How to achieve better government
Continuous improvement for local government:
n A primer for elected officials and the public.
n A motivating reminder for administrators and managers.
There are three rules of thumb that are especially important in the world of tight budgets and myriads of requests for government services.
n If you are not improving, you are likely going backwards.
n If you can’t measure it, you really don’t know if you are improving.
n If you measure it, it improves.
What I am leading up to is the need for local governments to use/expand upon proven techniques that have been pioneered by America’s best business thinkers and practitioners. One may call these techniques continuous improvement programs, quality management or a host of other names.
I will outline the required measurements that focus directly on the service-delivery chain of events. Resources are inputted (people and dollars) then a process takes over, producing service outputs. Simply, input, process, output.
n People (“head count”) and dollars.
n Classified in various categories (e.g., operational expenses vs. capital additions).
n Typically measured to death in cost-accounting procedures.
n Services including capital and infrastructure additions.
n Unit count (hard) measurements, such as number of potholes filled, number of people transported, number of building permits dealt with. Typically these measurements are combined with inputs to create productivity rates, such as dollars or person-hours per pothole, dollars per person transported, dollars per building permit dealt with.
n Structured opinion (soft) measurements, typically surveys collecting statistical and anecdotal information (e.g. street maintenance, bus service, building permit processing).
n Typically, trend data of measurements is plotted and evaluated. Trends may have more use than point-in-time measurements and are great for displaying to the public.
n Today, local governments are becoming more adept at using a mix of unit count and structured opinion information to realize they can do better.
n The “black box” of the service delivery sequence.
n Organizations will have multiple service-delivery processes (e.g., various aspects of road maintenance, bus service, building/zoning applications.) These processes frequently cross departmental lines – hence each process needs to have one designated “owner.”
n The multiple steps that make up service-delivery process need to be identified and understood.
n Each step and each process can be measured using creative unit count and structured opinion techniques. This measurement activity must involve all staff levels and the public, where appropriate.
n Elected officials’ governing bodies (boards of commissioners, town councils, etc.) have service-delivery processes which can be evaluated for the improvement opportunities. An example might be the way contributions are distributed or the budget is finalized.
n In summary, good processes invariably produce better results.
Measuring input-process-output provides the backbone for what is needed to identify and implement improvement opportunities.
This task can use existing improvement methodologies in a complementary role.
For example, Vail uses a culture measurement model.
Typically, the effort to improve involves creating a mini-project – complete with objectives, cost/benefits, timetable and deliverables clearly stated.
These projects need to compete equally with the organization’s current priorities and public awareness issues, e.g., declining revenues, parking, employee housing, etc.
All this may sound boring, but keep in mind the potential benefits are just as real as increased revenue or the frequently arbitrary “red-pencil” budget cuts. Organizations that have solid continuous improvement in place usually say, “How did we ever operate without it?”
The payoffs include more service for same or less cost, improved quality, more involved and satisfied employees, organizational adaptability and service consistency.
All these ultimately affect the stakeholders in the community, so they are important.
Hence, talk to your elected officials and challenge them if they say the only options are getting more revenue (taxes?) or cutting services.
Request that the public receives an annual report that contains, among other things, a focus on improvement trends.
Paul Rondeau is a Vail resident and retired corporate consultant. He is a frequent attendee and participant at Vail council meetings.