Smart Advisors in the Front Office: Designing Employee-Empowering and Citizen-Centric Services
The authors discuss how front-line civil servants can transition from being administrators of government-centric and transaction-oriented services to offering the personalized services that the modern public expects.
Tobias Giesbrecht, Hans Jochen Scholl and Gerhard Schwabe
Government Information Quarterly
Volume 33, Issue 4, October 2016
The authors discuss how front-line civil servants can transition from being administrators of government-centric and transaction-oriented services to offering the personalized services that the modern public expects. Employees empowered with what the authors call “advisory information artifacts” can become expert advisors providing superior services. These artifacts consist of a knowledge base, “counseling affordances” offering advisors moderation material, and “service encounter thinkLets” covering the corresponding work practices. Counseling affordances are the “technical characteristics of an artifact which encourage … [civil servants in the front office] to show certain advising behaviors,” while service encounter thinkLets “provide employees with social behavior guidelines that inform employees about best practices for collaborative problem-solving activities in advisory service encounters.”
The key to this effort to redesign government service delivery is information technology. IT has the potential to bridge departments typically isolated in silos. To realize the goal of providing “one-stop” government, there likely need to be services that coordinate several formally independent actions. Further, the authors emphasize that the physical workspace may need redesign. For example, citizens applying for public benefits are typically separated from the front-office employee by a desk. As a result, the citizen is seen as a “petitioner” and not as a “client.”
The authors tested these theories in a major German city by developing an advisory information artifact to support civil servants in providing services to citizens who had moved to the city recently. In this instance, the advisory information artifact was “comprised of (i) an integrated knowledge base provided by the local government and supplemented by the authors, (ii) the counseling affordances, implemented via a 20-inch All-In-One tablet computer with a touch-screen, and (iii) service encounter thinkLets provided on paper.”
Comparing conventional and artifact-supported advisory sessions in the evaluation revealed that both citizens and advisors were significantly more satisfied with the new artifact-supported advisory service, with employees feeling much more empowered to develop their advisory-related skills and citizens feeling that the employees were more capable of providing guidance that was customized to their needs.
Why this matters to practitioners:
This paper stresses the importance of redesigning government services that are delivered by the front-office civil employee through the deployment of tailored IT solutions and through rethinking physical office space to encourage collaboration between public employees and citizens. These shifts empower employees and allow them to engage advice-seeking citizens in the problem-solving process to a far greater degree than in traditional public-facing government office environments.