Public interactions in a town hall

The study of the town hall interactions was conducted through candid observation at the current Delft town hall and a online questionnaire  which was given to 20 random visitors, enlisted at the town hall. This ensured that they answered the questions while their visit was fresh in their minds. The information was recorded through field notes and sketches as photographs were not permitted in the town hall for security reasons. Quotes from the respondents are given in support of some of the arguments presented here.

The key observations are listed here:

a). Visitors

Apart from single visitors, many of the people were accompanied by their friends and relatives. Especially in the case of elderly, pregnant women, migrants. It was observed that the dutch migrants often came with their family for example a Turkish family of 9 members were observed to come to the municipality for a marriage registration of one of their family members. It was observed that parents often get younger children, to the municipality especially when schools have off or a half day.

b). Waiting time

The waiting time was found to be 5 to 10 minutes if an appointment had been booked via internet or phone. Otherwise, without an appointment people waited for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. The frequency of visit to the town hall varies between people, but on an average once in 4 to 6 months.

c). Accessibility

People suggested that extended opening times especially after office hours, and multiple locations for service would increase the accessibility of the town hall services. Open service desks on weekends was cited as another preference.

d). Planning a visit to the town hall

60% of the people plan their visit in advance, most of them take an appointment on the phone and a lesser number on the internet. The remaining drop by spontaneously and take an appointment at the reception counter. Some respondents stated that they ask their friends who have gone there for similar reasons or check blogs (e.g. expatica.com) for other people’s suggestions before a visit. Not everyone is aware of what could be done online and for what services you are required to visit the municipality. People who do not know dutch, elderly, computer illiterate people prefer to use the public counter at the town hall or the telephone in comparison to the web service.

e). Behavior

The tendency for people is to sit opposite the display screens waiting for their turn. Some of the people engage themselves with newspapers, a crossword, arranging their papers or with their mobile phones, there is minimal talking between the visitors. The announcement of the queue number on the display screen makes people stop all their activities and check if its their turn (the unpredictability of it is often stressful in itself).The waiting room contains a bookshelf with literature, which is rarely referenced by anyone as most of the information is available online. People are there for permits and other more serious issues like deaths, thus they want to be done with their work as soon as possible, as one of the respondents remarked –

“i don’t like to ask friends to accompany me to the town hall, as it is not exactly a fun experience for them!”.

f). Physical environment

The current environment has seating that faces outward, thus people do not face each other but the display screens. The waiting room is small and closed, with few windows. The colors used in the furnishings is mostly blue and white (going with the municipality logo), this creates a very clinical atmosphere (similar to a hospital).

g). Service satisfaction

80% of the respondents were satisfied with the service (although it is seen that satisfaction differs with the intent & seriousness of the visit). Some recommendations like confirmation information for a successful transaction or a constant progress update on your application were put forward. Other suggestions included- to be made aware of alternate procedures to do a task and if there was a delay in their application, a reasoning be given. A problem pointed out was the heavy authentication procedure (via DigiD) for simple services like getting the Delftpas.

h). Information

Most people prefer to get the information via the internet apart from the special groups mentioned before (non-dutch speaking, new migrants, illiterate, elderly). For city events, festivals and activities people prefer to ask other people and friends or check miscellaneous web sites. Some people state that they are not sure what information they should be aware of, as one correspondent quoted –

“ The problem for me is what is it that i should know, and what information i should have”.

A suggestion by a respondent identified a wish for a more personal interaction, in her own words –

“More than the intelligence its the emotional quotient which the city lacks. I am sure any other kind of information can be very much available from various other sources but the city lack this emotional bonding”.

i). Participation

On asking people how would they like to participate, and if there was any information that they would want to communicate at the municipality for others a wide variety of responses were given, few quotes are given below –

“ I could contribute information about unsafe places and other issues related to safety”

“ Professional information/ skills to civilians. Maybe a kid needs help on doing a presentation for elementary school, and on one way or another he would know that I am able to help him, because I am skilled and could teach him a couple of things.”

“Yes, where to get your bike repaired for cheap….How to get started in Delft as a foreign student, cheap places to eat, weekly events etc.”

“it would be nice to have an interactive map. i’d love to point out my favorite book shop, cafe, park, etc and I’d like to discover places that other people find interesting.”

If asked whether they would like to contribute to the governance and developments in the city, the majority said they would leave it as a job for the authorities.

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