and discounts in retail stores for using public transit instead of cars. Or providing information about kindergarten queues at the most popular educational portals; promoting socially important activities using discounts and gifts; and providing benefits for waste sorting or to those who adopted a dog from the shelter.

Gamification of state agencies as performance indicator

The performance evaluation system is another important business principle for a state. There is no KPI for government officials yet, though it has been discussed for a while. A new stage of discussions began in September 2018 when it was announced that in 2019-2020, over RUR 432 bln ($6.8 bln) in incentives for government officials will be allocated from the federal budget. However, local governments can introduce additional evaluations of personnel performance by following the example of businesses. The evaluation indicators can include the growth of industry efficiency, the number of people involved in social projects and activities, the effective redistribution of budget expenditures and revenues, and many others. The KPI of an employee includes not only their ability to complete a task, but the entire context of decision-making and stability on the way to implementation. The digitalization of processes, which is another feature of successful corporations, is also important here. Such a transformation is only necessary for government agencies with a huge number of personnel and lots of paperwork.

Another source of ideas is esports, which today has grown into a huge industry with the audience of 10 mio people in Russia alone and hundreds of millions worldwide, according to the Nielsen Sports agency. Introducing gamification in government services can motivate young and active professionals to make them more efficient and generate new ideas. Gamification is an advanced business concept that utilizes the best ideas borrowed from loyalty programs, game mechanics, and behavioral economics. Elements of game, competition, complication of tasks and a necessity for using creative approaches to solving them serve as an additional stimulus for the work of the so-called Generation Y, or those born after 1981. The aforementioned benefits for waste sorting is also an element of gamification in its external form, when the government, which actually acts as a service provider, interacts with a client – that is, with a taxpayer. 

The advantage of the above-described initiatives is that they can be implemented by regional or city administrations without receiving time-consuming approvals from superior authorities. It is even more convenient to carry out a local experiment and then to scale up the project in the region and nationwide. A smart city is not a place where people have lots of gadgets but the one where people use their time productively – and to make it happen, the government has to reach out to citizens. 

By Georgy Golota, chief expert at the department of investment, innovation and small and medium-sized business of Solnechnogorsk’s administration 

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