If we were completely successful in this round table process, solved the issues and capitalized on the opportunities,
what would the policy and administration process look like at the City of Guelph?
Administration is about how we run the City, make sure things get done, and that plans and decisions are put into action. Administration is the way we organize how we work and provides the tools, resources, processes and systems to do it. Council recruits the CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) who is responsible for making sure that the City has an effective administration.
All departments at the City have administrative work to do. Administration might be processing a charity’s application to host a major event in Riverside Park, or it could be filling out and submitting a timesheet to human resources.
The City has to balance and meet the needs of lots of different people. Administration therefore must have standards, be consistently applied, clear and fair. It is also affected by the rules and regulations imposed by other levels of government.
Processes are series of actions and decisions that can be repeated over and over again. Business systems should make it easier for processes to run well. The City needs processes and systems that make work easier. Sometimes when processes and regulations take precedence over the needs of employees and the community, the system gets in the way. When this happens residents and employees get frustrated with all the ‘red tape’.
There are countless policies created by City employees. These policies guide our actions, the way we work and they profoundly affect the lives of our residents. Most policies are formal and have been documented and approved by management or City Council.
Some policies are informal and based on historic working practices that have not been formally adopted. Some policies guide big things, like how the City will attract businesses to Guelph and some policies guide smaller things like how people are expected to behave in a City pool. We are also affected by policies made by federal and provincial governments and other public services, such as the police.
Policies are brought to life by creating procedures, guidelines, rules, regulations, by-laws, strategies and processes.
Policy research paper
Vision 1: All our policies would enable us to provide consistent and transparent customer service every time
Citizen-centred policy design
One group commented that some policies seemed to be “built like barriers”.Staff felt that if our policy process worked better, then citizens would receive more consistent and transparent services designed with them in mind. It was clear from the engagement activities that staff believed that sometimes policy was designed to suit the organization’s needs over those of the citizen and this was a barrier to providing good customer service.
The need for consistency of service was a continuous theme raised throughout the engagement activities, for example one group felt that “the public is finding conflicting (policy), or worse, no information at all. If we say no refunds for this… then this policy should be applied everywhere in a consistent way.” This is not always the case. Staff experience that this inconsistency leads to confusion for both staff and the citizen, and in some cases, can make the City vulnerable to legal challenge.
Transparency of policy was also considered a component of good service. There were instances in the engagement activities where staff reported that they applied policy that wasn’t formally written down. Staff also pointed out that the origins/authority of some policies were unclear, and the process to create and roll out a policy was often piecemeal in nature, inefficient and regularly ineffective.
All of these factors make it difficult for staff to confidently deliver services in a consistent and transparent way to citizens. More importantly it can make it difficult for citizens to know what they can expect from their municipal government and the policies that guide its decisions and actions. This approach can lead to inefficiency in the system and frustration on all sides when the rationales for policy decisions are not clearly understood or implemented across the organization.
Vision 2: We know what all of our policies are trying to achieve, and we can stand by the fact that each one meets its goals for our citizens and adds value to the way we work
Staff feel the public have a right to know how the City makes policy decisions and why they are made.
Employees believe citizens should be part of the policy development process and this is an area where the City could improve.
Sometimes, the City isn’t always clear about why a policy exists and what it’s trying to do. It becomes difficult to defend and stand by a policy when these things aren’t clear. One staff commented that “We need a better answer than – that’s how it’s always been done – the worst line I hear.”
Relevant now and in the future
Ensuring that policy meets its goals is an ongoing process. Just because a policy was relevant at one time, doesn’t mean that it always will be. One group commented that “People are too stuck in one way of thinking”, “Just because things have always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean this needs to continue.” Staff recognize that the City needs to proactively terminate policy that doesn’t serve its purpose any more, and the City needs to find a more systematic way of reviewing and updating all the policies it uses to determine what’s still relevant and what’s not.
“Some (policies) don’t make sense anymore, but are valid because there’s nothing more current.”
Vision 3: We make policy that is clear and easy for everyone to understand and apply on the ground
To the point and plain language
A number of groups highlighted the need for the City to use plain language more consistently in its policy making.Staff shared that they have difficult experiences working with vague and ambiguous policy. Sometimes when policies are difficult to understand they are difficult to apply in daily work or defend when a citizen is challenging or questioning the legitimacy of a policy decision. This can lead to stress for everyone.
Although there was a need for clarity in policy, this did not necessarily equate to staff wanting policy to prescribe the exact action they needed to take when helping a citizen. The need for flexible and adaptable policy that enables staff to act within defined parameters was also brought forward. Not every situation can follow a one script, and staff recognize they need the flexibility and empowerment to navigate complexity when it’s called for.
Clear roles and responsibilities
Sometimes policies are created without clearly defining all the roles, responsibilities and authority of those who are involved in approving, developing, rolling out or applying a policy.
It was also suggested that employees need to play more of a role in supporting citizens to navigate policy, like a concierge role. There was a perception that some citizens are directed to many different places to get the information they need.
Engaging the right people
Some staff commented that there was a greater need to consistently engage different stakeholders as policy was being developed. Firstly the need to engage citizens in these conversations was seen as important. Equally important was designing a process where front-line employees were involved in decision making about policy.
“Managers make decisions, but they are often removed from day-to-day reality of front-line.”
“We must be clear – no fuzziness.”
Vision 4: We are trusted and empowered to develop and use policy in a way that helps us find solutions for our citizens
People need to be given the freedom to be innovative and employees need to be encouraged to come up with new ideas for policy and challenge old ways that might not be enabling us to meet citizen needs. Staff were also clear that this meant involving citizens more in the process of policy making and review.
One group identified the need to find better ways of encouraging staff to think differently, feeling that they are “told consistently to keep the lights on, just keep things running, don’t come up with radical ideas.”
To staff, it also means we don’t hide behind our policies when we have to make difficult choices, but that staff should be supported by policy that gives them the tools to help them find solutions for citizens.
Vision 5: We know exactly which policies we need to do our job and are trained in how to apply them
Easy to access
Staff talked about wasted time looking for or trying to access the policies they need to do their job. There was a significant desire to have one access point containing all of the City’s up-to-date policies. Staff recognized that citizens would also gain a lot of value from this approach.
Staff commented that sometimes there are multiple versions of the same policy in the system, and it is difficult to know which one to use at any one point. Some policies aren’t even written down. This is a problem when an employee leaves, taking historical policy practice along with them. Once they leave, how can a citizen hold the City to account for providing a service in the way they have come to expect?
Trained and informed
The issue of compliance was discussed, and some employees feel it is a challenge to ensure consistent compliance with new and existing policy. However, this is a multifaceted issue and the lack of clarity and training around which policies should be used and when, in staff opinion, plays a significant role in the employee’s experience. One group commented “How can you hold people to account for a policy they don’t know about?” Staff also identified a need to better communicate policy across the organization.
“There’s a lot of wasting time trying to get your hands on the policies.” “Where do you go to look for them if you need to find them?” “Although there’s a policy, if no one sees it, it’s not really there.”
Vision 6: Our policies link in with policies in other departments and other layers of government when it makes sense
There is a feeling that the City continues to operate in silos and some obvious connections between departments still aren’t being practically addressed in policy making. This can sometimes cause conflict and lead departments to “bump heads”. Making sure there is coordination between service areas was identified as being important as well as supporting intergovernmental coordination and alignment between the City and other agencies. Staff saw an opportunity to use intergovernmental advocacy more as a tool help leverage coordinated policy.
Vision 7: We only create and use a policy when we are sure it’s the right tool to use for the goal we are trying to achieve
A framework for policy making
According to staff, there are differing opinions on whether or not the City has the right number of policies to govern its work, i.e. some parts of the City are considered to have too many policies, and others have too few.
Staff commented that “we don’t have many policies here in comparison to the diversity of services offered.”What is obvious however is that the City doesn’t have a framework to support staff, Council or the citizen to identify when developing a policy might be the best approach to get something done. Staff spoke about there being a number of different tools that might be better suited to a situation such as standard operating procedures. Very few staff had a shared understanding of what a policy was, when it was appropriate to develop one or what a policy should or shouldn’t contain.
Vision 8: We have trained staff developing and approving each and every policy
There is a lot of inconsistency in who develops policy and how policy is written with many different templates in existence across the City. Having more trained staff developing policy was identified as a need by staff.
One member of staff commented that they “waste time calling people to find out what needs to be seen in a policy because the template doesn’t properly show you this information”.
Some staff also expressed the need for a clearer and more efficient policy development and approval process. Staff commented that the process for approving policy is unclear and often slow with many layers of approval; sometimes Council approves policy and other times they don’t – it’s not clear why.
Administration Research Paper
Vision 1: Administrative processes would be efficient, seamless and clear to everybody
The need to ensure that administrative processes are efficient was a theme throughout the staff engagement.
Some noted that there is “too much duplication” within and across departments.One group noted that the City still assigns and resources administration in silos without recognizing and maximizing opportunities for administrative resources and processes that span across departments. As a result, there are administrators across the City doing very similar things, but in complete isolation.
The use new technology to support excellence in administration was a common theme throughout the engagement. A number of employees feel there is a significant opportunity to use new technology. Some expressed frustration with current systems and their inability to integrate properly with one another. There was also a desire to automate systems, which was considered a much faster, efficient approach.
Reduce red tape
Another theme that surfaced was the abundance of “red tape” and “bureaucracy”, which is often a source of frustration for both employees and residents. Employees feel that administrative processes could be more proportionate to the task. There is also a desire to explain processes and make them more available to the public, in the hope that this would “explain why sometimes things take so long”. However, it was also recognized that this was an issue internally with staff being unclear about why processes are in place and how they operate.
In response to a fictional customer one staff commented that “I feel like saying I don’t know where your form is now, I’m just one little cog in the system.”In addition to this, employees believe that having some way for both staff and residents to track their service request would be very beneficial. There are many calls administration receives from the public about complaints. “We get calls asking “where is my stuff….it has been months”, and employees aren’t always equipped to answer the requests.”
Transparency and information management
“Residents want to see things happen – they need responsiveness and transparency.”The ability to track service requests for any one resident, whether they made the request online, face-to-face or over the telephone would support better, informed, transparent and seamless service. It was noted that customer names appear multiple times in multiple places and they often have different addresses, which need to be consolidated into one record. There was a need to be more consistent formatting around “master data entry”.
Vision 2: Administrative processes would be reviewed regularly to ensure they were still adding value for the customer
Some staff remarked that they encountered some “outdated processes”, and the City should have a more rigorous approach to reviewing its administrative practices and processes. There is a need to “document them, and justify why they exist that way. If the way is no longer valid, then you’ve got the justification to change the process.” There is a need to be a “fluid, and dynamic administration” and to have processes in place to be able to ask, “can we get rid of that step?”
”Some people are in positions for so long we stop asking why things are done that way.”
Putting citizens first
Running alongside this was the perceived lack of business process mapping throughout the organization. Process mapping across departments would also help to see how various processes fit together.
“We need to change the way we review our processes – look at them from the citizens perspective rather than our own.”
Staff noted that the public were already pushing for change and improvement. “The public is telling us in new ways what’s not working for them (e.g. on social media). We need to remember to put people first. Is every step of the process adding value?”
Vision 3: Administration as a function would be valued by the organization, resourced properly and administration employees empowered to meet the diverse needs of residents
Under-valued and under-resourced
Many feel the City doesn’t resource its administrative needs enough, and that over the past few years, there had been recognition of this gap yet nothing is being done to address it. Some perceive this as the City not valuing administration enough. As a result staff feel that administration is being carried our poorly sometimes by people without the training or by people who should be spending their time carrying out other tasks. Some feel that administrative tasks are preventing employees from interacting with the community, suggesting a perceived imbalance between desk time and time out in the field.
Another commented that “the majority of your day is responding to e-mails before you can get to your work”, and others also experienced administration as taking up a lot of the time they could be spending on work that adds more value.
Many staff had differing opinions on how administration should be organized in the City, with some suggesting that that there should be more “pooled” resources. They argued that this would make the City more “agile” and allow staff to quickly be deployed in the event of illness.
Permission to be flexible
Some employees feel they aren’t given enough permission to change things that impede their work. They feel that a balance could be struck between the needs of the City and the public by providing more guidelines while still allowing individual staff the ability to provide a service in a way that responds to the customer. This was quite closely linked to a desire for flexible policy. One group particularly felt that “policy drives administration” and recognized that flexible policy was needed to guide effective administration. One group felt that the City was “run as businesses within a larger business”, which meant it was impossible to standardize everything.