Innovation against Corruption: Building a Citizen-Centric Service Delivery Model in Albania - ISDA
Ministry of State for Innovation and Public Administration

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
In a snapshot, the situation in public service delivery in Albania by 2014, with special reference to the delivery of administrative services by central government institutions, confronted citizens with the following problems: Lack of transparency, predictability and accountability in service provision; presence of corruptive practices; absence of standards, including at a more basic sense of what constituted a public service; unnecessarily difficult access to information on services; a culture based on administrative prerogative/arrogance with little regards for customer service; no performance monitoring on service delivery; haphazard complaint management; token citizen feedback. As such, long queues, multiple visits, hard to find and access offices often with no service windows, red tape, delays, unjustified denial of service and requests for bribes generally affected the entire population in need of administrative public services. These resulted in a waste of time and money and contributed to a lack of trust in government institutions as well as a wide-spread perception that one could not get what one was owed unless ‘the wheels were oiled’. Even when it was simply a matter of getting information. This meant, on one extreme, that people would engage in petty corruption, or on the other boycott government institutions, thus contributing to more informality in the country. While in terms of perception, no major differences were reported, the effect would be necessarily more acute on people with limited resources and the vulnerable in general who were faced with more limited choices if they were in need of administrative services from central government institutions. Insidiously, while citizens’ expectations of service delivery were raised based on the experience with the private sector in Albania, especially telecommunication, but also banking, the state of affairs in public service delivery had resulted in dented expectations in terms of quality and access vis-à-vis government institutions, perpetuating a general frustration and disengagement. On the public sector end, the initiatives to improve service delivery had not been fully absent, such as in business licensing and registration, with international partner assistance being instrumental. But while successful on their own, they had remained self-contained and isolated developments, which were moreover showing signs of slippage in the face of the overall trend.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Putting citizens at the center through adoption of innovative and IT-enabled solutions in service delivery in Albania has entailed undertaking a fundamental change in how the state institutions interact with citizens at a) the front office, b) in the make-up of the fundamentals of back office operations, and c) the status of enabling infrastructure and capabilities. The approach has relied on addressing sustainably needs of the present and those anticipated in the future along an extended horizon with clear priorities, while ensuring inbuilt pressures/incentives for accountability and continuous improvement. The reform has valorized stakeholder and beneficiary engagement under a strong political will, while bringing to bear best international practices and lessons learned.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
In the framework of the citizen-centric service delivery reform, focusing on administrative services provided by central institutions, the Government of Albania is engaged in bringing about a transformational change impacting delivery of public services in general, including those provided by local government units and independent institutions. The reform takes place in the general context of Albania’s endeavors to join the European Union, its engagement in regional initiatives, and its commitment toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Based on the key strategic goal of citizen-centric public services articulated in the Public Administration Reform Strategy (PAR) 2015–2020 and the “Digital Agenda for Albania” 2015–2020, and taking advantage of best international practices, the reform has had from the start a two-pronged approach. It is based on addressing both current and future needs, maintaining a clear view of the objectives and sustaining high level support and attention. The transformative approach has been a conscientious decision, despite pressures, challenges and constraints, to ensure real change rather than only alleviate the problems. Interventions have been developed to impact every aspect of the service delivery to citizens along several tracks. They include process and legal reforms; customer care standards/citizens first; standardization; whole of government, and capacity augmentation. The goals are framed as a) reduced time and administrative burden for citizens and businesses; b) improved service access and delivery quality; c) increased number of satisfied citizens from government services; and d) reduced corruption, increased efficiency, transparency and accountability in service delivery. Given the broad scope of the reform, the focus in the phase currently under way (2014-2018) is on services provided by central government institutions that meet defined primary criteria, such as high number of transactions and level of priority assigned by citizens, the need for intervention, and reference to international best practices in service delivery reforms. These include over 400 services delivered by no more than 15% from 134 recorded central government institutional service providers, but which account for nearly 60% of overall transactions. These services comprise areas like: property, transport, social and health insurance, civil registry, education, construction permitting, business registration and licensing. This current phase is characterized by the onset of all key interventions which include: Preparing and publishing the Citizen Charter; Mandating the Right to Services; Implementing First In, First Out; Providing reasons for cases in which service request has to be rejected; Ensuring transition to Digital Government; Implementing a centralized grievance redressal mechanism; Making service delivery by default; Implementing “Silent Consent”; Implementing Front Office (FO) - Back Office (BO) separation; Providing choice of channels; Decentralizing government service delivery authority; Adopting performance management framework; Ensuring citizen feedback for every service request; Enforcing disciplinary measures for delays in service delivery; and Providing training and capacity augmentation. In the second phase (2019-2025), the consolidation of the undertaken steps will be accompanied by the roll out to all services to citizens and businesses provided by central government institutions. The primary beneficiaries of the reform include all Albanian citizens (2.3 mil. - 15 years of age and over as of 2015, 69% of whom declaring direct contact or through a family member with the institutions under current focus), and businesses operating in Albania (152,288 active as of 2015). Foreign citizens living in the country are also given due consideration. The overall approach based on the principles of equal and fair treatment for all is augmented by a special attention paid to the economically disadvantaged (14%), the elderly (14%), women (50%), persons with disabilities(6%), minorities (1.9%) and the rural population (46%), also in accordance with respective commitments provided by law.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
With the service delivery reform program, Albania joins the community of countries where the principle of “citizen in the center” is a living practice. There are many similarities in the problems faced, but also unique characteristics that impact reform design and implementation choices. The FO-BO separation in Albania is one such innovative approach. It implies that while the institutional service owners retain responsibilities in processing applications, the interaction with citizens is no longer administered by them. Instead, whether at physical or virtual service windows, this is managed in an integrated fashion based on defined customer care standards of performance, standardized or automated interaction with the back offices, and regular monitoring of the entire service delivery value chain. This is what ADISA, the Agency for the Integrated Delivery of Services in Albania, stands for. Established in October 2014, under its enhanced mandate as a unique state institution responsible for ensuring overall top service delivery quality and easy access to central government services by citizens and business in Albania, ADISA represents an efficient and effective centralized mechanism that combines uniform adoption of private sector customer care best practices with the fulfillment of obligation by the state to deliver administrative services.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The public service reform program, ISDA, takes place under one of the six priorities of the Albanian government, namely Innovative Good Governance, and is led by the Minister of State for Innovation and Public Administration (MIPA). At the apex of its governance structure is the Public Services Interministerial Committee chaired by the Prime Minister, with the participation of all the ministers of institutions on focus, and the minister for local government. At the juncture between the governance and operational structures stands the program steering committee composed of key institutional stakeholders in reform implementation, key departments at the Prime Minister's Office including the Delivery Unit (DU), as well as the specific management group established by MIPA. Under the Minister’s chairmanship, this committee makes operational decisions and carries out oversight. Government institutions with specific functions under the reform, such as ADISA and AKSHI (National Agency for Information Society) and those with legal responsibilities for delivering administrative public services, play the primary role in implementing reform policies. Working groups at the Ministry and dependent agency levels constitute the intra-agency operational mechanisms. Meanwhile, the Good Governance Integrated Policy Management Group, which is chaired by MIPA, utilizing at the technical level also the instrument of the thematic group on public services, serves to support inter-agency coordination, whose highest level is the Interministerial Committee. The reform beneficiaries include on one hand, service seekers, i.e. citizens and businesses taking advantage of overhauled service delivery, and on the other, service providers, i.e. public administration employees who benefit from greater efficiency through standardization, specialization and automation, and improved skills through training and capacity building. Their number is conservatively upwards of 740,000 citizens, referring primarily to the operations by ADISA at the separated front office of the Immovable Property Registration Office (ZRPP) Tirana and the integrated Kavaja Center.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Reform planning and implementation has been based on a holistic multi-track approach with reinforcing activities along all its pillars. The first order of business was creation of an inventory of central government administrative services (July 2014), which subsequently underwent EU-standard-based classification and codification. In parallel, a staged scope definition led to the identification of services to be tackled first, while an assessment of practices by institutions and citizen experiences provided a priority list of issues to be addressed. The SMS-based Citizen Feedback Mechanism was piloted in November 2014. The reform management and operational structure was put in place with the establishment of nine ministerial and up to twenty technical agency working groups (September 2014-February 2015), as well as of ADISA, ISDA Steering Committee and the special reform program management group. In 2014-2015 core initiatives began in the areas of: a) business process reengineering with a thorough analysis of the state of play in the delivery of each service on scope, b) FO separation incubator resulting in the piloting of ADISA-managed ZRPP service windows in Tirana in October 2015, and c) standardization of the application form based on a unified template, and the preparation of user-friendly service information passports. Activities were enhanced in the area of digitization, increased interoperability of state databases and online services, with an overhaul of the unique government portal: e-albania launched in May 2015. The planning for the onset of reform activities was accompanied by a fund-raising effort which succeeded in garnering prompt assistance from donors. Also, the ISDA Support Project, a donor pool fund managed by UNDP, was launched in August 2014. Almost USD 700,000 in donor assistance have been disbursed by end of 2016. Pledged funds amount to USD 3.4 million. The World Bank loan of USD 32 million was approved in August 2015, and became effective in March 2016. Nearly USD 7.35 million have been disbursed so far. State budget funds have also been committed from the start, with USD 10.6 million disbursed in ISDA-related projects during 2015-2016. To establish activities on a firm footing, two framework documents were produced following extensive consultations: 1) the law no. 13/2016, dated February 18, 2016 “On the way of delivering public services at front office level in the Republic of Albania”, and 2) the long-term policy document on the delivery of citizen centric services by central government institutions, approved by the Council of Ministers’ decision no. 384, dated May 25, 2016. 2016 marked several major milestones including the start of re-engineering for all services in 10 key institutions (January), launch of the e-health card (February), conduct of nationwide household survey on service delivery (March-April), completion of FO-BO feasibility study providing the nationwide distribution model for central government services (August), launch of construction e-permitting as an online-only service (September), start of ADISA service delivery performance monitoring in 12 institutions (September), availability of a unique telephone number: 118-00, for information on over 400 services (October), opening of the pilot ADISA integrated Center in Kavaja with work beginning for three additional centers (November), and the completion of the first nationwide third-party mystery-shopper assessment of service delivery (December). The reform program is monitored closely by the Delivery Unit at the Prime Minister’s office, which provides monthly reporting of progress against the work plan. Quarterly and semiannual reviews take place as part of the meetings of the Public Services Interministerial Committee. Under the World Bank and UNDP projects, as well as the PAR strategy, quarterly and annual implementation reports are submitted. Progress is measured based on indicators, some of which, as in the WB project, are also linked to disbursements.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
Reform design and implementation has entailed a collaborative effort led by MIPA with the strong support from the Prime Minister’s Office. It has relied on the engagement of civil servants across central government institutions on scope in Albania: nine ministries and up to twenty government agencies at both leadership and expert levels. Local government partners have also been engaged, with mayors of the 61 municipalities as primary interlocutors. Outside Albania, collaboration with civil servants in other European countries, such as Austria, Georgia, Estonia and France, with extensive experience in citizen-centric public service delivery reforms, has been enabled through bilateral cooperation memorandums or twinning projects. Special contribution has been provided by international development partners active in support of good governance reforms in Albania, such as the World Bank, UNDP, the EU, and bilateral donors, such as Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, South Korea and Japan. This is also the case for private local and international businesses in Albania with well-established customer care practices, such as in telecommunication or retail. Local and international experts have also been key contributors. In a novel approach for a government program in Albania, the special program management group established by MIPA combines civil servants and full-time local experts that divide responsibility over reform component design and implementation. Importantly, primary reform beneficiaries: citizens and businesses, on an individual basis and as part of civil society organizations and business associations, have been engaged through feedback elicited directly, participation in consultative forums and focus groups, or as part of reform-related initiatives/projects, particularly in monitoring. The overall engagement has been based on thorough stakeholder mapping and informed by capacity need assessment.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
1. Standardized service information passports and application forms based on inventoried, classified and codified administrative central government services. Ensuring transparency and accountability, promoting effectiveness and combating petty corruption, the impact of these initiatives towards standardizing the application process has been twofold: to ensure that citizens can have a unique reference to all that is required to apply for a service (documents, fee, deadlines) and can do so in a well-structured and predictable fashion; as well as to contribute in streamlining the application process for FO service clerks, capturing all key data that enable interoperability among state databases to support automation, and in making BO processing more efficient. 2. Separated and integrated front offices. ADISA management of FOs of institutions has enabled the severing of everyday contact with applicants by officials responsible for service processing, not infrequently laced with requests or offers of bribes. It has secured the introduction of customer care standards at the FO for a wide range of services through trained and closely monitored staff. Separation of duties has also allowed institutional service owners to focus resources on performing their functional responsibilities better. Finally, ADISA standard at the FO has contributed in BO implementation of uniform processing procedures. 3. Established service standards' authority. The appointment of ADISA as the standards’ authority in service delivery has filled an institutional vacuum to create the responsible structure sustaining customer care standard design, implementation and oversight. This has enabled for the first time in Albania the submission of indicator-based service delivery performance monthly reporting by institutions. 4. Award for best performing institution in central government service delivery. Thanks to a nationwide mystery shopper assessment conducted by an Albanian civil society organization, which included a recognition of the best performing offices and institution, there is now an established methodology for third-party performance monitoring in service delivery accompanied by awards to be distributed annually. 5. More online services at level 4 of automation. The import of the 150% increase in the number of services that can be transacted online (275 currently, AKSHI report) compared to end of 2014, with additional ones in the pipeline, is not only in providing a convenient channel of access, but also considering the investment behind, which means digital data and interoperability. These are tools that allow for more efficiency and greater transparency, accountability and effectiveness, as well as support the whole of government approach in service delivery implementation.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
Resistance to change has been a key reform challenge. The motives range from a perceived loss of authority to loss of openings for petty bribes and corruption to incur favors, as well as added scrutiny over performance. An inward looking institutional culture and conservative stance have been contributing factors. The counter response has been based on the strength of the reform imperative and an evidence-based approach. Its key elements have included strong high-level involvement, employment of high-stakes piloting facing resistance head on, a win-win collaborative attitude focused on tangible benefits for institutions, addressing objections both at the leadership and technical levels, employing citizen feedback and regular reporting. The flip side to the resistance to change has been the challenge to ensure harmonized interventions given multiple implementing stakeholders. To address this, high-level engagement and coordination, as well as facilitation by the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit have been sustained by the work of joint teams between ADISA and agencies on scope supported by the needed expertise. Promoting best practices across institutions and following through with their replication has been key. Regulatory instruments, such as Council of Ministers’ decisions or instructions by MIPA have also been effectively employed. Given the reform scope, funding constraints in terms of amount and timing have been a challenge to sustaining the reform momentum. A critical support instrument in this respect has been the set-up of the donor pool fund managed by UNDP, where the Italian Government is a key contributor. The commitment of state funds, especially at the start of the reform has been essential. Managing success has also proven challenging during reform implementation, with ongoing pressures to expand scope. A clear governance structure and review process has enabled that this would take place organically and in line with the overall reform staged approach.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
To ensure that reform activities have a sustained impact on beneficiaries, they have been conducted concurrently to impact FO as well as BO processing and performance, channels of delivery, as well as citizen empowerment. The first direct benefit through standardization has been improved access to information on services. This has entailed: a) the establishment of a unique user-friendly service information passport template; b) the validation of information with institutional service providers; c) new channel of access through 118-00; and d) unification of information on services across all channels: service windows, e-albania portal and the contact center. Availability of service information passports has impacted no less than one-third of visits at the service windows, especially by the elderly whose numbers as applicants are normally higher. Closing the loopholes for subjective behavior, corruptive practices and bribery at the application process, as well as increased transparency and availability of information have been immediate contributors to increased citizen satisfaction with service delivery and reduction of time to prepare. Thanks to service passport access, empowered applicants have been able to hold FO clerks accountable if faced with a deviation from the validated information as exemplified by registered complaints in such cases. In implementing putting-the-citizens-first, in a bold anticorruption move neatly separating FOs from BOs and integrating the former in centrally located one-stop-shop and in-one-place citizen service centers (CSCs), the reform has enabled the energetic introduction of customer care standards. This has translated in ensuring dedicated FO service, including an information desk, queue management, standardized FO-BO interaction and complaint tracking, welcoming environment, fair and respectful treatment, and regular reporting on service delivery. At Tirana ZRPP, which carries out nearly 40% of all property-related transactions nationwide, where ADISA first piloted FO-BO separation, citizen satisfaction has increased by 46% in just the first four months (results by the Citizen Feedback Mechanism managed by the DU). Whereas now the dissatisfaction rate, historically one of the highest compared to other central government institutions, has lowered to a mere 3%, and complaints have decreased five-fold (complaint tracking by ADISA). The impact is much larger in the ADISA Kavaja CSC bringing together 205 services by five institutions under one roof and serving over 70,000 citizens. Satisfaction with service there has gone from 25% before the opening to 74% within three months, with wait time decreased to less than 5 minutes and application time to no more than 6 (ADISA surveys and performance monitoring). Digitization has also been an important contributor to reform impact. Thanks to it, major service simplifications have occurred, such as in the issuance of the compulsory health card, where a lengthy application process requiring several supporting documents has been replaced by one requiring simply the ID card. Or in the case of construction permitting, whose application is now carried out only online thanks also to the employment of electronic signature. Behind such developments, a remarkable milestone is the number of interconnected government databases which from 17 in 2014 reached 42 by the end of 2016.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The nationwide household survey on service delivery in Albania conducted in March - April 2016, with reference to contact with central government institutional service providers during the previous 12 months, included also questions on corruption experience and perception. The national representative sample of 2000, regionally stratified and randomly selected was supplemented by a booster of 200 for Roma population. When asked about the experience with corruption, about 7% of those who had a contact with at least one institution personally (69%), declared that a bribe was either implied or asked during the contact, rating corruption at 58 out of 100. At ADISA ZRPP service windows based on feedback from applicants through the Citizen Feedback Mechanism, there are no cases of corruption denunciations at the front office. Based on the survey results, in terms of corruption rating, in general, those who did not contact any institution (31%) rate corruption in service delivery with at 55 out of 100. Meanwhile those who contacted at least one public institution but had no experience with corruption (62%) rate the corruption level at 46 rating corruption in service delivery. The annual Survey on Corruption report – IDRA 2016, reports that the corruption perception in Albania stands on aggregate at 61. The key initiatives under the service delivery reform in Albania address the most overwhelming motive for bribes, which is “to expedite the process”, i.e. cut through the red tape and the opaque processes, given that overall, processing speed and transparency are the lowest evaluated attributes in service delivery by citizens followed by fairness’ and appropriate office location. The intervention in terms of standardization of the information on services and increased access to service information passports, as well as the overhaul of the application process at ADISA service windows have resulted in very high levels of satisfaction by citizens compared to the prior situation. Through the conduct of regular surveys, the Citizen Feedback Mechanism, and the introduction of the structured mystery-shopper assessment by the civil society, the reform program has been able to establish effective tools to allow citizens to report issues. Such reports have high visibility in the government, whether through summaries prepared by the DU and ADISA that are sent to the Prime Minister and distributed among reform stakeholders, as well as through inclusion in periodical reporting submitted in the Public Services Interministerial Committee meetings. They are regularly utilized as instruments to elicit corrective action.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
Within the reform program, gender equality and mainstreaming are identified as both a design and implementation imperative. This stance gains strength also from the fact that the lead Minister is a woman, as are the heads of key institutional partners: ADISA and AKSHI. As part of planning and choice of implementing activities, attention is devoted to addressing the needs of the vulnerable, including women, ensuring that their voice is heard in carrying out studies, assessments, and conducting feedback. This also comprises capturing the impact of the reform on these groups through data disaggregation, and making the necessary adjustments accordingly. In the implementation of ‘putting citizens first’, there is constant attention to the gender perspective. For eg. to help increase access to services by women, ADISA CSC model includes a playground for children, the entire design is a welcoming unhampered-access open space with clear directions, and meter greeters offer immediate assistance to visitors. Additionally, to promote equality, an effort is made to contribute in breaking gender roles perceptions with instituting a ‘quota’ for men as service window clerks servicing customers, a role considered as female. Gender issues are included in the training curricula for all ADISA staff that interacts with citizens.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Ministry of State for Innovation and Public Administration
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Milena Harito
Title:   Minister of State for Innovation and PA  
Telephone/ Fax:   35542277355
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Bld. Deshmoret e Kombit, Nr.1
Postal Code:  
City:   Tirana
State/Province:   Tirana

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