Trees line a straight road leading off into the distance

Future Proofing Councils: organisational change in Australian local government

By Susan Law

There is always that dichotomous cliché: change is the only constant in the world.  As local authorities, Councils are not only part of the world, but, in the key role in providing civic leadership to our communities, Councils find themselves having to flex and adapt themselves to meet the expectations of their communities and to help them make sense of the changing world.

The drivers to change are many. Some are extrinsic to the Council; others are initiated by the organisation itself.

External Drivers

Demographics

Graph showing a declining predicted budget, eclipsed by increasing adult social care and children services expenditureThe Graph of Doom – a graph prepared by the Council the London Borough of Barnet. The chilling lesson from this graph is that by 2021/22, the Council will need to spend all of its funding and revenue on just providing services for its vulnerable adults and children. Without changes to the manner in which services would be delivered and policy settings, there would be no funding for other services such as waste, community development etc.

While Councils in Australia are not charged with the provision of social services for adults and children, the demographic trends for Australia are similar if not sharper.  This impacts upon state governments and reinforces the drive in NSW, South Australia, and Tasmania for local government sector reform. The ability of state governments to significantly contribute to the funding of local government for services is becoming increasingly constrained. In fact, local government is experiencing the reverse: services being devolved from state to local government without the corresponding level of funding to deliver them.

Similarly, Councils’ rate bases and their ability to raise revenue from ratepayers is coming under increasing pressure. In NSW, rate capping by the State Government is in place and is being debated in South Australia and Tasmania.

Customer and community expectations

At the other end of the demographic spectrum are the expectations of our communities and customers. Most services and the way they are delivered were designed for the post WWII and baby boomer generation – now we have Generation X, Y, and Z, whose expectations are quite different from those of their parents and grandparents. Traditional sectors such as the taxi and hotel industries are having to cope with surviving with disruptive technologies and organisations such as Uber and Airbnb. Nevertheless, these disrupters are setting the expectations for access, service, and response. The disruption in many service sectors is causing major re-thinking of service delivery models, even traditionally conservative ones such as banks. Local government cannot step aside from the change. 

State Government and internal programs of reform

In addition to the UK, in NSW and South Australia, pressure has been placed upon local authorities to not just consider change on an individual basis, but also to participate in a broader program of sector reform.

A laptop, screen, keyboard, mouse, paper, and office accessories sit on a desk in a close up image.

Local Government ICT Systems and Amalgamations: Doing it Once and Doing it Right

By Chally Kacelnik and Ludwig Kraayenbrink

ICT: everyone in a contemporary organisation relies on it, everyone wants it to solve their problems, and not a whole lot of people understand it in technical detail. ICT business units are traditionally overburdened and often struggle to focus on strategic issues in the midst of reactive work. How on earth are local government ICT staff meant to be responsible for the huge burden of integrating distinct business systems for an amalgamation or shared services arrangement? Here are our principles for doing it once and doing it right.

A diligent, structured, and strategic approach to ICT will be crucial to the success of newly amalgamated Councils as it is integral to everything from customer relationship management to information management.

The local government ICT environment is growing ever more complicated, with increasing technical complexity, commodification of ICT infrastructure, and communications and information centricity. The ICT needs for a successful amalgamation are also substantial, including everything from the big picture (eg integrating different infrastructure) to the fine detail (eg cleansing, formatting, and transferring data). The amalgamation, then, is both a huge challenge and an opportunity to start off right. Investment in previous systems should not be considered a waste: rather, this is an opportunity to harvest the ICT best practice for the future.

Here are six main ICT areas to consider while amalgamating:

An example of a process map, using a swimlane structure

How Process Mapping Can Add Value to Your Organisation

By Chally Kacelnik

If you want to understand how your organisation works or the impact of change in a concrete, clear, detailed way, process mapping is an essential tool.

First things first: what is process mapping?

Well, a process is a series of connected activities conducted in order to achieve a particular aim, like procurement or making a customer enquiry. A process map illustrates that process from start to finish (see the header image for an example). It clearly sets out a common understanding of what happens, when it happens, why it happens, and who is involved.

A current state process map illustrates processes as they are. People in different parts of an organisation tend to have differing ideas of how a process works, either based on a theoretical idea of how it should work or based on their perspective from one slice of the process. Capturing the true current state in one place allows you to see how the process works in practice, not in theory.

The vast majority of the time, there’s something that can be improved – usually lots of somethings. Perhaps the process:

  • Has excessive hand offs, repetitions, or bottlenecks
  • Doesn’t fit the organisational operating model or principles
  • Doesn’t take advantage of technological capabilities
  • Is convoluted
  • Places a lot of stress on one or two employees
  • Doesn’t take account of external customer or community perspectives

A future state process map brings together organisational principles, technological capabilities, known data (particularly volumetric data), and learnings from what does and doesn’t work in the current state in order to produce the best possible future state process.

A collection of old fashioned globes in neutral colours

Whizzing to Oz: Global Collaboration on Local Government Reform

LKS Quaero UK Director Aidan Rave recently visited Australia and met with our Australian team. Here are his reflections on the differences and similarities between the UK and Australian local government contexts – and on the value of a global team when it comes to public service reform.

A seven day round trip from the UK to Australia can have a strange effect on the mind. The combination of jet lag, shifting from summer to winter and around 48 hours stuck in a metal tube has an effect on the most seasoned traveller. Making the trip in late June of this year, in the midst of the political upheaval and chaotic post-Brexit vote atmosphere, added a further dimension to the sense of surrealism.

Of course, attending the annual LKS Quaero hui (a Maori term meaning gathering or assembly) was exciting – an opportunity to meet in person colleagues who had previously existed on the end of a phone or as a slightly fuzzy image on Skype. Okay, the opportunity to sample some of McLaren Vale’s finest was probably a factor, too, but a professional should always be prepared to suffer for the cause!

In many ways, the conversation and debate at the hui confirmed a long-held belief that while the structure and culture of local government in the UK and Australia might differ, there are many challenges and opportunities in common and there is much each can learn from the other’s approach. The political spice on the Australian side was enhanced by the fact that day one of the hui coincided with the general election and all the intrigue, upsets, and twists that inevitably ensue (and there were several). Similarly, giving an update from the UK was inevitably going to be dominated by the fall-out from Brexit, the subsequent resignation of the Prime Minister, and impending implosion of the opposition Labour Party. In truth, it all felt just a little bit embarrassing!

While the “big politics” were certainly never far from the group’s collective thoughts, the focus of discussions remained on issues core to the business on both sides of the equator; namely public service reform, restructuring, amalgamation, culture, and leadership.

The impact of the GFC had a more immediate effect on the UK economy and subsequent public spending plans than was the case in Australia. Consequently, shifts towards structural and political reform of councils in the UK, driven in large part by a seismic reduction of around 35% in real terms spending power over the last five years, has meant that the rate of change in the UK has been determined.

Interestingly, as NSW councils embark on their journey of reform, there is some useful UK insight (not to mention a number of mistakes made and hard lessons learned), within the global LKS Quaero knowledge pool that should prove valuable.  In a similar vein, there is a considerable amount of Australian work on systems thinking and leadership, which will be critically important to UK councils as they attempt the next stage of implementation.

A silhouetted group gather around an outcrop, the sun low in a yellow sky.

From Narrow to Innovative Leadership and Diverse Organisations

By Chally Kacelnik

At LKS Quaero’s Meeting the Challenge of Amalgamation forum in Sydney in February this year, speaker Jeff Tate shared insights from his extensive experience as a local government expert and former CEO of two South Australian Councils. Listening to Jeff, I was interested in how he tackled gender imbalance in leadership roles when he was a CEO.

I caught up with Jeff after his talk and asked how he found a solution for something so pervasive and that affects people’s whole career paths.

The answer was really simple: you choose candidates based on their skills and capabilities, not a narrow range of previous job titles. You pick the person who’s best for the job, who is not always the person who has had the most normative career path.

This means that you get the right people in the right roles, with a range of life experience and ideas, and you get a more robust, more interesting organisation. In fact, you can apply this sort of thinking to many things in organisational life. If you critically examine your assumptions rather than retreating to the safety of what’s always been done before, you end up with the best possible organisation. This can’t be done by only looking at what’s already been done, but by considering all the possibilities.

So why do we make assumptions about people’s value that limit both people and organisations?