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Government at a Glance: Well-being and quality of public service provision

Government at a Glance: Well-being and quality of public service provision

Last month, the OECD’s Public Governance and Territorial Development Directorate (GOV) launched
its flagship publication “Government at a Glance 2013”. The report presupposes that
governments are expected to take into consideration the well-being of their
citizens when making policy decisions. Trust in government has been identified
as essential for well-being and social cohesion, and the report looks intensely
at citizens’ trust in their government. This trust “represents the confidence of
citizens and businesses in the actions of government to do what is right and
perceived as fair” and can be established through ensuring citizens’ well-being
through service provision.
The second and the final chapter in the OECD’s “Government at a Glance 2013” report both provide a first attempt to measure the quality of key public
services in a comparable way. As a Special Feature, the reports analyses four
key public services which OECD member countries’ governments provide to their
citizens: education; health care; justice; tax administration. The quality of
these services is measured using several indicators for each service (viz. affordability; timeliness; reliability;
efficiency; cost-effectiveness; satisfaction), chosen as a result of data
availability and comparability across OECD member countries. The report also
looks at the availability of public services via online channels, which can
facilitate access to a wider range of users, provide convenience and reduce

Below are the graphs from the report regarding quality of
public service provision for the four services analysed.


“Government performance assessment is particularly
crucial in sectors such as education and health care that are fundamental to
citizens’ well-being,” states the report. Affordability can be a major barrier
to accessing public services, such as tertiary education. The OECD’s “Education at a Glance 2013” report looks at tuition fees and financial aid to assess the
affordability of education in member countries (slide 1, see below). To measure efficiency, the report compares
national cumulative expenditure per student with student performance (slide 2). The report looks at the public
Net Present Value (NPV) of schooling, by comparing total benefits of education
(i.e. economic returns) to costs, to determine the cost-effectiveness of education
(slide 3). Finally, the World Gallup
Poll surveys the levels of satisfaction with the education system and schools in
2007 and 2012 (slide 4).

 Health Care

Looking at out-of-pocket expenditures by income group is
how the report determines affordability of health care in countries (slide 1). To determine timeliness of
health care, wait time for both seeing a specialist and undergoing an elective
surgery were measured (slide 2). Five
elements were considered in the report to establish the reliability of health
care (i.e. patients’ rights and
involvement) (slide 3). The report
looks at the average length of stay (ALOS) in hospitals to determine the health
care systems’ efficiency (slide 4). In
order to assess cost-effectiveness, the report compares improvements in life
expectancy to total health expenditure per capita (slide 5). The report also looks at Gallup World Poll survey results
for the question “In the city or area where you live, are you satisfied or
dissatisfied with the availability of quality health care?” (slide 6).


Justice Sector

The share of cases which received legal aid helped specify
the affordability of judicial services in a country’s justice sector (slide 1). Trial length is a common
indicator of timeliness in the justice sector and is the indicator used in this
report (slide 2). To indicate the
efficiency of a country’s justice sector, the report looked at the cost of
trial compared to the national average trial length (slide 3). While no question was asked in the Gallop survey
regarding satisfaction with the justice sector, the report does include the
results from the question about confidence in the local police force (slide 4).

Tax Administration

To determine the timeliness of the tax administration,
the report considered the average processing time for personal tax returns (slide 1). Whether a country has a formal
or administrative approach to specify the rights and obligations of tax payers
can influence whether citizens’ rights are ensured, which affects the tax administration’s
reliability (slide 2). The tax
administration’s efficiency was decided by comparing the annual costs of
administration to the total revenue collected (slide 3).

Online Services

report states that “online channels can facilitate access to a wider range of
users and provide a greater convenience, while also reducing costs” (pp. 154). Therefore, an increase in
online public service provision and use could greatly affect how well a
government is serving its citizens. Looking at the percentage of business which
have e-government uptake (slide 1)
and the percentages of citizens’ uptake across age groups (slide 2) provides a clearer picture of the efforts a government is
making to serve.

While measuring citizens’ trust in their government has
been one way to determine the well-being aspect of governance, this report
provides a more cross-cutting approach and a better picture of the relationship between
citizens and state. While the picture is far from complete and measurements are
missing in several countries, it at least is a sizeable step towards comparing
governments’ involvement in improving the quality of citizens’ lives. One thing was clear from the
report’s findings: satisfaction with these services is higher than confidence
in national government by a considerable amount of percentage points. In this case, we should continue moving beyond measuring trust in governments, as it alone may
not indicate the quality of a government.

 Melinda George

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