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Reviewing municipal service delivery: Learning from the experiences of entrepreneurs in Haarlem

The city of Haarlem is keen to improve its services to local entrepreneurs. To this purpose, they have initiated several activities. One of these is the campaign ‘More Service, Less Rules’. Another such initiative is a qualitative research among local entrepreneurs to learn from their experiences. STBY was asked by the Chamber of Commerce to conduct this study. The aim was to elicit entrepreneurs’ experiences and satisfaction with the municipal service delivery, and to advise on solutions to the barriers that entrepreneurs are facing.

For this study, a variety of local entrepreneurs were recruited (both small and large businesses, and operating in various sectors). In contextual interviews at their workplace, they were asked about their recent experiences with the municipality. Each entrepreneur shared around 3-5 experiences, both daily routines – such as the owner of an event agency applying for an event permit, and unique applications – such as a the owner of a packaging plant dealing with soil pollution. To facilitate a detailed yet organized collection of these experiences, Customer Journey Maps were used to structure the interviews. In addition, each entrepreneur was asked towards the end of the interview to recount the most burning issue, which was recorded on video. These clips were later edited into short films, a powerful tool for illustrating barriers in service experiences, and for kickstarting discussions on potential improvements.

The experiences all being documented in the same format, enabled the identification of recurring patterns and barriers in the analysis stage. An underlying process across the set of service experiences could clearly be identified: starting with a preparation stage wherein entrepreneurs look up information on their own, followed up by a stage wherein for instance an application is submitted and discussed with the municipality. The municipality then takes the application into consideration, which finally results in an answer. Surprisingly, this often wasn’t the final stage in the process: a lot of times the answer from the municipality led to a new cycle of follow-up steps.
In each stage of this process, one or two recurring barriers were identified. For instance, during the first contact with the municipality very few information is given on the process lying ahead so the entrepreneurs don’t know what to expect and eventually get confused by sudden requests or the absence of feedback. These barriers make the process very complex for entrepreneurs and they often end up spending a lot of time as an intermediary between several departments and individuals within the local government.

The barriers identified in the study, highlighted clear areas for improvement, giving the municipality of Haarlem the opportunity to empathize and work on concrete solutions. To support this process, various presentations on the results of the research have been given to different departments from the municipality. Special effort has been put in the design of an inspiring booklet which gathers the stories from the entrepreneurs; the customer journey maps as well as the edited films and a visual overview of the experiences patterns and barriers identified. A total of 150 of these booklets and dvd’s have been distributed, enabling the municipality to recount the experience of local entrepreneurs and the key insights from research. These deliverables offer a useful steppingstone for further service improvements.

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