A Better Way to “Fix It”

– By Tom Miller

Ed Everett denounces the “Bitch and Fix” (B&F) model of local government in his recent article released by the Alliance for Innovation. By the B&F way of thinking, government is in charge of making our quality of life good and if government ever fails us, we expect elected officials and their staff to execute the necessary repairs to make things better. This model relies on gripes and complaints to force the resolution of issues.

Others have characterized resident entitlement as the “vending machine model” of local government where residents are simply consumers who expect to receive the selected item after inserting their coins. This vending machine way of thinking leads some jurisdictions to employ simple opinion gathering efforts, often referred to as ‘Customer Satisfaction Surveys,’ to quickly slap a band-aid over gaping issues.

These days, local government prefers not to bear the sole responsibility for community quality, like a feudal monarchy. As Everett argues, successful local governments seek instead to be the partner of residents. Partners work together to get needed jobs done so that community quality becomes the responsibility of a wide swath of stakeholders. It is with this perspective on local government that The National Citizen Survey (NCS) separates itself from standard Customer Satisfaction Surveys. While the NCS does elicit the opinions of residents about community quality and the quality of service as well as resident engagement, the purpose of The NCS is not to ask residents to answer a list of “satisfaction” questions. Instead, the purpose and success of citizen surveying is read in the actions that stakeholders take to improve communities. We often say that ‘good government listens’ and add ‘better government acts on what it hears.’ However, although it is local government that often sponsors a citizen survey, it should not be only local government that uses the survey results to improve community. Residents, businesses owners and non-profit managers should also act as partners with local government in using citizen survey results.

What citizen surveys like the NCS measure is essential to describing the fundamental qualities of the community – qualities that all sectors influence and by which they all are affected. In The NCS, residents are asked to assess the quality of eight key community facets – safety, economy, natural environment, built environment, education and enrichment, health and wellness and engagement. Each of the eight facets is assessed in three areas – community quality, governance and participation. The data gathered offers a window into community quality through which all those who care for their community’s success can look. With this view, those in government, business, education, health care and residents at large can understand where excellence slumps and where it triumphs. They can work together to make what matters sustainably better and move beyond simplistic, short-lived “fixes.”

 

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