Informations and abstract
Keywords: Citizen Orientation; Public Service Quality; Austerity Programs; Communication.
In Italy, as in several other countries, the current crisis and subsequent austerity programs are challenging the service quality improvement process within public administrations. Local governments are particularly severely affected by financial constraints due to a significant reduction of transfers from the central government. Given these premises, the purpose of this paper is to investigate whether the current austerity programs are negatively affecting municipal citizen orientation and service quality. The study is based on the longitudinal analysis of data we collected in 2010 and 2012 from samples of 204 and 194 Italian local municipalities, respectively. Moreover, the data interpretation is enriched by a qualitative analysis of a large amount of additional information we collected from Italian local municipalities in 2012. Contrary to common sense expectations, our findings demonstrate that, on average and up to now, austerity programs have had limited negative effects on service quality and on citizen orientation within Italian local municipalities. The reduction of resources is stimulating efficiency gains deriving from reorganization, rationalization, extra-effort expended by municipalities' employees and adoption of some egovernment tools. Nonetheless, public officials are concerned about the absence of a clear picture for the next several years, which hampers medium-term planning for interventions that further enhance efficiency and maintain service quality. The interventions and innovations reported by public officials participating to this study may serve as best practices for the managers of other municipalities.