Complaints fuel innovation in the public sector
Nesta's new report, Gripes, grumbles and grievances: The role of complaints in transforming public services, shows how the gap is widening between the public services people want and the ones that they receive.
Gripes, grumbles and grievances directed at public services should be used positively to innovate, says Nesta, the UK's innovation foundation.
Rising demands and changing public expectations are compounded by reductions in public spending and pressures on budgets. Nesta warns that this may lead to exasperated consumers if the way that public services listen and engage don't evolve to meet changing demands.
The gap between service expectations and reality is driving the need for public service innovation - the development of new products, services and ways of doing things.
Dr. Jo Casebourne, director of public and social innovation at Nesta, explains, "Complaints are usually seen as something to be wary of, but we need to think about complaints positively, as catalysts for change and innovation. This is about looking at why people are disgruntled, what can be fixed, introduced or adapted to better align services with people's needs and expectations."
The report explains that complaints are an early warning sign that something has gone wrong and that public services need to a solid approach to listening, engaging and acting on public comments. But, Nesta stresses, a complaint-led innovation model needs to be built on a culture that is open to innovation. For some public services, this will mean a cultural shift is needed before complaints are acted on and create innovative responses.
Often finding themselves as passive recipients of services from health to housing, the report cites a mismatch between the ways consumers engage with the media and how they shop, compared to how they engage with public services. From Twitter and Facebook to letters, phone calls and online forms, the channels for complaining are wider than ever before and public services need to use them.
Casebourne continues, "In day to day life, we're using new technology more and more and getting used to interacting with the services we use, through apps like tripadviser via our smartphones, or by complaining on social media when we're unhappy with a company. Public services need to catch-up and listen through the channels that consumers use.
"Aside from any public frustration, if public services don't listen, then they can't engage, can't respond and can't match services to the needs and expectations of the people they are there to help. Complaints - and how they are channelled through the system - are a good place to start."
Much innovation in public services has been the result of complaints, including:
- 'Patient Opinion' which is now a respected platform for health organisations to listen and respond to patient feedback;
- The use of 'FixMyStreet' by local authorities as a tool for individuals to upload photos to report a problem;
- A 'drain adoption' scheme was set-up to alert authorities of flood risks after frustrated local residents came together;
- Hospitals and councils forged better links to improve care for discharged homeless patients to improve their health.
The report Gripes, grumbles and grievances: The role of complaints in transforming public services, is available to download free of charge.
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Notes to editor:
For media enquiries contact Sarah Reardon at Nesta on 020 7438 2606 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Common causes of complaint include: failure to do something when promised; inefficiency; rudeness; failure to keep individuals informed of changes; inflexibility; unreasonable delay; neglect; inaction; inefficiency; failure to follow policy or proper procedures; unfair discrimination; discourtesy; inconsistency; mistakes of law; giving inaccurate information or advice; or inept, incompetent service, often the result of mere apathy or inattention. Consumer Focus (2012)
- Report authors Richard Simmons, co-director of mutuality research programme at University of Stirling, and Carol Brennan, director of the consumer insight centre at Queen Margaret University, were commissioned to write the report on behalf of Nesta, overseen by Dr Jo Casebourne, director of public and social innovation.
- About Nesta Nesta is the UK's innovation foundation. We help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. We do this by providing investments and grants and mobilising research, networks and skills. We are an independent charity and our work is enabled by an endowment from the National Lottery.