By Renee HoFebruary 26, 2016

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Feedback loops are about responding to constituent feedback, not just collecting it. So you might ask: how well am I closing the loop? How do I measure my performance?

Integrity Action has pioneered a metric, the fix rate, to measure this. According to its working paper, the fix rate is the percentage of meaningfully resolved problems.

The fix rate’s value is primarily as a quantifiable metric that can be used to hold government or other service providers accountable. At the same time, providers could use it as a way to benchmark their performance and improve over time. At its most basic, a higher fix rate is better; it means that the providers are closing the loop better.

It is, however, a simplified measure. In fact, its reduction is what makes it a potentially helpful metric to begin with. Integrity Action points out how to carefully consider other variables along with the fix rate in order to avoid over simplification and get, instead, the most telling assessment.

Recent research made me consider the fix rate in yet another new light. In her 2015 paper, “Fixing Broken Windows: The Effect of Government Maintenance Work on Citizens’ Complaints”, Laura Trucco asks the rather counterintuitive question, “Does government work affect citizens’ demands?”

By investigating citizens’ complaints and government maintenance work in public spaces in Buenos Aires, Trucco finds that government work actually stimulates citizens’ demands.   Civic participation—measured by the number of complaints—may actually increase if citizens perceive that government is more responsive. They may perceive this upon seeing that more government maintenance work is being done nearby.

If Trucco’s findings are generalizable to other contexts— and that’s a big if—then more citizen complaints will occur when governments are perceived (seen) to be actually doing their job. In turn, governments will have to work exponentially harder to maintain or improve their fix rate.

This is not a bad thing. In a dream world of endless staff and funding, this means that public service provision and infrastructure will get better and better. And surely, there will also be a saturation point at which enough improvements happen so that the incidence of complaints goes down and government work will too.

But we live in the real world of limited resources. Until that saturation point is hit, even the best of governments will scramble and the fix rate may lose relevance as it inevitably falls.

It behooves people to remember that the fix rate is like every other metric out there: fixation on the rate itself isn’t meaningful. A deeper understanding of the total quantity of complaints, the types of complaints, and the quality of the response is just as important as the fix rate itself.

Using a number to determine how well you close the loop is a good place to start, but not —by its lonesome—a good place to finish.

 

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