224 – Risk taking in local government

By Colin Weatherby                                                                                               900 words

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Lancing Farrell raised several important issues in providing advice to a colleague regarding risk management. How does a council balance the pressure not to take risks and fail, with the competing pressure (often from the same sources) to take risks and meet demands to create new value?  

Risk is an interesting concept and there are various definitions. I like to think of it simply as the uncertainties related to achieving your goals. It is about the hazards along the pathway as you make your way towards your destination.

Businesses that don’t take risks will fail. They become uncompetitive or customer satisfaction drops. Either way, they lose business to competitors taking risks to create value that customers want and will pay for. We can all think of the companies that have taken big risks in redefining a service or product to create a new market.

You are probably wondering what this might have to do with local government. Aren’t we just doing what we have always done?

Many councils are. Whether they should be, or whether they will be able to continue to do so, should be questioned. We now live in the ‘age of the customer’ – residents want personalisation, mobility, self-service, rapid response, and efficiency (efficiency for them, not the council). The variability introduced by customers must be quickly and effectively absorbed by the organisation. Complexity, by its very nature, creates risks.

In conjunction with mandated limits on prices (the rate cap) and growing numbers of customers (as Lancing points out, Melbourne is growing rapidly), the rising expectations of residents means that councils must do things differently. Different usually involves risk taking.

I recently attended a training session on developing an organisational risk appetite. It showed me how councils could identify hazards and manage risks differently, yet still satisfy the pressure to stop things going wrong while meeting the demand to create new value. It needs a re-think and a more sophisticated approach to risk and compliance. Continue reading

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202 – Essay No. 6 – Local government and public value.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                                              6500 words

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Value is often mentioned in local government when talking about services, particularly ‘best value’. However, there is often inadequate understanding about the different types of value, the difference between private and public value, and how value is actually created and managed by an organisation. Sometimes there is the assumption that because we have been busy, that we must have created something worthwhile.

This essay brings together ideas from several earlier posts and is constructed around four hypotheses:

  1. That there are different types of value created by organisations and for local government public value is the most important.
  2. Public value is the primary value that must be understood and delivered if councils are to deliver what is expected by the community.
  3. Value-led management is a way of managing that could transform local government and make it more responsive and effective in serving the community.
  4. There are simple and effective tools that can be used to improve value creation in local government.

Hypothesis 1: There are different types of value and public value is the most important for local government.

Private value

In a metaphorical sense the value that you add is what you ‘bring to the party’. This is determined by what other people think you have contributed and by thinking about what the party would have been like if you hadn’t arrived.

There are different types of value and it is worth briefly considering the difference between private value and public value. Public value is the collective view of the public or community about what they regard as valuable, especially with regard to the use of public money and authority. Moore describes this as occurring along a spectrum from value that is obtained from public services that is essentially private value, similar to the concept of customer value, to public value that reflects the aggregate value expectations of citizens.

Moore degrees of publicness

At the private value end of the spectrum, the focus is on the individual service recipient and delivering value that satisfies their expectations.   At the public value end of the continuum, the focus is on achieving the social outcomes sought by the community or public. Continue reading

198 – Essay No. 5 – Local government and leadership.

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                         1300 words

Mark H Moore strategic triangle

Mark H. Moore’s ‘strategic triangle’ – the basis for value-led public sector management

I have been thinking about leadership a lot recently. It has been a recurring theme in posts on this site. Reading Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book has challenged my thinking about how leaders work and what motivates them. It has reinforced some of my scepticism about leaders and why they do what they do. I tend to agree with Peter Drucker’s questioning of the distinction between leadership and management. Ultimately, organisations, particularly in the public sector, have to be managed. The idea that somehow managers aren’t leaders or that leaders aren’t managing doesn’t make sense.

Having said that, I can think of organisational leaders I have known who couldn’t manage. At some point they just ticked the leadership box and assumed the position! Pfeffer explains how and why everyone then goes along with it. Once you are a leader it seems you can get to stay there without any real scrutiny and accountability for your performance. That has definitely been my experience in local government.

I keep imagining myself working in an organisation with an effective leader who manages the organisation for high performance (not career advancement). One that provides clear strategy, direction and goals.  One who coordinates effort to  across the organisation to achieve those goals. In particular, I have been thinking about how they could do that in local government. Continue reading

194 – Essay No. 4 – Local government and customer service.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              4500 words

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Customer service is, and should be, a major concern for local government. After all, councils are service organisations. Sometimes there is confusion about exactly what customer service means, how it relates to public service delivery, and what aspects of service are most important to get right in local government.

This essay focuses on three hypotheses:

  1. That ‘customers’ in local government are different to the customers described in most customer service literature and encountered by most service organisations.
  2. There are six main opportunities for local government to improve service to customers.
  3. There are simple tools available that can assist councils in getting service delivery and customer service right.

Continue reading

189 – Essay No. 2 – Local government, effectiveness and efficiency.

Posted by Lancing Farrell                                                                              3300 words

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People in local government regularly discuss effectiveness and efficiency. Often this happens in relation to pressure on revenues, such as rate capping. Most of the discussion centres on efficiency rather than effectiveness, and opportunities to stop delivering those services that are seen as ‘cost shifting’ from other government. The efficiency discussion is often not well informed. Frequently it focuses on inputs while ignoring outcomes and public value. Any savings are usually equated with cost cutting, not creating the same value at lower cost.

Australian researcher and writer Christopher Stone has published several papers on ‘false economies’. Each addresses a different aspect of productivity and efficiency in the public sector.

“Everyone has the right to know that money is not being wasted; that it is being spent as efficiently as is possible.” Christopher Stone, Decoding Efficiency, April 2013.

So, what is efficiency and how does it differ from effectiveness? Continue reading

181 – Applying the public value concept in local government using systems thinking

Posted by Colin Weatherby                                                                                         1100 words

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Systems thinking is potentially a great lever for improvements in the design and delivery of local government services. However, it will require a major shift in thinking about how work is designed and managed because the systems thinker is focussed on the purpose of a service from the customer’s point of view.   This is a change from the needs of the organisation and the people working in it driving the design of work and delivery of services. Here are some thoughts building on the earlier post by Parkinson.

Local government needs to work harder to put the needs of customers first despite the realities of multiple and conflicting accountabilities, limited potential for increased income from rates, difficulty defining who the customer is, and increasing expectations of service levels, reliability and speed.

The principal focus of systems thinking is designing and managing the organisation with the customer mind. Continue reading

179 – Some thoughts on local government and public value.

Posted by Parkinson                                                                       1400 words

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A number of posts written have been written about public value by others (see Why do we provide the services that we do in local government?, Customer, client, citizen, resident or ratepayer. Who are we dealing with?, Applying the public value scorecard in local government services. Part 1. , Applying the public value scorecard in local government services. Part 2., Public value gap analysis. A tool., Public value gap analysis. Some actions., Making high performance happen through value-led management., and Value-led management in local government. Some further thoughts). This post is an attempt to provide a context for further thinking about public value in local government.

Common good and public value

The political philosopher Michael Sandel has identified that rising social inequality is leading to a separation in ways of life between the rich and the poor. He believes that when this happens there is no longer a common way of life because “they don’t use the same public institutions, don’t inhabit the same civic spaces, and don’t avail themselves of the same public services”. As a result, Sandel believes that we can cease to think that we are ‘in it together’ enough to even deliberate together as members of a political community to determine common good.

The gap between the rich and poor is growing in Australia. According to the Oxfam report ‘Still the Lucky Country?’, the wealthiest Australian are disproportionately influential and the poor are at risk of being marginalised and unheard. Extreme wealth provides the power to influence government policies that favour those with wealth, regardless of what would work best for the whole of society.

The common good is the ‘large’ form of public value. Continue reading