Saturday, February 28, 2009

Complaints, complaints, complaints

I don't get a lot of comments on this blog (or an awful lot of traffic), but a number of people have commented that I should essentially "stop complaining to council".

I'd like to draw a distinction between a "complaint" and a "report".

If you are burgled and you ring the Police, you are making a report, not a complaint.

If you suffer a heart attack and ring for an ambulance, you are making a report, not a complaint.

If your house is on fire and you ring the fire brigade, you are making a report (or more likely, yelling for help), not a complaint.

If you are unhappy with the service that these agencies provide - ie, you die before the ambulance arrives, then you may write to them later and complain about it.  However, the initial contact that you make with them is a report.  It is an exchange of information.

Many government agencies can be thought of as machines that need to be fed.  We feed them information, and they churn it around and produce services - an ambulance ride, a filled pot hole, a welfare payment, and half burnt house.  They only work when we, the public, feed them with information.  The ambulance services do not have ambulances prowling the streets looking for victims to collect.  The fire brigades don't go door to door asking if you have a fire that needs putting out.  

They've all setup contact centres (or call centres) which have one purpose and one purpose only - to collect information from the public and to pass it onto their front line staff.

Councils are no different.  They all have a contact centre or service centre of some sort (it might be simply a beefed up reception desk) for taking phone calls, and many now have some sort of web based e-forms system for accepting information from residents.  They range from the very good to the utterly appalling, but most councils are doing their best to streamline the process of gathering and processing this information.

The Australian Graffiti Register system that many councils are now using is a case in point.  It is available internally within councils, so that staff who see graffiti when they are out and about can report it, and it is available to the general public as well.  If councils weren't interested in gathering information on graffiti from the public, why would they bother to make this system publicly available?  

The fact is, council staff can't be everywhere at once.  Who is best placed to report a pot hole in your street - someone that lives there (like yourself), or a council employee that lives on the other side of the suburb?  

Councils do not have a "magic eye in the sky" that automatically spots and reports all pot holes, blocked drains, broken signs, abandoned cars, dead trees, collapsed footpaths, dumped rubbish and graffiti.  The only eyes it has are yours and mine.  If you won't use yours, don't come complaining to me about the state of your neighbourhood.

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