Video transcript: Public accountability and complaints
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Title: Public accountability and complaints
Mike Scott (Assistant Auditor-General, Performance Audit Group):
So Gary, why are complaints important to public entities?
Gary Emery (Manager, Performance Audit Group):
I think that they’re generally important because they’re a good barometer or litmus test of good customer service – so, how an organisation values and focuses on its customers. It can appear to be listening to what the public say, what its customers are saying which is really important. And also I think it can use that information to actually improve what it does. So if you’re delivering services, it makes absolute sense to me, that you want to know how well those services are being delivered, and how well those services are being received.
And what are the features of handling complaints well?
I think for me it probably falls into three categories. First and foremost, is it easy for people to complain? How accessible is it? So, do you welcome complaints or comments to a certain extent?
Secondly, in terms of how you handle those complaints, so dealing with them early, ensuring that there’s good communication through a complaints process. So you might be a complainant, and while somebody’s dealing with it, it might go silent for a long period of time. So do you consider communicating with those individuals to update them and actually having a focus on resolution.
And the third area I think, in terms of a good complaints process, touches on what I said earlier which is around using that information effectively to actually drive improvements. It’s almost like free consultation to a certain extent, you’re getting a window on how your services are being delivered and how they’re being received. Wouldn’t you want to use that information to actually improve what you do?
Thank you Gary. Rachel, if I can ask you – if someone remains dissatisfied after they’ve complained directly to a public entity, what can they do next?
Rachel Trangmar (Performance Auditor):
Well there are a lot of different ways that people can make a complaint about a public entity to an organisation other than that public entity. And when we started doing some work around that we wanted to see just how many there were – building on what Gary said – how accessible they are, how easy it is to find. What we found is that there were over 400 different ways people could make a complaint about a public entity and the process for doing that was a lot more difficult than we expected it would be.
Building on the accessibility and visibility point that Gary made, what we found was there was no single source of information that people could use to help them to find the right place to go. So in the event that you are dissatisfied with how a public entity handles your complaint, it can be very difficult to figure out who to go to next and what you can do and part of a good accountability system obviously is that there are those safety nets and there are places you can go but because of the complexity of the overall system there’s a chance that people are getting incredibly frustrated and entrenched in their positions. They have nowhere to go so they start to lose confidence in the system.
What are some of the challenges that are faced by some of these inquiry agencies where people can go to for further consideration of their concerns?
So we looked at more closely at six inquiry agencies because obviously with 400 different ways it was impractical to cover the breadth of that. From the six we looked at we found that there is an increasing demand for these services, a lot more complaints are being received by inquiry agencies. And as well as that a lot of these complaints are becoming a lot more complex.
So the complexity we heard manifested itself in many different ways, and that ranged from the complaint itself being a lot more complex, and that could be because it involved multiple departments or across the public and private sector so defining what the inquiry agency could look at was a lot more difficult and as well as that people had started sending in any and every piece of information they have about their complaint obviously because with more technology they can capture more information so they want to send it all to make sure that the agency has it in consideration.
So we wanted to look at how can they mitigate that? What can inquiry agencies do to make sure that people are being heard and that they’re dealing with complaints in the best way possible? So one thing we identified was that there could be more opportunities for inquiry agencies to collaborate more. And when we put this to the agencies they were all really receptive of that and really keen to work together more and be more connected in their general work so understand each other’s roles better, make sure that they’re not duplicating work on their work programmes and where there are opportunities for them to lawfully work together – to do so.
Thanks very much. Thank you both.
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