Bahia’s one-stop shops: customer-centred public services

Princeton University This analysis is based in part on research conducted by Michael Scharff and first published in August 2013 by Innovations for Successful Societies. The scoring assigned and the text below represents the Centre’s own work, however, and do not reflect the views of the case study authors, Innovations for Successful Societies, or Princeton University. Quotes included in the text come from interviews carried out in Brazil in August 2013.

Bahia, one of Brazil’s 26 states, had a number of different state agencies delivering public services such as issuing IDs and driving licences. The result was that the state’s citizens had to ensure poor customer service and excessively time-consuming appointments. The state government introduced Citizen Assistance Service centres, one-stop shops where all services were available under one roof, with customer satisfaction a priority.

The challenge

In the 1990s, Bahia's public services were delivered by a number of separate government agencies, at different physical locations, and with very different standards of customer services. The inevitable consequence was that citizens would need to visit several offices in order to satisfy a particular requirement. “People had to endure long lines and make multiple visits to receive the papers they needed, and customer service workers typically were inexperienced and poorly trained.” [1]

The initiative

In November 1994, the state of Bahia hosted its first technology fair in which the Centre for Development Administration (CDA), a unit within the Secretariat of Administration, demonstrated how government could accelerate and simplify the application process for ID cards and driving licences. Immediately after the technology fair demonstration, Sergio Moysés, called for a preliminary plan for one-stop shops throughout the state.

In September 1995, the Bahia state government’s CDA team opened the first Citizen Assistance Service (SAC) centre, or one-stop shop, in the state capital, Salvador. The aim was to improve citizens’ access to public services and provide a “shopping mall for public services, offering maximum comfort, convenience, efficiency, and flexibility”. [2] It was an innovative initiative that brought together a number of different partners: federal, state, and municipal agencies as well as private sector companies.

By creating one-stop shops, the SAC programme had the following objectives:

  • “Uniting under one roof several disparate agencies with unique cultures.”
  • Setting a standardised set of procedures across agencies.
  • Eliminating bribes and activities of middlemen in obtaining documents and other services.
  • Bringing service delivery directly into the community.
  • Improving service delivery and attaining high levels of customer satisfaction.

The public impact

In the most recent survey, over 89 percent of citizens evaluated the SAC performance as “excellent”, while 9.4 percent of citizens rated the SAC service as “good” or “acceptable” and only 1.3 percent said it was “bad”.

“In June 2004, the SAC programme was the winner of the Public Service Award from the UN, in the category ‘Improvement of Public Service Results’, being recognised as one of the best practices in the provision of public services … [in September 2015, there were 57 SAC service units ..., which 35 were Fixed Centers (12 in the capital, 3 in the metropolitan area and 20 in the state’s countryside), 19 Citizen Points and 3 mobile units that cover almost the entire state, going to the more distant municipalities … After 20 years of operation, the SAC units provided more than 174 million services ... providing around 800 services to the citizens.” [3]

What did and didn't work

All cases in our Public Impact Observatory have been evaluated for performance against the elements of our Public Impact Fundamentals.


Public Confidence Good

The public was very positive about the SAC concept and its practice, as the survey results, with around 90 percent considering it ‘excellent’ (see Public impact above).

The CDA demonstrated the programme for the first time on a trial basis at a technology fair hosted by the state of Bahia in 1994. The overwhelmingly positive response persuaded the CDA that the one-stop shop would work. “We said, ‘If it works in a specific fair, why can’t we do this elsewhere to give all citizens better service?’ [said] Emilia Gonçalves, a member of the CDA team." [6]

Stakeholder Engagement Fair

The main stakeholder was the state government of Bahia, and its recently elected governor, Paulo Souto, was fully engaged in the SAC programme and was a strong proponent of the idea of making service delivery more efficient. He was a close ally of President Cardoso. The department most closely involved was the CDA team at the Secretariat.

During the planning stages of the SACs, the CDA faced resistance from civil servants at all levels, who were unenthusiastic about such radical change. In particular, they objected to the reporting structure, the workload allocation and the funding required. “‘The notion that some public servants from a given secretariat would be subject to the coordination and direction of somebody who was not from that secretariat was another thing that generated a lot of resistance and unease,” said Souto.” [4]

Political Commitment Fair

The SAC programme faced resistance at local government level, especially in Salvador, since the municipality was ruled by the socialist opposition party. However, this was more than compensated by the support received from the state and central government in Brazil at that time. “In Souto, the staff at the Secretariat of Administration and in particular, the CDA—had an ally who understood and embraced the one-stop shop concept. In late 1994, no other Brazilian state had done anything on the scale that Bahia’s government was about to attempt.” [5]


Clear Objectives Good

The objectives of the SAC programme were to unify the activities of disparate agencies, standardise procedures and bring service delivery directly to the community. The result would be to improve service delivery and gain higher levels of customer satisfaction. “[Elba] Andrade [from the technology division] said her team aimed to create a ‘shopping mall for public services, offering maximum comfort, convenience, efficiency, and flexibility’.” These were clear objectives and remained in place throughout the life of the SACs.

Evidence Weak

A test version of the SAC was trialled at the Bahia technology fair in 1994 and was found to be successful. It was then piloted at a single SAC in the state capital. There were also numerous instances of one-stop shops being created globally. However, before its roll-out, the citizens of Bahia had no experience of it. “The CDA placed a premium on soliciting citizens’ feedback for ideas on how to improve processes, procedures, and overall service quality. For the first two years, the CDA used a system that relied on the public to voluntarily provide feedback.” [7]

Feasibility Strong

The CDA carefully scrutinised every aspect of the programme and ironed out all possible challenges before implementing SACs. Special attention was given to fiscal and human resources feasibility, where the governor’s enthusiastic support was very helpful. Supplementary budgetary support was approved and the necessary funding came from the state treasury

The technical feasibility was addressed by CDA’s technology division, which already worked closely with the heads of IT at other secretariats. “The CDA team’s conversations focused mainly on the critical question about the things that services agencies had the capacity to offer right away, given the limitations of existing technologies and processing requirements.” [8]

The CDA also suggested creating mobile document-processing units that would visit Bahia’s interior regions, where most of the state’s citizens lived, in order to address the problem of the widely dispersed population.

The number of people required to staff the SDAs was decided on after careful task analysis. In the absence of many suitable candidates from government departments, the CDA decided to hire contract workers.


Management Good

The implementing agency, the CDA, was led by people qualified in public administration and with significant experience in government and had about 30 staff in all. The roles were also clearly defined. However, there was a lack of clarity on management mechanisms.

The director of the CDA was Kátia Argolo de Castro, who specialised in  information systems management; she reported to Sergio Moysés, the head of the Secretariat of Administration, who had been appointed by Governor Souto.

Measurement Strong

The mechanisms to measure customer satisfaction, one of the most important objective of the programme, were set out in the beginning of the project. “The reform team’s proposal made customer satisfaction the highest priority in the design and operation of the shops.” [9]

For the first two years, the CDA used a system that relied on voluntary feedback from the users of the SDA programme. After receiving a particular service, people were given cards on which to rate the service as excellent, good, fair, or poor. The cards were inserted into a machine that compiled the data on a daily basis and produced a printout with the results of each agency’s rankings.

The feedback mechanism was later changed to a bi-annual interview. Researchers visited the SDAs and polled those leaving the SDA on their thoughts about the service they received.

Alignment Good

The main actors were well aligned, with the federal president and the state governor supporting the reform, politically as well as financially through the state treasury. The teams of the Secretariat and the CDA cooperated well, and the state’s inhabitants were impressed by the improved customer service. The main resistance came from some areas of the civil service.

The SDA programme received support from the media, because it was seen as a privatisation and had the cooperation of the private sector.