Public Management

The government as your best friend

September 21, 2015
Beeld: © Nationale Beeldbank

We already have the nicest hospital of the Netherlands and, if you can believe the average advertisement, the car dealer is your best friend. In IKEA commercials you can almost smell the freshly baked apple pie shown on your television screen. Intimacy, warmth, and attention are qualities that sell well. This is in itself not so strange in a society where individuality is more and more important and where a multitude of material comforts are in place. Maslow already taught us that, at this point, the higher order demands attention.

In the public domain, the citizen is seen as a customer, but that does not suddenly change his basic needs. How much would you like to smell apple pie on "mijn-UWV.nl" (the website of the Employed Person’s Insurance Administration Agency)? A nice espresso while waiting at the counter at your municipal office, where they know me by name and have all the time to help me complete that elusive form for my mother's care package.

At the same time, it is just an illusion that we are creating for the citizen. Public administration simply performs a mass operation and is thereby not always your best friend. If the authorities started serving espressos to waiting citizens, then I, as a taxpayer, would see that as a big problem.

One very important issue is about choosing position: Are you a friend of the citizens and do you acknowledge his or her individual needs or are you a not too unfriendly mass business? The contradiction is perhaps a bit strong, but it helps in managing expectations. If we promise citizens the nicest hospital, the most suitable school or the most beautiful passport, can we live up to those promises? I do not think so, and I think that we should not even suggest that to citizens. This only creates false expectations. What is the customer value of the CJIB (the organization that fines you for speeding)? Zero, and just be honest about that. Remove the friendly smiling lady drinking coffee from "mijnoverheid.nl" (personal portal for government affairs). I prefer to share my espresso moments with someone else.

The government, education, healthcare – they all do their very best to be legitimate, efficient, and fair. But they will never become your best friend and that is not actually necessary. A government that meets the previous criteria, can be a jerk individually and a star collectively. And I rather have that than the reverse.
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