Benchmarking Excellence in Public Service Delivery in India

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Since the past 50 years and more the Government of India has been constantly endeavouring to bring efficiency, particularly in public service delivery through more accountability, transparency and responsiveness. However, this has remained no more than a theoretical exercise with little or no impact on service delivery to vulnerable sections that were in dire need of change. There is, therefore, an urgent need to focus on creating the Indian model on benchmarking excellence in public service delivery to bring about good governance.

It has always been the endeavour of our government to improve quality of service delivery for the citizens. Over the last more than 50 years various attempts have been made by successive governments to bring about greater accountability and transparency across the government machinery. However, despite far reaching changes in the country’s governance structure, the government is largely seen as dictating its own terms, especially with respect to public service delivery. While there was reasonably good progress by late nineties in making and adopting policies towards good governance, the progress in translating the initiatives into actual outcomes for the citizen has not followed suit.  Most concrete step towards improvement of service delivery was taken up by the government in 1997 through mandating implementation of Citizen’s Charters by government departments.

However, the initiative remained a theoretical exercise with little or no impact on service delivery to vulnerable sections that were in dire need of change. The progress regarding public service delivery had not been uniform even though a resolution on Citizen’s Charter was adopted during the conference of Chief Ministers addressed by the Prime Minister of India on 24th May 1997 and various government organisations coming up with their own Citizen’s Charters. Often the exercise remained on paper and there were several instances where organisations formulated charters in response to government guidelines without really understanding the logic of these guidelines.

The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG) of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Government of India, is the nodal agency in the areas of reform initiatives in governance and has been continuously endeavouring to bring efficiency, particularly in public service delivery through more accountability, transparency and responsiveness. The DARPG conducted several studies on the issues of improvement of quality of public service delivery in the country, and by 2003 the studies clearly indicated that there was very little impact of citizen’s charters on service delivery by government departments. It was felt that unless there is a mechanism to assess impact of citizen’s charter on service delivery with respect to certain standard, the initiatives would lose steam and would fail to deliver the desired results. Further, several factors impact the government service delivery— the scale of operations is massive, resources are relatively limited, stakeholders are too many and very often there are conflicting priorities to be reconciled. Hence, there was a requirement for service delivery to be assessed on different parameters for the government.

The Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances (DARPG) later on took up a World Bank sponsored project on Capacity Building for Good Governance to develop a world-class model on benchmarking excellence in service delivery by government organisations in the country.

Current initiatives

Some of the current initiatives that formed the backdrop in which the scheme has been conceived are: Citizen Charters and Information and Facilitation Counters were introduced in 1997 – DARPG issues guidelines for their effective implementation; Public Grievance Redress Mechanism exists in all Government of India Departments with designated PG officers to redress grievances and prevent their recurrence – DARPG monitors these activities regularly; RTI Act makes it mandatory for Ministries/Departments to publish certain details of their working and put them in public domain; National e-Governance Plan (NeGP) seeks to create the right governance and institutional mechanisms for a citizen-centric and business-centric environment; and Outcome-based budget requires placing Ministries’ spending information in public domain for public scrutiny.

International Best Practice

Apart from the findings of studies conducted by the DARPG, the study of international best practices in the areas of public service delivery also suggest that government departments need separate benchmarking systems. Some of the advanced countries like the UK, the USA and Canada have also developed separate benchmarks for government service delivery.

The Charter Mark (UK 1991) is based on a six-criterion evaluation to award the prestigious Charter Mark. The Charter Mark requires a self-assessment to gauge preparedness for Charter Mark application. The six evaluation criteria includes the setting of standards and performing well; actively engaging with customers, partners and staff; being fair and accessible to everyone and promoting choice; continuous development and improvement; using resources effectively and imaginatively; and contributing to improving opportunities and quality of life in the communities that are being served.

The Malcolm Balridge Model (USA 1987) is a seven-criterion model for organisational excellence in running a business. This is one of the most prestigious international awards and has been designed with an extremely rigorous assessment process. The major issues to judge the performance have been decided on leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, measurement, analysis and knowledge management, human resource focus, process management and business results.

ISO 9000 series of Standards for Quality Management System embodies high quality and comprehensive documentation and has several supporting standards and guidelines.

Model for India

The Indian model on benchmarking excellence in public service delivery has been designed after detailed field study and upon examining the results of studies on the impact of various initiatives of the government towards citizen-centric governance in the country. The ground realities of the country have also been examined with reference to the international best practices and the model has been tailor-made for the country.

The initiatives towards developing the assessment-improvement mechanism were conceptualised as a model to assess implementation of Citizen’s Charters, public grievance redress and to recognise publicly the excellence in service delivery. The project began with the desire to make marked improvement in these areas and thereby bring accountability and openness into public governance. An extensive field study was carried out before developing the assessment criteria. Eventually a set of nine criteria was identified covering charter implementation that consisted of formulation, implementation and evaluation of charters; grievance redress mechanism consisting of receipt; redress and prevention of grievances and service delivery capability of customers; and capacity building of employees and infrastructure availability. These criteria consist of 33 elements suggesting a comprehensive evaluation of public service delivery by any organisation.

Salient features

There are five compliance criteria based on DARPG guidelines in respect of citizen’s charters and grievance redress mechanism. A Compliant Organisation should have done the following: Published an approved Citizen’s Charter; Circulated Charter among service delivery units; Appointed a Public Grievance Officer/Nodal Officer for Citizen’s Charter for the Department; Set up a task force for formulation, implementation and review of citizen’s charter as per standards and for conducting self-assessment with involvement of representative citizen groups; and Published grievance lodging and redress procedure and timeliness for redress.

There is a mechanism for assessment at two levels – one at the parent department (responsible for making policies) and the other at service outlet where policies get implemented and maximum citizen interface takes place. The nine “QUALITY* of compliance” criteria for which a requirement standard has been developed, cover the three areas of citizen’s charters, grievance redress and service delivery capability.

In May 2005, the Prime Minister addressed a conference of District Collectors emphasizing the need to improve service delivery. District Collectors being field functionaries are expected to provide a new perspective on implementation issues for the model. Before the validation of the model, a careful examination was made to look at similar work globally to identify points of similarity and uniqueness. The double step validation has ensured that it is a world-class model and yet suited to realities of a fast developing country like India. Finally, the validation inputs were received from civil society representatives and also from the government agencies that would own the various aspects of the implementation so that it leads to measurable improvements on the ground.

Formulation of Standard

The Bureau of Indian Standard (BIS) through an expert panel constituted from BIS, DARPG, Quality Council of India (QCI), National Productivity Council (NPC), RITES and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) has now developed a generic standard for benchmarking service delivery. This standard has been validated after receiving comments/feedback from the Ministries and Departments of the Government of India. The feedback from the citizens was also obtained by putting the draft standard on BIS website. This resulted in the development of Indian Standard – “IS 15700:2005”. The standard on public service delivery developed in the country is a unique one that highlights documentation requirements including service quality manual and documentation control, management responsibility for customer focus, service quality policy and commitment, Citizen’s Charter, definition of authority and internal/external communication requirements, and resource management including both human resource and infrastructure implemen-tation, monitoring, measurement and improvement requirements.

Action Plan

The steps as designed in the model towards improving public services delivery in the country have been summarized as illustrated in the given figure. Over a period of time, the implementation of the scheme will make it mandatory to comply with the service delivery standard based on the three modules of Citizen’s Charters, Public Grievance Redress and Service Delivery Capability. This would in turn bring about citizen empowerment, redress satisfaction and delivery capability enhancement.

As the generic standard has been developed, all Ministries and Departments of the Government of India will develop sector specific standards for their areas of operation with assistance from the various Training Institutes some of which are attached to concerned Ministries and other agencies like Quality Council of India, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd. etc. To institutionalise the certification mechanism all Government of India Ministries and Departments will start preparing for achieving certification and give a commitment on the date by which they aim to achieve it. This exercise will take into account the role played by policy-making and coordinating Ministries/Departments of Government of India, including those with no direct citizen interface and those which are dependent on State Governments for delivery of services to citizens. Over a period of 2-3 years, all offices of the Government of India would be expected to be compliant with these standards and demonstrate by example, the practical application of the model in actually improving the standard of their services.

Role of e-Governance

Across the world Good Governance practices are ably supported by e-delivery, existence of extensive feedback channels for stakeholders and IT-enabled grievance systems. The model takes care of these aspects as given in the figure.


This is a unique initiative taken up by the government to improve service delivery by synthesizing multiple concepts — standardization and certification for ensuring a benchmark, transparency through introduction of self-assessment results to be published in public domain, capacity building and back-end support to enable organisations to actually improve services before they seek certification and providing incentives to monopoly organisations to strive for excellence. India would be one of the very few countries in the world to have a published Requirement Standard for Citizen Service Delivery. This is a big step forward for a country with so much diversity and varying levels of performance on service delivery across regions, sectors and sometimes even across organisations in the same sector and region. A pioneering start has been made and all efforts are being made to deal with the uphill task still ahead.

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