Beyond ‘participation mechanisms’: local government quality management

Nirmala Dorasamy illustrates how citizen participation, inclusive representation and attention to the quality and impact of participation gives local governments crucial feedback to improve service delivery.

Quality frameworks for local government issued by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) recognize stakeholder satisfaction as a vital element of sustainable success. In her article ‘Citizen participation and needs as an input tool for local government quality management’, Dorasamy reveals that local governments can align their processes and results to citizen needs when incorporated as a process within a quality management system.

Dorasamy sketches citizen participation as a component of a range of interconnected processes and relationships which interact in loops within a quality management system. As an ‘input tool’, citizen participation can help reliably identify stakeholder requirements. As an ‘output tool’, it can measure levels of satisfaction. It can communicate changes and conflicts in needs and expectations, fostering trust between community and government. In addition, it can help diagnose potential constraints in the system, and provide guidance on improving overall stakeholder participation.

However, she asserts that citizen participation must be clearly defined, organized and supported to fulfill its role in a quality management system.

Participation design needs to provide for inclusive representation and help develop control measures with which to monitor and correct the process. Drawing attention to the critical importance of communication in the interface between citizen and administrators, the author suggests that communication platforms have an influential and constructive role in supporting participation – and in closing the feedback loop by transmitting knowledge to other processes in the system.

Reviewing literature and ISO guidelines, Dorasamy outlines benefits to community and government. But she cautions against participation mechanisms alone to guarantee service improvement. Local government may provide opportunities for participation, but the quality and impact of participation can determine the extent of its influence.

Nirmala Dorasamy is professor in the Department of Public Management and Economics at the Durban University of Technology, Durban, South Africa.

Photo: Rawpixel/cc

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