Many communities, large and small, struggle to meet the changing demands and expectations of internal and external forces. In this article we highlight three straightforward ways to help you evaluate and improve how your local government does business.
Best Practice #1: Review processes - Do they fit your current needs?
Have you ever heard "We have always done it this way"? This statement embodies status quo and is the number one thing holding organizations back from evolving. Be forward thinking, not backwards thinking!
- Review the tasks and processes conducted most frequently by staff
- Map the processes you currently use and identify how much each step takes
- Analyze steps where processes could be automated or streamlined
- Determine change agents within the organization as well as those who will push back
- Establish ideal processes for your organization; do not limit these by current staff, resources, or tools currently available to the organization
Regardless of population size, communities often experience challenges in a few common areas:
- Communicating with the public
- Accepting and posting payments
- Operations and infrastructure management
So where do you start? Begin by mapping both your current and ideal processes. You can see in the example below how the process of accpeting a buliding permit was mapped. Next, locate redundancies and places where paper processes are present that could be instead digitized and automated, thus saving you time, money, and reducing frustration for your staff and citizens.
Accpeting a Building Permit (example process)
Actual example of a municipal process that was causing delays for homeowners/contractors and frustrating city staff.
Best Practice #2: Embrace change
The key to ANY change is to envision the future and not live in the past. Embracing the idea that process is more important than results will lead to positive changes in the way your organization operates and the associated outcomes.
Start small and don't try to change everything at once. Pick the most impactful process to optimize first, especially if it has the possibility to positively affect staff, residents and local businesses.
- Deploy the ideal process you mapped in step one; set the metrics you want to achieve and the timeline for a short-term evaluation and longer stretch view.
- Determine the tools you need to support the desired process change.
- Create excitement around the change! Let residents know if it affects them and if other staff will be impacted, gain buy-in through a focus on reducing their stress level and saving them time.
- Remember, changes may not always stick. Evaluate and iterate as necessary. Changes should not add more frustration for staff and residents.
Change is difficult, but managed correctly can have a positve impact. Be a champion of change in your community.
Processes in government are often well defined, but it doesn’t mean that they are optimized for your organization. How can you be a champion of change?
According to Forbes the highest ranked leaders are the best managers of change. Who leads change in your organization? If the answer is everyone, you might as well say no one, someone needs to own the change you want to make.
Joseph Folkman, a behavioral statistician, shows there are 5 things needed in a leader for effective change (source):
- Innovation: Change for change sake rarely accomplishes the goals of a project. If change is effective, it normally is associated with process innovation that is lead by a sound rationale for the change.
- Speed: When making a change it should happen with swift action. Slow process evolution is painful. This doesn’t mean you need to change all processes at once but choose one at a time and make it happen.
- Strategic Perspective: What is your north star, or key goal? Change should always be focused on achieving that outcome.
- External Perspective: What are residents demanding? Other agencies offering/doing? These things need to be evaluated in regard to your strategic goals. Making a change for staff could have a significant impact on residents, look inside and out when planning.
- Inspire and Motivate Others: Not everyone likes to adapt, this is the push and pull of change. This should be through motivation, showcasing the positive parts of the change, and encouraging people to follow.
Best Practice #3: Invest in technology to support efficient processes and operations
If you have followed the first two best practices above, this one should make perfect sense. Unfortunately, local governments will sometimes choose a technology to support their immediate needs and not where they want to go.
Things to consider when choosing new technology:
- Take real life data and/or use cases and ask the vendor how they would handle them. Give them bonus points if they can demonstrate how they would help you achieve your goals.
- Can the software evolve as you grow and need to change? Don't remain stuck with an outdated and ineffective process if the reason it is not being adjusted is due to the limitations of your technology.
- Build an adoption plan for internal users and residents. Just because you launch a new technology solution does not mean people will use it, or use it well. Promote usage, focus on the benefits, and drive adoption to see your desired results!
- Verify the solution is designed for local government and not for private business use. Your requirements are different than a business so your technology solutions should be designed to fit your needs!
Starting the transformation to digital with online forms and payments in Denver, Iowa.
Like many small cities, Deb, Deputy City Clerk/Utility Billing Clerk, and her staff used paper and Google Docs for their registration forms and permits. Associated payments were handled by phone, email, or in person, with each payment needing to be entered manually. Due to the many separate pieces involved in this process, Deb and her team were also manually tracking and chasing down missing payments. These activities required precious hours that staff could be have repurposed to tackle other, more productive work.
The gWorks Solution
Soon after the City of Denver, IA added FrontDesk from gWorks, Deb used the Forms Builder feature to make their Parks & Recreation registration forms available online. Now their public users can access, fill out and submit the registration forms, along with the associated payment, online, anytime and from anywhere! The form submissions are then received and stored in FrontDesk where they can be accessed by Deb and her team whenever needed.
The Benefits for the City of Denver
Since transitioning their Parks & Recreation paper forms to online forms with FrontDesk, they have received roughly 320 registrations, and Deb and her staff have saved nearly 7 hours on just this batch of registraitons, time that was previously spent receiving and entering registration payments!
They have since created additional forms for Camping, Shelter & Community Room Reservations, Tree Service & Disposal Permits, Peddler's Permits, a Sedimentation Application, among others.
"The forms in FrontDesk are a time saver for us and they don't take very long to design! It took about 30 mins for the first one, and it was easy to copy forms and then change their design. One of the benefits of having our forms online in FrontDesk is getting all the requested and required information the first time." - Deb Manross, Deputy City Clerk/Utility Billing Clerk, Denver, Iowa
Ready to be an agent of change in your community but need help getting started? We have helped thousands of orgainizations modernize their processes through simple technologies like gWorks Cloud.