Posted by Lancing Farrell 1100 words
Writers have posted 25 times since the start of the year. A number of themes and ideas have been discussed. This post provides a brief overview.
The goals are set out in post 1 – track current issues and discuss the issues that are ‘everlasting, widespread and insoluble’ (using the least amount of words). A range of issues have since been covered from the daily media, day to day work life, and the things people often talk about but seldom resolve.
Post 2 and 5 discuss local government services – what we do and how we can define it. The conclusion is that local government needs to provide services that fit within legislated requirements, are responsive to broader community needs and expectations, and meet the individual purpose for each person receiving a service. Each service can be defined as a cross-functional process or value chain.
In post 3 the complexity evident in local government is discussed, including the involvement of customers in service delivery, the variability they introduce, the difficulty measuring service quality or setting service goals and measures, and the impossibility of separating service delivery from politics.
The impact of training on performance is discussed in post 4 in response to media criticism of the Australian government public service for its spending on training. The post suggests that understanding, documenting and improving processes would yield more benefit than providing more training for most councils.
In post 6 the differences between customers, clients, citizens, residents and ratepayers are discussed. Understanding which role someone has chosen to take in an interaction is important in determining the value they expect. This can be useful in differentiating between public and private value expectations.
Post 7 looks at public service job cutting and the link to productivity. Some key messages from the Centre for Policy Development report False Economies: Unpacking public sector efficiencies are discussed. The post identifies the importance of defining public value so that any changes to resource levels can be made in the knowledge of the impact they will have on the value produced.
Post 8 presents an imaginary script for an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Kitchen Nightmare’ in which he assesses the performance of local government as if it were a restaurant. Hopefully it is both entertaining and thought provoking. What would Gordon Ramsay say?
In post 9 some emerging characteristics of people and councils are discussed. Obligatory empiricism, oblivious narcissism, and consensual lying are put forward as reasons why councils always seem to learn everything from scratch, leaders set out to meet their own needs first, and why people tell others what they want to hear for the sake of convenience.
Post 10 draws a ‘line in the sand’ with a discussion of the changes that have impacted in Victorian local government since the 1990’s. Part history lesson and part explanation of the present, the post concludes that the most influential change has been to the tenure of the CEO and their increased dependence on the goodwill of their council for survival .
Planning in local government gets a thorough airing in posts 11, 12, 18, 19, and 20. In posts 11 and 12 the current organisational planning processes is critiqued. Posts 18 and 19 suggest ways to better integrate planning. Post 20 discusses the role of the Council Plan. All posts provide commentary on how to develop plans that are realistic, achievable and focused on delivering the value expected by the community. Constraints identified include the need to work within legislated requirements and the need for leadership to really understand ‘the business’ to be able to implement a ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ planning process.
In post 13 the role of policies and strategies is discussed. Are they becoming convenient but ineffective solutions to difficult problems, devices to avoid doing something that needs to be done, or just a way to be seen to be doing something?
Post 14 is an attempt to explain why councils stick with conventional organisational structures and avoid dealing with cross-functional processes; why systems seek to control risk and increase compliance without regard for producing public value; and why council culture encourages people to avoid making decisions. The discussion centres on what an organisational culture survey, an ABEF organisational self-assessment, and the Executive’s risk appetite can reveal.
Four books that should be read by every leader in local government are discussed in posts 15 and 17. The books are Recognising Public Value by Mark H. Moore, The Whitehall Effect by John Seddon, Improving Performance – How to Manage the White Space on the Organisation Chart by Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache, and The Leaders Handbook by Peter R. Scholtes. Each book has a different focus and there is a mixture of public sector and business reading.
Post 16 discusses the rate capping proposed for local government in Victoria. The history of rate capping in Victoria and the long-term effects of it that are apparent in NSW provide a backdrop to a discussion about what councils can do in response. This post covers the potential for shared services and the potential impact on capital and operating budget cuts.
In post 21 the way councillors feel about their role is discussed. Do they feel inundated and manipulated or respected and influential? The difficulties they face as volunteers and in becoming skilled in their role, working together in an adversarial system, and coping with very demanding workloads, are covered. The message is stop complaining and support them more effectively.
What does a high performance local government organisation (HPLOGO) look like? In post 22 a methodology is proposed to define and create a HPLOGO. Based on the work of Andre de Waal, a set of characteristics of a HPLOGO are described (as actions) and prioritised.
Post 23 is a bit tongue in cheek. It is an attempt to pick up on the ‘chip on the shoulder’ prevalent in some parts of local government. Is local government a plaintive country tune or a majestic aria?
In post 24 an article by Frank Ostroff from Harvard Business Review (Change Management in Government) is discussed in relation to making high performance happen. He describes four unique barriers to change in the public service related to leader skills, leader tenure, rules that create inflexibility, and stakeholder resistance to reform.
Finally, post 25 looks at local government budgeting and how it is focussed on the past and has difficulty coping with improvement and innovation. The need to balance investment in compliance with improving customer service and developing new services is discussed with reference to Christopher Stone’s work on public sector efficiency.