PM&C citizen survey results delayed, heavily redacted version released

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday August 20, 2020

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has deferred the release of its 2019 Citizen Experience Survey.

The department surveyed 5103 Australians in March 2019. According to the Thodey review of the Australian Public Service, the full survey results were expected to be published in mid-2020.

This week a heavily redacted version of the results was obtained through a freedom of information request from the Guardian Australia. The document only presented three statistics: 31% of respondents said they trusted Australian public services; 25% trust Australian public services to “successfully implement changes to meet the needs of all Australians”; and trust is lowest among people in regional areas, at 26%.

These statistics were previously published in the APS review, which was made public in December. The Thodey report contained one additional statistic: only one-third of people who provided feedback were satisfied with the way their complaint or suggestion was handled.

“While it is positive that the APS has instituted this survey, it is also illustrative that the APS has not previously tracked citizen trust, experience or satisfaction and does not use these metrics as objective service-wide performance indicators,” the report noted.

“Accordingly, there are no reliable, longitudinal data of public satisfaction with APS services as a whole.”

The document released this week was redacted because it was “impractical to section out the raw data” from the interpretation of the data, according to APS review branch assistant secretary Ali Jenkins. It also may have had a “substantial adverse effect” on the functioning of PM&C, and the document could prejudice future surveys.

“I am satisfied that release of the requested document could impair a key function of the department to produce evidence-based policy, particularly where the evidence has uncertain or doubtful reliability,” she said.

PM&C told Guardian Australia it had delayed the release of the results because they could “mislead and confuse rather than inform”.

The department said it has conducted surveys of roughly 2500 Australians every four months since March 2019. While the full survey results were expected to be published mid-2020, PM&C said it plans to conduct more surveys with at least 10,000 respondents before it publishes the final results.

Read more: Australian Public Service to start running citizen-satisfaction surveys

The idea of a citizen survey was first proposed by former PM&C secretary Terry Moran in his 2010 report Ahead of the Game.

His successor, Martin Parkinson, then floated the idea of a “regular, non-partisan citizens’ survey” in 2017, before he officially established the initiative in 2018.

Parkinson said the survey was “a way to get to know the public we serve better, to better understand the services people need and what they think of them”, and would help the APS develop a more “citizen-centred culture”, while earning public trust.

At the time, he highlighted the importance of transparency, and said he was “committed to reporting on major results of the survey”.

“As I indicated in December last year though, I think the results should only be published with a lag,” he added.

Parkinson had said agencies involved in the project would need time to analyse the survey results and filter out “what may well be statistical noise” before publishing and utilising the information.

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