Greater Emphasis Needed on Social Inclusion
26 July 2011 at 1:13 pm
Government agencies must place a greater emphasis on social inclusion when approaching policy and service delivery, according to the Commonwealth Ombudsman Allan Asher.
The assertion was made by Allan Asher in a recent speech to the 2011 National Administrative Law Forum in Canberra.
He told the audience that Government communication lacks clarity and is not accessible to those in the community who need it most.
Asher says central to this is improving the way government agencies communicate with people.
He says social inclusion should be the issue for anyone involved in public administration.
Asher emphasised the importance of taking happiness and wellbeing as a starting point when developing and implementing policy and service delivery, and the value of proper complaints handling in ensuring community feedback leads to improvement in the provision of services.
He says he suspects that for every complaint his office gets, there are maybe 10 they don’t and in general terms, the people they don’t hear from are the people they should be hearing from most, because they are likely to be those members of our community who are the most marginalised and disadvantaged.
Many of the complaints his office receives are about government agencies arise from poor communication.
Some common examples of poor, or even lazy, communication include:
- computer-generated form letters, or letters that cut and paste great tracts of impenetrable legislation, or refer to websites to which their clients may not have access
- sending people too much correspondence, or too little, or none at all
- call centre staff who don’t have enough information themselves, or don’t have the authority to make proper decisions
- failing to provide key information, such as the right to review, and how to complain
- writing in bureaucratese rather than plain language using jargon, acronyms and abbreviations
- failing to provide simple explanations for people with cognitive impairment
- taking an officious tone
- not providing translations or interpreters
- having no single point of contact, so that people have to repeat their concerns over and over again
Asher called for a unified approach across government to making communication clear, accessible and two-way. He recommended a shift in attitude to complaint-handling, pointing to it as a strategic resource.
The issue of social inclusion, community-focused service delivery and integrity of government will be the main topics of discussion at the Commonwealth Ombudsman National Conference in November.
The full transcript of the speech is available at http://www.ombudsman.gov.au/docs/speeches/promises_prospects_and_performance_in_public_administration.pdf.