Integrating Service Delivery: Lessons from Other Countries

Government reformers for years have been talking about creating citizen-centric services, organized around citizen needs, not around the convenience of bureaucrats. For years, it has...
by | September 29, 2009

Government reformers for years have been talking about creating citizen-centric services, organized around citizen needs, not around the convenience of bureaucrats.

For years, it has been just that - talk.

There are now real life examples of where services are actually being integrated on a large scale across programs, across agencies, and across levels of government. New York City's "Access NYC," which integrates the delivery of more than 35 social services programs, may be one of the most prominent examples in the U.S. But this is a global phenomenon. In fact, other countries are more advanced in many respects and there are lessons that can be learned from their experiences that can be applied here in the U.S.

A recent report from the IBM Center for The Business of Government by two Canadian professors, Jeffrey Roy and John Langford, examines this evolving phenomenon.

New Trends. Public services are traditionally delivered through a number of government agencies via programs that are not connected to each other. In the midst of this decentralized fragmentation, two trends - a citizen-centric philosophy and network model of service delivery - are now driving global demand to integrate the delivery of citizen-oriented services across levels of government. The rapid increase in technology allows this new collaborative approach to service design and delivery to be a successful substitute for the old hierarchical approach.

Roy and Langford examined the experiences of Canada and four other countries in their attempts to integrate the delivery of citizen-oriented services. They identified a set of strategies and conclude that at a minimum, governments leaders - both political and career -- need to embrace a mindset of interdependence if they hope to chart a comprehensive vision of integrating the delivery of citizen-oriented services.

Progress in Canada. The Canadian experience is probably the most akin to the U.S. because of they also have a federal system of government. Canada's efforts largely started at the federal level and were then built upon by provinces and some large municipalities. The Canadian federal government's "Government On-Line" initiative started in 1999. It was designed to provide Canadians with electronic access to key federal programs and services. The initiative focused on grouping online services around citizen's needs and priorities, rather than by government structures.

This effort eventually evolved into today's "Service Canada" Initiative, which launched in 2005. This serves as the Government of Canada's flagship service delivery vehicle to improve the interface between the federal government and the public through more integrated and innovative service offerings - on line, on the phone, and in person.

Parallel to federal efforts, each of the ten Canadian provinces created similar service integration ventures. However, they had some variations in scope and governance structures. For example:

· Service New Brunswick - forged service agreements with provincial and municipal governments to provide a single point of entry for citizens and businesses to access services across the province.

· Service BC -established a partnership between the Province of British Columbia and private sector organizations to develop a multi-channel delivery network that encourages electronic delivery of services in more efficient and integrated ways.

· Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations - established a separate ministry which was responsible for managing the interface of external delivery channels between the province and its citizens. It also links to municipal services, as well.

Even with this progress, presenting a "single face" to the public has been challenging. Canada's key challenge in integrating federal and provincial initiatives has been to figure out how to retain the benefits of political federalism while creating additional value by adopting a more collaborative approach to integrating the delivery of public services. Traditionally, a federal form of government ensures political independence and separation between levels of government. Achieving integration of the delivery of business services on-line, however, requires the creation of cross-jurisdictional governance mechanisms.

Service Delivery Lessons from Four Countries. The experiences of four other countries in implementing integrated service delivery systems may be instructive. Each country used a different strategy that reflected the needs of their own political context.

· Belgium - developed interoperability standards and an identity management system that helped drive administrative simplification across all layers of government. Their initiative was called "Crossroads Bank."

· United Kingdom - invested heavily in a consultative approach with its citizens and communities to jointly define and design service goals. This has led to citizen-centric initiatives such as "Connecting for Health."

· Denmark - created a common service architecture that reaches across all levels of government. Nationally it emphasizes online delivery, but municipalities serve as the front-line service integrator offline.

· Australia - established Centrelink, an autonomous public service provider that has initiated a wide range of direct federal-to-local service provider partnerships.

Lessons Learned. Regardless of the political form of government, there are common patterns and strategies that can inform the design and implementation of an integrated service delivery system that reaches across levels of government:

· Create a collaborative network-based governance framework

· Engage citizens and communities in design and delivery

· Create a common technology infrastructure

· Agree on a common identity management framework

The difficult challenge for public sector leaders is to be able to collaborate politically and at the same time innovate administratively. Both are necessary in order to embrace greater interdependence and more seamless service delivery architecture in a manner that respects - but is not stymied by - the jurisdictional boundaries and the accountability requirements of each level of government.

Free copies of the John Langford and Jeffrey Roy report, "Integrating Service Delivery Across Levels of Government: Efforts Underway in Canada and Other Countries" can be ordered or downloaded at:

John M. Kamensky is a senior fellow with the IBM Center for The Business of Government. He is also an associate partner with IBM Global Business Services and a fellow of the National Academy for Public Administration. He can be reached at

Jonathan D. Breul is the executive director of the IBM Center and a partner with IBM Global Business Services. He is also a fellow of the National Academy and can be reached at