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Are Emoticons A Good Idea to Evaluate Government Employees ?

By Andrea Di Maio | November 04, 2008 | 2 Comments

web 2.0 in government

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.

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  • Re-reading my post after the historic US elections makes me a bit sad. Irrespective of the outcome, I believe these few months were exemplary of how politics should look like. Americans could choose between two very decent candidates, who kept respecting each other throughout a long and exhausting campaign that took place while a major financial crisis was unfolding.
    As an analyst I have the pleasure of speaking with clients all over the world. I have heard many times some of my European clients or colleagues say that America is different. My personal feeling is that Americans are capable of posing themselves the hard questions and of accepting change as the inevitable price to survive and – indeed – thrive.
    So going back to the “emoticons” to assess civil servants, I cannot but think about the severe cuts that my own government has planned in areas like research and education. Those same areas that the new US president said he would preserve as they are the seeds for our future.
    I just hope that the enthusiasm for real change will soon spread to this side of the pond, and make us and our political leaders – does not matter which party they are from – ask tougher questions and look for bolder answers.

  • You are right because the icons on their own are little help (a bit like NI 14 in England) but with feedback against them they are a powerful citizen engagement mechanism – but only if used!