The business of local government is changing and citizens are demanding more out of their local administrations. Town and City governments continue to struggle to find ways to meet these needs, often with smaller budgets and fewer resources. Municipalities must look within themselves for opportunities to share, partner, and collaborate to better meet citizen needs and make progress toward the future.
One option for municipalities to consider is to look for opportunities to share internally. For example, combining the financial and human resource operations of their town and school district into one operations office, or sharing information technology departments and systems creates ways to lower expenses, while optimizing current workloads.
Unfortunately, these ideas are often met with great resistance and reservation among city leaders. The objections include:
- “It’s too difficult!”
- “It can’t be done.”
- “But we’ve always done it this way!”
- “We do it better than they do.”
- “We don’t have the staff to do more!”
- “What if it doesn’t work?”
While the resistance to shared services is often present, the following steps can help any municipality ease into the transition and explore the options available that best fit for them.
Perform a baseline assessment. Performing an internal baseline assessment will identify operations as they currently stand, showing both strengths and weaknesses/areas of opportunity. This will help to first determine if shared services can be beneficial to the municipality.
Identify opportunities to share. Once shared services are deemed a worthwhile opportunity, look at surrounding communities/departments to see where the “best matches” exist. Which localities are doing it right? Which ones are similarly sized? Where does the potential for mutual benefit exist?
Determine desired outcomes. Once the appropriate partner(s) is identified, the parties should jointly determine what needs to be accounted for and accomplished. The following questions must be “hashed out” prior to proceeding:
- What needs must be met?
- How will they be measured?
- Who will be responsible for delivery?
- How will funding be allocated?
- How will the new organization be structured and staffed?
Create a plan. Once there’s a general agreement to go forward, an action plan that outlines all of the work that needs to be done in order to realize what is to be accomplished must be developed. The action plan should denote project teams, work steps, deliverables, project budgets, and timelines. In this way, execution is demystified and can be managed and monitored to successful completion.
Develop and document the agreement. A contract that captures the details and spirit of the agreement should be drafted. The best contracts are the ones that reflect the agreement, but, never need to be referenced because all concerned parties work cooperatively to deliver what they promised. This is the type of contract that you want to draft.
In closing, the benefits of sharing within a city government are numerous. When looked at closely, in fact, the parochialism that limits this type of sharing amounts to little more than unfounded fears of the unknown. Change is challenging, especially in city government. But with the right attitude, teamwork, and planning, a bold vision for shared service delivery can be realized within the context of any City of the Future program.