Gilles Reydellet is making public services accessible to all, especially those geographically and socially excluded. Each year, his national network of highly effective platforms empowers 300,000 citizens to access and navigate their entitled services and rights. Gilles has also successfully engaged the government and public service companies by addressing the needs of their customers, and thereby, fulfilled their duty of equitable service.
The New Idea
Recognizing the shortcomings of public service entities while working at La Poste, the French postal service, Gilles created the Points Information Mediation Multi-Services (PIMMS), which has grown into a national network of 39 PIMMS: Walk-in centers, located in at-risk neighborhoods and rural areas, where people can find free, easy-to-access facilities for their daily lives. The broad range of services offered by PIMMS includes information about administrative procedures and bodies, the best public transport route to a destination, or, assistance in dealing with overdue bills. PIMMS services enable people to find information and counsel about how to best leverage their social rights, access public service administrations and companies, and pay for energy, telecom, and public transportation services.Due to the increasing demand and praise for PIMMSservices among local populations, government, and public service companies must now meet their responsibilities to disenfranchised citizens. By demonstrating the social impact and economic relevance of his model, Gilles convinced social service administrations and public service corporations to invest in PIMMS expansion. These institutions are increasingly demanding PIMMStrainings, which has helped them to understand their broader duties to the public. Inspired by Gilleswork, the government created the Relais de Services Publics to offer information and assist the public in administrative procedures.Free from hierarchical control commonplace in administrations and the economic constraints of companies, Gilles guarantees that the 270,000 clients served by PIMMS annually benefit from free and customized services. PIMMSmediators come from similar socioeconomic circumstances as their clients and can therefore advise them in the most relevant manner, while they are trained and uplifted from social and professional exclusion. The role of the mediators is to advise and educate visitors so they no longer need to rely on PIMMS services in the future, but can independently manage their daily challenges.
Access to public services is at the core of administrative legislation in France: The law guarantees equal access to all services of public utility, whether administrative or commercial. However, an estimated 15 percent of the population is excluded from access to these types of services, which includes the provision of social services, access to water, electricity, and other sources of energy, telephone, mail services, public transportation, and so on. The resulting gapcreates a polarized society and heightens social tensions by reinforcing segregation, particularly of those residing in rural areas and at-risk neighborhoods. Consequently, there exists a distrust of public bodies, and the attainment of equality in the French Republic is endangered.Between 1945 and 2000, public services were managed by nationalized companies and government agencies. Existing outside of competitive markets, their priority was to deliver high-quality proximity services. Due to pressure from the European Union, the water, telecom, and energy industries were opened to privatization in the early 2000s. The post and public transport industry soon followed suit, which shifted the culture of public service companies toward economic priorities and a standardization of services. As a result, 2,000 France Telecom agencies were closed, as well as 1,000 post offices (i.e. 1 in 12), and similar numbers in the energy and public transport sectors. At the same time, liberalization pressures encouraged the government to rethink its delivery of social services. Today, public and social services are increasingly delivered through automatic machines or the Internet (e.g. online information, bill pay procedures, and so on.). The first victims of this new reality are the ones least equipped to use it. Fifteen million French people still live in rapidly depopulating rural areas, where the cost of providing proximity public services is high. Rural populations are ageing and increasingly isolated, with limited access to and knowledge of the Internet. More than ever, rural populations need and see the value of customized guidance. A further 5 million French people live in socially and economically marginalized urban neighborhoods where social tensions endanger residents and increase the cost of public services delivery. Consisting largely of recent immigrants and poorly educated citizens, these people require customized services. Customization would facilitate social integration by providing full access to, and knowledge of, citizenship rights and responsibilities.
PIMMS are orientation platforms designed to provide the missing link between vulnerable groups and public service agencies and companies in France’s most excluded areas. PIMMS’ ensures that clients understand and are able to take full advantage of their rights and social protections by knowing when, how, and where to access the services they need, from the simplest to the most complex administrative rules.
There are four main instances for PIMMS intervention:
• Sensitization and information: Clients can find the best transport itinerary, how to use online services, reduce their utility bills or use the services of a public letter writer. These services are subsidiary to other public service entities who can then deliver full services; • Counsel and support: To arrange payment plans and find alternative solutions when they face excessive debt and/or may lose energy or telephone access;• Proximity services: To purchase stamps and transport tickets. This avoids turning PIMMS into a stigmatized social services platform and allows for the mixing of various socioeconomic groups in completing everyday errands;• Community engagement: PIMMS’ participate in the life of their community by organizing public events and taking part in grassroots activities. In 2008, 270,000 people walked into one of the 31 PIMMS franchises to use the services provided, and thereby, break the vicious cycle of isolation.
Recognizing the value of this unique service, the government supports a plan to expand PIMMS nationally over the next few years. Based on the PIMMS model, the August 2, 2006 decree invited all prefects to encourage the creation and certification of Relais de Services Publics, i.e. public or private entities offering individual counsel and guidance to the general public to facilitate access to public services, especially in rural areas.
With PIMMS, Gilles is going back to the core definition of public service. As stated by French law, equal access to services of public interest is the direct extension of the equality component of the Declaration of Human Rights: The most recognized public service companies such as EDF, La Poste, Suez-GDF, SNCF and Veolia support and finance the multiplication of PIMMS across the country. Yet beyond their social mission, these companies are for-profit and operate in a competitive market. Thanks to PIMMS, the most excluded clients are now prepared to effectively go through administrative procedures and spend less time waiting in lines, which saves the companies millions of euros. PIMMS also ensures the collection of unpaid bills, as they help access the existing discounted free credit repayment packages. Locally, PIMMS rely on a broad diversity of public and private funding to remain independent, non-competitive, and be set up anywhere across the country. Gilles aims to establish PIMMS in the 300 at-risk urban areas and many more rural territories, with 40 more PIMMS open by the end of 2010. Influencing policies and practices, Gilles has rapidly begun to capitalize on PIMMS experience to collect data about neglected groups among the French population. Analyzing trends has enabled him to demonstrate to public service providers the extent to which they are unaware of some of their customers’ challenges. Gilles illustrates and argues for a necessary change in practices. To execute this change, he offers training programs to staff and supports the development of new services.
Gilles is taking care that PIMMS does not become another administrative body. He intends that his structures remain innovative and competitive to best serve the public. Each PIMMS is created based on a local assessment and engagement of the citizen sector, and local and national governance schemes are designed to safeguard the ethics and social impact. In this manner, PIMMS’ offers the best-adapted services for the population’s needs and expectations; ultimately, reinforcing the existing provisions of public services without replacing them. By employing local staff, including mediators, PIMMS provides the best services to the target population. Mediators educate clients to eventually access public services directly and independently, through financial education, computer literacy training, and so on. Moreover, the mediators have often experienced long-term unemployment, and PIMMS offers them a platform for professional integration.
Since the early days of his engagement in the 1968 student movement, Gilles has strived to contribute to a more equality-based society. Since he did not identify with the traditional higher education system, he spent most of his youth traveling and experiencing the world. Gilles then joined La Poste in the Lyon area as a sorting agent. Early on, he thought of his career as secondary and devoted most of his free time to his community. Most notably, Gilles founded a grassroots organization aimed at democratizing culture among marginalized groups. Over the years, he grew to appreciate his job, and realized the public interest involved in La Poste served everyone with the same quality; independent of income and social origin. Gilles became increasingly involved in the company and climbed the corporate ladder. To encourage changes and an increased effectiveness with a bottom-up approach he founded a labor union. From that experience, and through the struggles of his union work, Gilles learned that to create changes in a large public service institution one has to work hand-in-hand with the institutions decision-makers, rather than against them.Like some of his peers in the local network of public service companies, Gilles was profoundly marked by the riots in the Lyon Vaulx-en-Velin suburbs in the early 1990s. For the first time, the discrepancies between public service companies and the local populations were so deep and bore such high risks and costs that companies considered closing down. Instead, Gilles and a small group of executives from those companies decided to experiment in the delivery of a new form of public services and to engage local populations in the heart of their neighborhoods. With his unique perspective on public services delivery and community work, Gilles obtained an employee leasing agreement from La Poste and in 1995 started the first PIMMS office in one of Lyons most excluded neighborhoods. After a few years of designing, testing, and improving his concept, he opened three more PIMMS in the Lyon area.Convinced of the need to expand nationally, Gilles designed what would be the largest and most successful social franchise model in France.