23 SES 11 A, Market Ideas and Practices III
User satisfaction surveys are increasingly used by educational authorities at different levels as a tool for assessing the quality of educational services. This is part of a general trend to introduce market-like mechanisms in public policy in order to make institutions and services more responsive to the needs of citizens, a trend that is evident all over Europe and in other parts of the world. Other elements in this trend are a focus on implementation and evaluation of policy rather than on detailed legislation and funding and a shift from general political goals to pragmatic solutions.
This paper will discuss user satisfaction surveys as a policy instrument in education with a focus on local school policy. Empirical examples will be drawn from Danish municipalities, but they will be related to developments in other countries (especially in Europe) and to the work of transnational organisations. Drawing on existing research literature the reasons for and the consequences of introducing user surveys in educational policy will be discussed.
There is no doubt that the voice of the users is important to hear in public education policy. Their experiences and assessments are a resource for developing educational institutions and practises, and also needed to balance the sometimes narrow view of influential professionals. Users should be asked and their responses should be documented. But for this purpose questionnaire surveys of user satisfaction have serious limitations.
Evaluation theory often distinguishes between two rationales for the use of evaluation, one being learning, the other being control. If user evaluations are to be used for learning, development and innovation in educational services, the methodology should allow users to voice their own experiences and assessments and if possible engage them in some kind of dialogue. Qualitative empirical methods will be relevant to this. However, many surveys focus on measuring user satisfaction in simple standardised categories and use the information obtained almost exclusively for control purposes.
A key problem in the investigation of user satisfaction is the concept of “user”. One problem is to identify the relevant users of a given service. In the area of schooling this problem is illustrated by the fact that users are generally defined as parents. It is true that school children below a certain age (for instance 18) do not have full citizenship rights and obligations and are in many ways represented by their parents. Nevertheless, the children are the ones who experience school quality on a daily basis. Parents’ generally have little direct experience from the school life of their children, and their assessments may be disproportionally influenced by other factors like memories of their own school experience and impressions from media and public debate. As pointed out by Dahler-Larsen (2008) quality assessment is an act of interpellation; it posits some actors as evaluating subjects, other actors as objects of evaluation.
Apple, M. W. (2005), Education, Markets, and an Audit Culture, Critical Quarterly 47, nos 1- 2: 11 -29 Bouckaert, G.; van de Walle, S. (2003), Comparing Measures of Citizen Trust and User Satisfaction as Indicators of ‘Good Governance’: Difficulties in Linking Trust and Satisfaction Indicators. International Review of Administrative Sciences, Vol. 69, No. 3, 329-343 Dahler-Larsen (2008) Kvalitetens beskaffenhed [The Quality of Quality]. Odense: Syddansk Universitetsforlag. Deloitte & Indigov (2009) Study on the Measurement of User Satisfaction and Imact in the EU 27. European Commission. Habermas, J. (1998) Between Facts and Norms. MIT Press Higgins, P. (2005), Performance and user satisfaction indicators in british local government. Public Management Review, Volume 7, Issue 3 September 2005, pages 445 - 466 Lewis, B.D.; Pattinasarany, D. (2009) Determining Citizen Satisfaction with Local Public Education in Indonesia: The Significance of Actual Service Quality and Governance Conditions. Growth and Change, Volume 40, Number 1, pp. 85-115(31) Rasmussen, P. (2009) Skolernes brugere er tilfredse – eller er de? [The users of the school are satisfied – or are they?]Cepra-striben no. 6, 28-35. Stensaker, B. (1999) User Surveys in External Assessments: problems and prospects. Quality in Higher Education, Volume 5, Issue 3, pages 255 - 264 Stipak, B. Citizen SatisfactionWith Urban Services: Potential Misuse as a Performance Indicator. Public Administration Review January/February 1979: 46-52. The Drivers of Satisfaction with Public Services Research Study Conducted for the Office of Public Services Reform April-May 2004. http://www.cse.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/UserFiles/File/Key.pdf
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