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Citizen feedback as a tool for continuous improvement in local bodies

Alessandro Minelli (Universita Carlo Cattaneo, Castellanza, Italy)
Renato Ruffini (Università Statale di Milano, Milan, Italy)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 8 January 2018




The purpose of this paper is to contribute to the feedback discourse by exploring how public managers and politicians use complaints from citizens to improve the overall and specific performance of public services. The main research questions are: Can citizen complaints analysis be a useful planning tool in the public sector? What can public managers learn from citizen feedback?


Applying an empirical approach (Yin, 2005), the multiple case studies treated in the paper aim to clarify a series of decisions (particularly, why feedback is not used to its maximum potential). The overall design includes a defined set of questions, and the research protocol includes data retrieval, collection and analysis. A new cataloging model is proposed to homogenize the spectrum of analysis. This model is intended to create a parallel between two local bodies different in size, mission, and complexity, but which have front office facilities and are in the same territory and have the same potential target population.


In total, 698 complaints and 183 corrective or preventive actions were analyzed. Public managers’ attention seems to focus on technical or normative issues rather than on aspects of public services. This may be explained by the lack of funds for training, the scarce use of relational and human capital development leverage, and the concomitant necessity to guarantee at least the same level of services as provided in previous years, confirming the “Blame the rich and credit the poor” mantra.


This paper offers a strategic approach to learning from citizen’s feedback that other scholars or practitioners have not yet provided. There are many academic studies on customer feedback as a continuous improvement tool for the private sector, but few for public administration.



Alessandro Minelli would like to thank his parents, his daughter Gaia and Mr. Rossini, Deputy City Manager of Toronto, for their support. Both authors would like to thank the peer reviewers for helping to add more value to the paper.


Minelli, A. and Ruffini, R. (2018), "Citizen feedback as a tool for continuous improvement in local bodies", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 46-64.



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