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Experiencing the Citizen-State Interface

Friday, May 27, 2016
by Nick Charney RSS / cpsrenewalFacebook / cpsrenewalLinkedIn / Nick Charneytwitter / nickcharneygovloop / nickcharneyGoogle+ / nickcharney

I got a parking ticket this week -- and while it was a simple mistake, rectifying that mistake is almost not worth pursuing. This is one of those stories about the citizen-state interface that we can all sympathize with.

Long story short, last week I had some work done on my car and had a loaner. I have a parking pass for a lot by my work and simply changed my pass to reflect the change in vehicle. No big deal. However, when I got my car back I failed to change the pass back to my actual vehicle so I got a ticket for parking my car in the lot I pay to park it in. Now, mea culpa on not changing it back but the cost of the ticket is almost half the cost of the monthly pass (if I pay early) and more than half the cost if I pay late. So I did what any reasonable person would do and I called the city.

I will say that I was pleased with the wait time (less than 1 minute), however while the person on the other end of the phone was polite, helpful and courteous the solution offered was complete rubbish from a service delivery standpoint. That solution: show up in person to one of the designated sites, get in line, wait, and contest the ticket in person. If I can pay a ticket online, why can't I contest one? The in person requirement in a strong disincentive to contest and an equally strong incentive to pay. Something about this seems amiss, and likely sounds familiar.

That said -- and this ends the 'rant' -- the larger more general question I want to raise is why would governments make it easier to comply (even if erroneously) rather than contest (or correct) a mistake?

Do they not have a duty to ensure that both paths -- across all service offerings -- can be walked just as easily? Shouldn't they be removing barriers that disproportionately benefit the state while leaving those that would more directly benefit the citizen? Isn't good governance is about finding the compromise

After all, if we want people to see the state as more than the common stereotypes portrayed by popular media then we need to continue to improve the citizen-state interface in ways that are demonstrably meaningful to both parties. I suppose this is where user testing comes in. However, the challenge there is that while citizens are constantly user testing the state, the state is infrequently conducting user testing on its citizens.