The citizen as the primary stakeholder
There is no existing theoretical concept for understanding citizens’ perceptions of municipal processes and services in connection with their individual cases. The two most relevant schools of thought in current literature build on the concepts of satisfaction and administrative burdens. Despite their focus on citizens as the primary stakeholders, both schools of thought are inadequate for gaining an understanding of what parameters are in play when citizens find that municipal staff ensure a holistic approach to their case. We see a need to extrapolate a new theoretical understanding of how this concept could take shape, as well as concrete indicators that can help the municipalities examine citizen experiences.
There are three key challenges for those citizens who have complex challenges and are therefore in contact with several public bodies:
Coordination between the relevant professionals
It is very likely that a lack of coordination among professionals working in their respective fields can leave citizens feeling that these professionals are not committed to ensuring coordination and collaboration between themselves, and therefore also that these professionals are not committed to collaboration and a cohesive approach to the citizen’s case (Gittell 2016). As a result, the citizens may feel that the professionals are not doing their best to find solutions to the challenges they need help with. If citizens do not experience a commitment on the part of municipal staff, the citizens’ perception of the process will be worse, and they will not feel that they are getting optimal support to make progress in their case. It can have a negative impact on citizen perceptions if they feel that they must take responsibility into their own hands and coordinate the fragmented efforts since municipal staff seem to be unable to do so.
Knowledge and knowledge sharing among professionals
An important requirement for cooperation to ensure coherent services in complex citizen cases is that the individual professionals gather relevant information and knowledge about the case and share it with each other (Gittell and Douglass 2012; Hornstrup and Storch 2018). If the professionals are unable to achieve an adequate level of knowledge and information sharing, it follows that the citizen will not receive relevant information about their case from these professionals, who themselves lack a comprehensive understanding of the case. If the citizen only receives fragmented information from these professionals, that information will also be more difficult to understand. This can have a negative impact on the citizen’s overall experience of the municipal services, as they may be left with a sense that they do not know what is going on with their case and they have been forgotten in the system, or they may find that it takes a long time to get answers from municipal staff. It can also make it more difficult to understand the basis for the decisions made, which can subsequently foster a sense that the municipality is not considering the needs of the citizen.
The impact of inadequate cooperation
It is likely that a failure to ensure cooperation between professionals and a holistic approach to casework will leave citizens with a feeling that they are being overlooked and their wishes are not being respected. This can result in a sense of diminished autonomy. According to Self-Determination Theory, individuals have a basic need to feel autonomy over themselves and their actions (Ryan and Deci 2000). If the citizen feels that there is no cooperation to deliver a holistic approach to their case, and if the citizen does not understand the basis for decisions made in the case or disagrees with the efforts made to find solutions to the problems, the citizen may feel that they do not have any influence or say in the handling of their case. In turn, the citizen will not feel respected by the professionals working in the municipality. The more the citizen’s case is handled without involving the citizen, the greater the sense of lost autonomy and lack of respect – all of which can lead to a more negative experience of the process. If, due to the professionals’ failure to cooperate across municipal departments, the case is handled without meeting the citizen’s basic psychological needs for autonomy and respect, this can worsen the citizen’s perception of the process with the municipality (Moynihan, Herd and Harvey 2015).
These three challenges lead to a provisional definition of citizen experiences of their case with the municipality, taking into account the extent to which staff engage in ensuring good cooperation and a coherent process for the citizen. The citizen receives adequate information and knowledge about what is going on. The citizen feels involved and respected in the process of their case. If the citizen does not experience this in the interaction with the municipality’s professionals, it may have psychological repercussions for the citizen in the form of stress, frustration and feelings of powerlessness in the process.
Below are the performance indicators we have developed and validated as part of our research and practice, which provides credible data on citizens’ perception of the quality of the coordinated efforts pertaining to their respective cases.
Performance indicators for citizen experiences:
- The municipality’s employees do their best to find solutions to the challenges I am/we are facing.
- The municipality’s employees involve me/us in decisions regarding my/our case.
- The municipality’s employees ensure that I/we receive the necessary information about my/our case.
- The municipality’s employees communicate in language that I/we understand.
- The municipality’s employees work to ensure good cooperation regarding my/our case.
- The municipality’s employees are good at understanding and respecting my/our wishes and needs.