Over the last few days there have been rumors that the Minister of Public Service and Innovation in Italy may allow citizens to express their judgement about the service level received by a government agency by using emoticons. More precisely three: 🙂 for a positive judgement, 🙁 for a negative one and 😐 for a neutral one.
The Minister shared with the press his vision of a rating system that allows people to express their opinion on any single transaction, both online and offline. This would be an essential component in establishing an objective measure of citizen satisfaction. Over the last few months he spearheaded a campaign against absenteeism, i.e. a phenomenon that was quite widespread in the Italian public sector and is being reduced quite drastically by a number of measure he took to counter this.
Certainly giving people the ability to tell what they think about the service they received is a good step. However the current proposition seems to be targeted to civil servants and not to services as such. While this could be useful to appraise employees’ performances, it is unlikely to help with the increasing number of online transactions. Further, as citizens are not clients but are often subjects to authority for several interactions with government (e.g. asking for a license or filing for taxes) it is quite possible that they may provide a negative assessment to express their discomfort with the actual service and not with the official they interfaced with.
Also, applying this across the board, as a blanket method for performance appraisal, is rather questionable. There are several factors to be considered, such as the nature of services (is it a real service or administrative obligation?), their complexity (is it a simple information or a complex case? does it involve one or several agencies or departments?) and the demographics (who are the “clients”? what are their priorities? how much do they value their time?).
Emoticons are an attractive simplification, but also an oversimplification. As such they may steer an otherwise worthwhile program (assessing citizen satisfaction to drive change) in the wrong direction.