200 – Using a local government service catalogue.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                                                         700 words


Some time ago I discussed how to create a local government service catalogue. The process was simple and effective in describing services in customers’ terms and linking services to cost centres in the budget and those responsible for the cost centres. You might ask, what else needs to be done? Well, for the service catalogue to be really useful it needs to be linked to the organisational planning processes. Here’s how that can be done.

To begin, it is a good idea to test the service catalogue with the community. I have heard of a council using it to lead discussion with ‘peoples’ panels’ about the services delivered, how rates can best be spent, and whether or not the council should seek an exemption from the municipal rate cap being imposed in Victoria. If the community can relate to the services described in the catalogue and understand what they involve, it is likely that you have got the catalogue right. It doesn’t mean that it can’t be further improved, but it is a good start.

The next step is to link the service catalogue to the traditional ‘business unit by business unit’ planning that occurs in local government. Typically, the business unit or departmental business plans contain service descriptions. Once you have a service catalogue, these service descriptions need to match the services in the catalogue and then describe the role that the department plays in delivering each service. At the moment, most councils plans this way:

department planning

Each department documents their annual business plan and then participates in delivering a range of services (after all, services are only produced by cross organisational processes) by relying on past practice and local knowledge to ensure that their effort is well directed. Usually the services themselves are not described or documented. You have to just know what they are.  It is really only luck or the result of stable teams when a service delivered by multiple departments is delivered consistently well.

Usually, reliable and consistent delivery to an expected standard happens when all parts of the service are delivered by one department. As a result, many councils are structured to integrate delivery of high risk services within one department or one division.

However, not all services can be efficiently integrated into just one functional area. The services that regularly fail or have never been delivered well are usually the responsibility of multiple departments. After all, how does a manager know precisely what is expected of their functional area in delivering cross organisational services? How is their performance measured in terms of their contribution towards the whole service? How do they avoid optimising their part of the process but sub-optimising the whole process?

The solution is to think about planning differently. What if service plans were written before the department plan?

Service planning

Writing service plans is not as difficult as it may appear. If the service catalogue has been created as described in previous posts and the current budget cost centres and their responsible officers have been linked to each service, the responsible officers can then be asked to create the first generation service plan. It shouldn’t be a big job. The plan won’t be perfect but should be reasonably accurate because the responsible officers are the major stakeholders involved in its production. It can be refined in the second generation plan.

The service plans will make the key links to the Council Plan as the political plan of the councillors for their term in office.

Writing the service plans will require some process mapping to understand what each department (or unit within departments) does to contribute to producing the service. The simple way to do this is using ‘swim lane’ process maps. Here is an example.

service planning swim lane

Once you have mapped the tasks, and each department knows what they have to do, they can write a department business plan describing how resources will be allocated for each task. For example, Department 2 has to plan to deliver tasks 2, 3 and 4. There will be alignment of effort across the organisation in producing the value expected by the service recipient.

There are other benefits in this approach. For those councils planning service reviews, the service plan provides the logical focus for the service review. The steps described below (at the times/frequency noted) effectively create and then periodically update the service plans and related department business plans.

service catalogue steps

Service plans align organisational effort and integration with business plans ensures accountability in delivery. This also allows conflicts, duplication and gaps in departmental business plans to be discovered. These are the sources of efficiency and service improvement that must be found if councils are to respond positively to rate capping.