Quality Development and Service Declarations

Drawing up service declarations in central government agencies

All central government agencies are to draw up service declarations for their users by the end of 2000. The Ministry of Labour and Government Administration (AAD) is therefore presenting this guide on how agencies can organize their work on drawing up these service declarations.

Preface

All central government agencies are to draw up service declarations for their users by the end of 2000. The Ministry of Labour and Government Administration (AAD) is therefore presenting this guide on how agencies can organize their work on drawing up these service declarations. The guide is a follow-up and further supplement to the previous brochure "Guide to Service Declarations for Government Agencies".

The guide is intended to serve as practical support for government agencies, and it should be emphasized that it only contains proposals on how a central government agency can proceed when drawing up a service declaration. The various agencies must evaluate their own situation, their own users and their own operating conditions when drawing up a service declaration.

The brochure was prepared by the Directorate of Public Management and was commissioned by the Ministry of Labour and Government Administration.

Oslo, May 2000

Ministry of Labour and Government Administration

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Contents

I INTRODUCTION

1 Background and purpose

II STARTING UP

2 Preconditions

2.1 Commitment to the work

2.2 An organization focused on users and quality

2.2.1 Characteristics

2.2.2 How can you guarantee the provision of services?

III PLANNING

3 Organization of the work

3.1 Project or line organization?

3.2 Project plan

3.2.1 One or more service declarations?

3.2.2 Internal information

IV IMPLEMENTATION

4 User orientation

4.1 Who are the users?

4.2 How to identify users’ needs and expectations?

4.3 What needs can be accommodated?

5 Determining the level of service

6 Publication

V SUMMARY

7 Concluding remarks

7.1 Quality development as part of internal management

7.2 Continuous improvement is the goal

CHECKLIST

I INTRODUCTION

1 Background and purpose

Service declarations are one of the instruments in the work on creating a user-oriented government administration. It shall be a type of "quality label" for government services and contribute to clarifying what users can expect from a government agency.

Service declarations shall provide users with information about aspects that are important in their dealings with government agencies. An agency’s service declaration shall, as a minimum, contain the following:

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  • The agency’s functions
  • The services that are provided
  • Rights and duties connected to the service
  • Access to information and complaints procedure
  • Response and processing times for important services

Service declarations shall provide concrete, realistic and relevant information on one or more services.

This means that the agency must:

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  • Identify its users
  • Identify users’ information requirements
  • Determine what the agency is actually able to provide
  • Establish specific and verifiable targets for services that are important to users within given laws, regulations and resource limits
  • Organize the work so that the agency achieves the goals set out in the service declaration (good routines)
  • Inform users of the goals and undertake a commitment to them
  • Establish sound routines for feedback from users on their experience

If users are to have simple dealings with a central government agency, it is very useful if they know what the agency does and what can be expected from it. Service declarations, when used correctly, can help to bolster confidence in the central government administration. This will be the case if the agency places emphasis on results, focuses attention on users and ensures good communication in that the agency learns from and follows up the feedback from users.

Service declarations therefore have two important functions:

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  • The information function

Central government agencies shall draw up service declarations in order to provide better information on key services that are important to users within the time limit to which it applies.

  • The learning function

Service declarations shall also contribute to internal improvements in the agency by giving users the opportunity to provide feedback that can be used as a basis for ensuring better and more relevant services.

Why is a service declaration useful?

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There are costs associated with both producing the service declaration and ensuring that the agency develops the quality necessary to satisfy the requirements of this declaration.

This quality development is nevertheless an investment for preventing inadequate information, errors and deficiencies in administrative procedures, an inefficient use of resources, a low level of expertise and a number of other negative elements. These contribute to poor quality and considerable costs.

  • Satisfactory quality costs something
  • Poor quality costs considerably more

II STARTING UP

2 Preconditions

2.1 Commitment to the work

Society and the public sector itself are continuously demanding improvements in government agencies. This may relate to instructions to enhance quality in the performance of tasks or the introduction of new measures and systems. This results in a need for changes that may be demanding for both managers and employees. Drawing up service declarations is a measure that must also be viewed as part of the improvement of internal management and the requirements associated with target-oriented and performance management.

If the work on service declarations is to be successful, it is essential that the entire organization recognizes the need for quality development. If management and employees are not sufficiently committed to the work, it may easily turn into a "paper exercise". The entire organization must therefore be included in the work from the start. In particular, those who are in direct contact with users should have a key function.

It is therefore not sufficient that a small, isolated group performs the work alone. Cooperation and motivation on the part of all employees are necessary in order to make headway. Management must ensure that the necessary conditions are in place for achieving this. Management must be involved in the start-up phase, in the process and, not least, in connection with the use and follow-up of service declarations.

As with other efforts to enhance quality, service declarations are dependent on the employees’ professional skills and personal attitudes. It will be difficult to achieve good results if employees are not motivated to follow up service declarations and the service they provide to users.

2.2 An organization focused on users and quality

2.2.1 Characteristics

Many agencies have already made considerable progress in work focused on quality or users. These agencies are characterized by the following:

  • they perform the required tasks in a way that is satisfactory for users
  • they are able to provide services beyond those required – that is "service"
  • they have stable and predictable work processes which ensure that they can make specific promises, and that they can fulfil these promises – every time
  • they have employees with high personal qualities
  • they are evolving based on changes in their surroundings

The experience of service declarations to date indicates that it is not sufficient to involve those who are in daily contact with users. The entire production line (value added chain) must participate to ensure that the services provided are at the level of service that has been stipulated. A key precondition is that the entire organization sees the need for quality development and is prepared for an evaluation of and improvement in all work processes.

The agency must be organized in such a way that users obtain the right services in a stable and predictable manner. A sound follow-up of user feedback and employees’ experience must be in place in order to achieve continuous improvements. This is the core of the work on quality and user orientation.

2.2.2 How can you guarantee the provision of services?

" Develop a system that ensures quality and continuous improvement"

In order to ensure that the agency can deliver what it promises, continuous follow-up of the service declaration is necessary. The agency must:

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  • Monitor the attainment of goals
  • Have methods for being able to identify the reasons for any deviations
  • Identify the location of bottlenecks and other problems
  • Introduce and follow-up necessary measures
  • Develop a user-oriented culture

A service declaration shall be binding, thereby giving users realistic expectations. It is therefore important that one puts one’s own house in order if users are to have confidence in the agency. This presupposes well functioning management systems.

Service declarations are the responsibility of government agencies. They do not have to be approved by the relevant ministry or by the Ministry of Labour and Government Administration. Both the form and content shall be adapted to the needs of the agency’s users and reflect what the agency actually can promise and fulfil.

III PLANNING

3 Organization of the work

3.1 Project or line organization?

When the work on service declarations is to be started, the work can be organized as a project or as part of the line organization.

Line organization

Placing development work in the line organization provides a simple organization that requires little administration and reporting. However, the work will be a supplement to daily activities, and the persons involved will come from the same unit in the organization. This organization of the work is usually not suitable if expertise from several units in the organization is required or the development work to be executed is on a larger scale.

Project organization

Drawing up service declarations is a task that should involve many people and include all the functions of the organization. This work is therefore often organized as a project in order to ensure access to sufficient expertise and resources. An important precondition is that project personnel have sufficient time available for the project and that approval has been granted by the project participants’ superiors.

In larger organizations with many local units it may be appropriate to have a project group with representatives from central levels (ministry and directorate) and regional offices in order to draw up guidelines for the work on service declarations at the various units. The larger the organization in question, the greater will be the need for coordination. It should nevertheless be emphasized that a project organization should not be heavier and larger than necessary.

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A project organization can include:

  • Steering group (management group)
  • Project officer
  • Project group incl. project manager
  • Reference group or reference persons.

The project group is responsible for the practical implementation of the project. The steering group makes higher-level decisions. It must therefore consist of

persons with the authority to make financial and organizational decisions.

The management group will therefore be a natural steering group.

3.2 Project plan

The project plan to be drawn up must be as realistic as possible and should contain a description of the project with regard to:

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  • Background
  • The project’s objective
  • Mandate
  • Progress plan with milestones
    (activity plan and schedule with start-up and ending dates, deadlines and persons responsible)
  • Organization
  • Budget and personnel resources
  • Internal and external information strategies
  • Internal training.

3.2.1 One or more service declarations?

Larger organizations with one central unit and several regional offices must decide whether the organization shall have one service declaration or whether each unit shall have its own. Moreover, it is necessary to evaluate whether common requirements should be established for the work.

In organizations that have clearly different user groups with very different needs, it may be appropriate to draw up one service declaration for each user group. This may be suitable, for example, in organizations with one user group consisting of other government agencies and one consisting of private individuals.

3.2.2 Internal information

The planning must take into account how information concerning the service declaration shall be disseminated (see also chapter 6). The service declaration is for external users, but all employees must also receive information concerning the purpose and content of the service declaration. This can take place in internal information meetings/circulars and through training. Those who are in contact with the users require thorough training on users’ rights and duties and how they shall respond to various situations that may arise.

IV IMPLEMENTATION

4 User orientation

4.1 Who are the users?

In this guide, the concept user is applied to all those who are to receive "something" from central government agencies. Users may be other government agencies, private enterprises, organizations or individuals. Moreover, service declarations are not confined to central government agencies that provide services. Government agencies that have administrative or decision-making functions have "users", i.e. those who are dependent on the agency’s decisions.

It is not possible or appropriate to draw up a service declaration that covers everyone dealing with the agency. The agency must therefore decide which user groups have the greatest need for a service declaration. For most agencies, these will be users who receive services required by law, i.e. decisions, particularly individual decisions, various types of support, services, information, etc. However, there may also be services that are important to users but that are not required by law.

A simple service/user matrix may serve as a useful tool for specifying the services provided and the users who benefit from the service 1Riktig kvalitet på offentlige tjenester (The right quality of government services), Directorate of Public Management, 1991.

The question may be raised as to whether it is appropriate to draw up service declarations between government bodies that have a direct management relationship with each other, for example, ministry and directorate. They may have a number of different conditions and expectations concerning response times for enquiries and what the relationship is or should be. However, this should be discussed and clarified in the management dialogue and in other situations where the relationship between superior and subordinate bodies is discussed.

4.2 How to identify users’ needs and expectations?

As noted earlier, service declarations should cover the services offered by the agency that are most important to users. However, user views on what is to be considered most important are not always the same as what the agency considers to be most important. An agency might perhaps think that the most important element for an applicant is to receive a positive decision on an application for support for, for example, a cultural activity, business development, etc. The applicant knows, however, that the total amount available is sometimes limited and that there is considerable competition for support. What the applicant expects, among other things, is the existence of clear allotment criteria so that it may be verified whether those who have been granted support satisfy the requirements and that administrative processing has a time limit that is observed.

Several surveys also show that what users expect most of all is respect, courteousness and consideration.

Users’ needs and expectations of services and the agency must be identified if the agency is to be able to orient the service declaration in accordance with this. There are various ways of doing this:

  • Various types of user surveys 2Å spørre brukerne. En veiledning om brukerundersøkelser (Asking users. A guide for user surveys), Directorate of Public Management, 1990
  • Systematic registration of user feedback
  • Establishing regular contact with user committees
  • Internal surveys

The agency should establish fixed routines for registering user feedback, possibly by using evaluation forms so that developments can be followed over time. If the same questions or mistakes recur, this may indicate unclear or inadequate information. Information may also be gathered from those who are in contact with the users.

User committees with representatives for individual users or user organizations may also be established.

Most central government agencies have considerable information concerning who their users are, what is important to them and what they generally expect. Identifying users and their expectations and needs does not have to be very extensive the first time the agency issues a service declaration. Most likely, the employees of the agency have acquired considerable insight and will be able to provide sound suggestions. Systematizing this knowledge is the most important aspect.

The National Insurance Service in Aust-Agder organized a user conference where participants from various user groups were asked to provide 10 recommendations regarding the service they wanted from the National Insurance Service. The recommendations are shown below:

10 good recommendations to employees of the National Insurance Service in Aust-Agder

  • Be pleasant, courteous and show respect
  • Provide information about the possibilities for fixed appointments and home visits, also outside opening hours
  • Be well prepared for appointments
  • Use simple language, write simple and easily understandable letters
  • Employees must have a considerable ability and willingness to refer users to the right body or right place
  • Work on reducing the administrative processing time
  • Keep professionally updated, provide objective information
  • Ask your colleague if you are in doubt
  • It should be possible to change administrative officer
  • Be informed about the organizations representing the physically disabled and provide users with information on the facilities they offer

4.3 What needs can be accommodated?

When the agency is to determine what shall be covered by the service declaration and what it is able to promise users, it is important to express clearly the framework for and limits of the services and their level. The public sector must be able to strike a balance between users’ needs and preferences and the need for equal treatment and sound administrative procedures within political, financial and legal limits. Users may have both rights and obligations: The right to receive services, but also an obligation to report correct information on, for example, their financial situation or civil status before the benefit or service can be granted.

If users have to satisfy certain conditions for the agency to fulfil its promises in the service declaration, information concerning this must be provided. For example, the State Educational Loan Fund promises its loan customers that they will have their applications processed within a certain date. The precondition is that the applicant sends in a correctly completed form by a specified date of which the applicant is aware.

When this stage of the process has been reached, the agency should have

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  • Gained an understanding of the importance of continuous commitment on the part of management and employees
  • Organized the work on drawing up the service declaration
  • Defined the user groups to which the declaration shall be addressed
  • Collected and systematized knowledge on what is important for these user groups and what they expect
  • Determined the services and products to be initially covered by the service declaration

5 Determining the level of service

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"Don’t promise more than you can fulfil"

When the agency has determined which services, benefits, etc. are to be included in the service declaration, the level of service and quality targets must be established. This can be accomplished by identifying the current status, checking minimum requirements that apply to the area and clarifying users’ priorities, for example the need for information, availability and processing time.

As a first step in determining the level of service, it is necessary to obtain information on the current status. The following questions may be relevant:

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  • How long does it take to receive a response on the telephone?
  • How long does it take to be connected to an administrative officer?
  • How often does the switchboard/front office have to search for the right person?
  • Are opening hours appropriate in relation to users’ expectations or needs?

If there is dissatisfaction with the processing time for a specific benefit, the agency must investigate further the following:

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  • How long is the administrative processing time?
  • What is the average processing time?
  • How great is the variation?

The next step in determining the level of service will be to obtain information on what may be considered minimum requirements for various benefits. For many agencies, these requirements are set out in legislation and regulations. If the statutory requirements have not been satisfied, the objective of the agency’s first service declaration must be to ensure that these requirements are met.

For some agencies, it may be difficult to find the right content and the right formulations when presenting the service declaration for the first time. The first service declaration should therefore provide information on the services reported as important by users. It is better that the declaration deals with just a few important services than using considerable time to describe the service profile of the entire organization and risk delays in producing the declaration.

The goals in the service declaration must be realistic. If the goals are too ambitious in relation to what the agency can provide, users will be dissatisfied. If they are not ambitious enough, the agency runs the risk of not being taken seriously.

Irrespective, however, it is very important that the information in service declarations is in accord with the level of service and the services the agency actually manages to deliver.

Service declarations should be updated regularly in step with the agency’s performance. A short "expiry date" is appropriate if the agency does not initially want to establish goals that are too ambitious. It may be better to update the service declaration fairly frequently and after the organization gradually learns from its mistakes, than establishing goals that are too high. Service declarations with goals that are not achieved lead to a lack of confidence among users and frustration among employees.

The following presents an example of the stipulated level of service from the National Insurance Service in Aust-Agder.

Service declaration from the National Insurance Service in Aust-Agder

Our agency wants you to experience good service and be given the right benefit at the right time. We will give you good information on…

The information you give to our administrative officers will be treated confidentially…

What can I expect from the National Insurance Service?

You will be able to get in touch with us quickly when you telephone, and you will speak to an administrative officer who can help you…

When you visit us, …..

When you visit our offices, you will not have to wait. If the waiting time is more than two minutes, you will be notified and be told when we can help you…

When you write to us, ……

All written enquiries will be answered within four weeks.

Home visits

If you, because of poor health or for other reasons,…

In other words, it is necessary to have systems which ensure that the agency can fulfil its promises. If the agency has said that the processing time is four weeks, the agency must ensure that it can do this each time without experiencing bottlenecks and unnecessary mistakes that take time to remedy. Before the service declaration is issued, standards for the agency’s routines should therefore be in place. A quality system should be established in which organization, authorizations, authority and responsibility, administrative procedures, the response to deviations and improvements have been documented 3Further details on quality and quality systems in the Directorate of Public Management’s brochure

Government agencies compile extensive statistics that can be used to check the level of quality and show the status with regard to satisfying the requirements in the service declaration. However, it may be necessary to measure performance in areas that are not covered by existing statistics. Some agencies have systems for measuring processing times, the length of time it takes to reach someone on the telephone and how complaints and enquiries are dealt with 4 Further details on various types of surveys in the brochures

In order to be able to measure user satisfaction with services or how users are treated, user surveys must be conducted regularly. These do not have to be very extensive, but it is important to obtain views that are as concrete as possible on questions that are relevant and possible to follow up with measures. Surveys that only result in general views on satisfaction are as a rule of little use to the agency.

One method for identifying where problems arise in the administrative or work process is to illustrate the process or routine using a flow chart.

This method makes it easier to locate where in the process problems arise, find the reasons for them and introduce remedial measures. It is important to find the reasons for the problems and not just treat the symptoms. Solutions must be based on factual information, not what one believes or assumes. Otherwise, the measures may result in additional costs without improving the results.

It is also important to create a user-oriented culture in the agency. Employees must accept that the agency has users and have an understanding of how users are to be dealt with and how the agency wishes to appear to its surroundings.

Employees who are in direct contact with users often know where the shoe pinches. Systematic surveys among employees and an open internal culture that invites suggestions and constructive criticism will also help ensure sound and effective work processes and the introduction of relevant measures.

6 Publication

No requirements have been established for the design and form of a service declaration. Each agency will have different needs and different views on this. The important factor is that the content is straightforward and can be understood by those who are to use it.

Central government agencies will have varying needs to include general and specific information on their services. If the brochure contains a great deal of information, the result may be that the service declaration becomes less prominent. On the other hand, it is important to present the agency’s main functions and its role. This may be important in order to clarify and delimit what users can expect.

Users shall be informed that a service declaration has been drawn up and its content. Information on the existence of a service declaration can be provided on the Internet, in the media or through information circulars. If it is not too extensive, the declaration itself shall also be published through these channels. The further dissemination of information will largely depend on the targeted user groups. Several different types of information measures will usually be necessary.

The following questions must be clarified:

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  • How shall information on the service declaration be communicated?
  • How extensive should it be?
  • What type of layout should it have?
  • How many copies should be printed?

Because it is important to be able to update the service declaration without involving substantial costs, it may be sensible to avoid forms and layouts that are expensive to produce. At the same time, the declaration must be designed in such a way that it functions both for users and the agency itself.

V SUMMARY

7 Concluding remarks

7.1 Quality development as part of internal management

The requirement of drawing up service declarations should be expressed in the letters of allocation from the ministries to their subordinate agencies. The service declaration will thereby be a subject of discussion in the management dialogue, and both the status and the results of the work are to be reported.

The Financial Management Regulations require agencies to measure and report on their performance. Furthermore, evaluations shall be made with an emphasis on the expected impact on society. This means that the goals in the service declaration are part of internal management and should be included in the formal management dialogue concerning the criteria to be applied. This implies that the goals in the service declaration should be seen in connection with target-oriented and performance management, although attention shall be particularly focused on the users.

User surveys, statistics and other measures showing the status of the agency in relation to the established goals will provide a good basis for reporting on the results achieved.

The agency’s management must ensure that quality targets are established and that the activities which are related to these targets are part of the annual operational plan and budget work, also with regard to performance reporting.

A precondition for good quality development is that the work on improvements is taken seriously. This means, among other things, that routines are established for dealing with user feedback so that the organization can learn from its experiences.

7.2 Continuous improvement is the goal

Through the work on service declarations, agencies will gain increased awareness of who their users are, the services they are entitled to, the most important needs and the relationship between users and the agency. The service declaration is a commitment on the part of the agency to deliver what it promises, thereby serving as a quality agreement. This presupposes that the agency has an overview of and control over the production processes, and is an important factor in all quality work.

The service declaration shall have an "expiry date". It is better to revise the service declaration as the organization gradually learns from its experiences than drawing up a far too extensive service declaration the first time. If the agency manages to achieve continuous development and improvements in services, the level of ambition may gradually be increased. It is therefore important to find a form that makes this updating possible.

As time passes, the agency should also compare itself with other agencies so that it can gain a broader picture of its own level of service and quality.

The optimal situation is to create an organization that learns based on continuous improvements. User feedback shall be used to focus attention on aspects of the agency that should be improved. Concrete measures should be developed to show how the agency can benefit from the views conveyed to the agency. The agency must then identify the reasons for not managing to live up to expectations. The next step is to improve the work processes by means of various measures, as discussed earlier in the guide. These measures may include steps for providing better information, better systems, changes in attitudes and, not least, targeted training.

Good luck with the work!

Checklist

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Has the agency’s management decided that a service declaration shall be issued and how the work on the declaration is to be organized?

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Does management see the importance of drawing up a service declaration? Has the work been assigned the necessary priority?

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Is it clear who has been given the specific responsibility for drawing up the service declaration?

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Is this work organized as a project?

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Has a progress plan been drawn up for the work?

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Have employees in the organization been given information on what a service declaration is, its purpose and what it means for the agency?

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Has it been decided which users the service declaration shall be focused on?

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Does the agency know which services they receive or are entitled to?

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Does the agency know what is important to users?

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Is the agency aware of users’ views on the services they receive and the service provided by the agency?

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Has the agency systematically carried out

  • User surveys?
  • Internal surveys among employees?
  • Analyses of relevant statistics?
  • Analyses of other feedback or other relevant material regarding users’ views?

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Has it been decided which subjects and products are to be included in the service declaration?

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Is the agency aware of its status with regard to providing service in relation to users’ expectations (status for level of quality)?

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Has the agency decided which requirements it will impose on itself?

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Are the requirements realistic – too limited or too extensive?

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How does the agency know whether it can fulfil its promises?

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Have measures been introduced or planned to ensure that the agency can deliver what it promises?

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In that case, what measures have been introduced?

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Have any measures been planned if it turns out that the agency does not manage to fulfil its promises?

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Is everyone in the agency aware of the service declaration’s content and requirements?

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Have training/information measures for employees been initiated?

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Have routines been developed for feedback from employees to obtain information on any problems in satisfying the requirements in the service declaration and how this functions?

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What systems does the agency have to measure whether the requirements stipulated in the service declaration have been met?

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Have routines for reporting to the management group been planned or established so that it can monitor the status of the agency in terms of satisfying the requirements in the service declaration?

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