Book News: October 16th, 2007

By Merlin Stone, Neil Woodcock and Ashley Semmens.The public sector must decide whether the people they serve are customers or citizens. This is the challenge of a report from the think tank Public Management and Policy Association. The report also poses questions about the effectiveness of ‘customer’ and ‘stakeholder’ management techniques.

The authors explain that the issue has arisen out of the modernization of public service delivery. In many countries, central and local governments and other public bodies are focusing on open government, improving citizen access and enhancing the quality of the services provided, while retaining the strong traditional focus of government on cost-effectiveness. The resulting challenge for governments is how to handle the increasing expectations of citizens, not to mention the rising numbers of lobbies and other pressure groups. Public service users are now also turning to the media to pressurize the government for better treatment.

The report goes on to assess specific private sector techniques used to manage customers and stakeholders, such as ‘segmentation’ and how these systems can be applied to public services. In the private sector, for example, there is a strong focus on important or high-value customers. In the public sector, this can be translated into users who have special needs. The public sector, then, may find it helpful to consider applying some of the segmentation and prioritization techniques used by the private sector. However, this requires an overt recognition that some sets of needs are more important than others.

The authors conclude that most public sector organizations do have a lot to learn from the private sector, but less through copying detailed customer or stakeholder management techniques, and more through a clear-sighted analysis of what is meant by stakeholder management, what models of stakeholder management might be appropriate for them, and how to ensure the full adoption of the chosen model.

The report is available at: