VIEW FROM THE PODIUM
Evaluating Pi Gamma Mu’s “Responsiveness”
Here at North Georgia College & State University, as I prepare my students in the Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.) Program for careers in public service, I have many occasions to discuss with them a concept that is known as “responsiveness.” In the corporate sector, the analogous concept is “customer-oriented marketing.” Both terms attempt to convey the idea that an organization that wants to be successful needs to determine what its customers or clients desire, rather than to try to prevail on such people to accept products or services that the organization thinks that the customers or clients ought to accept. In the case of the public sector, the concept of responsiveness is justified by the theory of democracy and limited government, which observes that the principal authority about what will make a person happy is that person herself, and so society ought to allow her to make as many decisions about her own life as possible. The theory continues that the only legitimate function of that limited government is to contribute to the well-being and happiness of citizens by doing for the public things that the public wants but cannot accomplish on its own.
Scholars in the political-science subfield of public administration say that a government agency can be responsive to clients and other citizens through the following approaches:
Pi Gamma Mu is not a government entity, but has a lot in common with one. Neither exists to make a profit. Both exist to provide services that benefit society. In this column, I propose to apply the idea of responsiveness to Pi Gamma Mu.
The society’s trustees and employees have made a concerted effort to make our services more accessible to our members. During the last three years, we have greatly expanded Pi Gamma Mu’s Web site to provide information about our services to members, chapter officers, and students and professors at institutions that do not yet have Pi Gamma Mu chapters. Our volunteers and other members can obtain a lot of information and other kinds of resources from our Web site, usually with just a few clicks.
We give a lot of thought to our channels of communication, including the Web site and the Pi Gamma Mu Newsletter. Additions to the Web site and the content of the newsletter undergo review by several individuals before they go “live,” as we try to ensure accuracy and readability.
Our professional staff at our Winfield, Kans., headquarters places a high priority on providing the highest level of support when chapter officers and other members call for help. The overwhelmingly predominant form of feedback that we obtain states that our employees are exceptionally accommodating to those who call and ask for assistance of one kind or another.
Our organization is motivated to work with people and colleges and universities that are not currently affiliated with Pi Gamma Mu, but would like to start a chapter. We are a very diverse organization, in terms of the kinds of institutions that have chapters and the characteristics of their students. We will neither practice nor condone any form of discrimination.
The international Board of Trustees is determined to involve as many people as feasible into our policy decision-making process. The principle of responsiveness says that a casually responsive agency might obtain some insight about what clients really want by conducting surveys or asking clients to fill out customer-response cards. A somewhat more responsive agency could hold “town meetings” or hearings or could interview focus groups. And, says Grover Starling, professor of management and public policy at the University of Houston – Clear Lake, “the fully responsive organization overcomes the ‘us and them’ attitude of most organizations by accepting its public as voting members.” Over the years, Pi Gamma Mu has adopted this approach by widening the circle of participants in our decision-making process. In 1990, our international constitution was amended to expand the membership of the Board of Trustees to add two student members. At our 2011 triennial international convention, then-president Gordon E. Mercer established our new Alumnus Council, to involve alumnus members in the organization’s decision-making and to ensure the input of alumni when the board evaluates new policies.
Therefore, I contend that Pi Gamma Mu is practicing responsiveness at an effective level. That’s my belief. But, in the final analysis, it may not matter whether I believe this or not. The more compelling litmus test is this: What do you think? Are we satisfying your interests, and are we providing what you need? If not, please let me know. My E‑mail address is [email protected] , and, like the plaque on President Harry Truman’s desk acknowledged, “The buck stops here.”
Barry D. Friedman
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