Friday, 6 December 2013

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

This blog, by Wikichild co-ordinator Melinda George, takes a look at the well-being aspects and the quality of public service provision in the OECD's "Government at a Glance 2013" report. The post is part of Wikiprogress' December spotlight on governance

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 costs.

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

The 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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