Public Opinion for Public Policy: Pakistan’s Citizen Satisfaction Index

This blog is part of a series on how open government can help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The series came out of a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Bangkok Regional Hub and the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to find practical examples of how open government is helping countries achieve the SDGs in the Asia-Pacific region. For more details on the competition, the blog series, and how open government can help achieve the SDGs, please see our introductory blog post.

When good governance is about being a government for the people, it is imperative that governments go beyond delivering services to hearing from the people about how they serve them. Being open means that governments not only actively disclose information about how they uses their taxpayers’ money, but also involve  citizens as participants in decision-making. Contrary to the patron-client relationships of the past, this partnership between governments and citizenry forms the foundation of the modern state.

For this purpose, surveys designed to gauge citizen perceptions of, and satisfaction with service delivery have tremendous potential for not only generating goodwill for the government, but can be used as powerful tools to gather public opinion about the quality, effectiveness, and efficacy of servicesbeing provided by various departments. The most important benefit is their potential to promote transparency and accountability within governance mechanisms.

However, it is also a reality that merely documenting survey findings does not fully serve the purpose. Data without meaningful context makes it difficult for citizens and officials to truly understand what the information means or how they can use it. The gathered data’s m immense power to tell a story should be harnessed. As governments move to align their internal and external transparency reporting, the need for an integrated solution continues to grow. From content to purposeful visualizations and storyboards, it is necessary that data be made meaningful for audiences to understand what it represents – helping to unite people and government.

It is in this context that the Ministry of Planning, Development & Reform and UNDP in Pakistan are collaborating to create a Citizens’ Satisfaction Index, through collection, and dissemination of the results of a series of nationwide household surveys of citizen’s perceptions regarding public goods and services such as education, health, WASH, infrastructure, among others.

Mir Qasim Khan, a former police superintendent and current police coordination officer for UNDP, feels strongly about the initiative. “Being a former police officer with experience of serving in some of the most volatile regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, I have witnessed, first-hand, the consequences of the state’s failure to deliver basic services to the population. I was serving at Swat, when the militants utilized the inadequacy of the state’s service delivery apparatus as an entry point to win sympathies of the local population, and went on to wreak havoc in the area. It required a full-scale military operation to bring the area back to normalcy,” he said. “One of the key lessons we learnt from the episode is that the State should not only provide basic services like education, health, and social justice to people, but must also been seen as providing these services to the satisfaction of the local populace. In this background, I feel that development of a Citizen Satisfaction Index is a very welcome step which will enable the local governments to quickly identify areas resulting in public discontent and launch remedial measures before it’s too late.”

The Index will essentially be a tool used to draw applicable information for gauging citizen satisfaction in the various local government services delivered to help improve citizens’ socio-economic condition, advance their appreciation of local political affairs as well as effectively transform them into becoming productive development partners. It is a citizen perception-based performance assessment that measures the respondent’s awareness, consumption, and satisfaction of the different services offered by the local government.

The database of results will be accessible online through a web-based interface which can be queried, allowing data to be freely downloaded and shared. Results of the survey will also be published in a detailed report, while highlights will be disseminated via mobile IOS/Android apps, as well as social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The results of the survey will be representative at the Divisional level where the local administrative structure governing service delivery is anchored. An index of these results will rank Divisions based on citizen satisfaction levels, while 4 quarterly trackers will measure change in these levels across the project duration. Local administrators can thus be held accountable on the basis of published data regarding how their divisions are ranked and how these rankings change over time.

The survey is being commissioned by the federal Ministry of Planning, Development & Reform. This is the apex body for allocating development resources, economic planning and policymaking, and has recently become the premier agency responsible for public sector reform and innovation. A key objective of the surveys is to inform these functions based on emerging data and ensure that they reflect the needs and priorities of local citizens.

In addition, the survey will ensure a 50% sample of women respondents nationally to ensure that their special concerns regarding education, healthcare and other areas are accurately represented. The sample will have 12,000 respondents in total, with roughly 6,000 identifying as women. The survey will also cover services which specifically target women users, such as maternal healthcare. Data will also be disaggregated according to other demographic variables such as religion, urban/rural background, ethnic-linguistic background, professional occupation, educational attainment income profile, and other dimensions to drill down to marginalized communities and provide comparisons with the mainstream population. Systematic exclusion from services will thus be flagged and associated problems such as affordability barriers will be highlighted to enable policy responses.

It is hoped that this will be an opportunity for citizens to raise problems, needs, priorities and suggestions as part of a process which will directly influence both local administration as well as central policymaking. As a result, the governments at the local, provincial and national levels will be able to improve citizens’ quality of life by introducing new services and improving the quality of existing ones. Citizen advocacy groups could use this data to produce new insights into public policy problems. These insights will, in turn, improve the process of creating laws and public policy, and improve the delivery of government services.

We are cognizant of the reality that developing and politically multi-polar societies like Pakistan face significant challenges in gathering and analyzing citizen feedback on the overall functioning of governments in general, and of the quality and efficacy of service delivery in particular. Opposing political camps, vested interests, local ethnic and kinship groupings, all have the potential to taint the most meticulously collected data sets. Willingness and technical capability of local government officials will also play a key role in ensuring actual usage of the data. In order to offset these potential challenges, UNDP has devised a comprehensive framework of consultations at the provincial and federal levels, with representatives from a broad range of stakeholder groups including government functionaries, NGOs, media houses, corporate firms, and universities and think-tanks. These workshops will gain inputs, build consensus and secure buy-in from these stakeholders on the thematic scope of the surveys, the methodological framework – even the data collection instruments. Watch this space for results and examples of what we learn throughout the lifecycle of this project.

Authors: Amir Khan Goraya
Filed Under: Impact