Any busy city official will tell you, there’s nothing worse than a crowded inbox or non-stop notifications with no clear path for how to dig yourself out. A missed deadline or overlooked application step could mean non-compliance, an incomplete inspection, or unwanted delays to community development.
Leadership expert and frequent TEDTalk presenter, Simon Sinek, has a lot to say about the idea of modern tribalism: forming a social network based on certain feelings such as trust, respect, and understanding. The modern tribe today, he contends, is most often a person’s place of work, where a shared set of values provides a “sense of purpose and cause.”
This past week, we saw a modern tribe in action as local government leaders from around the country gathered in Reno, NV for the Alliance for Innovation’s 25th Annual Transforming Local Government Conference (#TLG2019).
Among the many themes from TLG, the importance of peer support and learning, finding avenues for concrete action, and building an inclusive community stand out. Here are the key highlights.
TLG Attendees Support One Another—Across Different Cities and Sates
The warm, friendly atmosphere among local government attendees was immediately apparent at TLG. There were flurries of handshakes and hugs, inquiries about smart projects, legislation changes, and challenges—crossing the divide of different cities and departments.
One attendee described the feeling of relief this conference instills, being surrounded by a group of people who “just get it.” She spelled out the contrast between discussing day-to-day challenges with TLG’ers versus a close friend, or even a spouse. With TLG, she finds instant understanding, shared endeavors, and connections to return to for support when enacting change. Most of all, unlike general lamenting, the Alliance actually provides solutions to help communities address, implement, and improve the status quo.
The Future of Innovation Relies on Peer Learning
Joel Carnes, President and CEO of the Alliance for Innovation, encouraged attendees to utilize TLG as a connecting point for this tribe of innovators—a place where leaders are supported in their quest to achieve efficient government operations and elevate communities across the country. The Alliance’s forthcoming Innovation Leagues is a specific part of this vision, mapped out as a network of regional bodies comprised of city leaders, universities, technology companies, and other stakeholders who all have the shared goal of helping their region reach its full potential.
The Alliance facilitates peer-learning between members who want to address a certain issue and members who have already excelled in that area. To showcase how this works, The Alliance pre-selected teams from cities to present to their peers at TLG on how they achieved certain successes. Bloomington, MN, for example, shared how to work outside of the traditional org chart to strengthen workplace cohesion. Attendees raved about the presentation, filling the conference app with photos and highlights.
Private Sector Partners Should Want to Help You, Not Just Sell You
Back in 2016, the Alliance created their Corporate Partner program with the express intent of connecting local governments directly with the latest private sector technology and innovation companies committed to push meaningful member initiatives forward. At TLG, Corporate Partners contributed to the knowledge base with Learning Labs—hour-long sessions focused on municipal education and processes improvement.
We teamed up with NIC to share three innovations to eliminate pain points in technology procurement, helping navigate a necessary process many Alliance members find particularly frustrating. In addition to new procurement strategies, the session focused on shifting away from the traditional vendor/customer dynamic that is a one-time transaction. Instead, local government leaders should seek out value-based partnerships with modern companies dedicated to relationship building. This creates a feedback loop to continuously improve government services.
The TLG Conversation Continues Year-Round
Rounding out these pre-slated Learning Lab and peer support sessions, the Alliance also offered an additional “unConference” track where attendees got to brainstorm common areas they were keen to discuss and vote on their favorites. The top ten became dedicated breakout sessions throughout the conference. Topics spanned artificial intelligence & customer service, data dashboards & how to utilize them, infrastructure for aging populations, and project prioritization through the lens of equity.
After the conference, The Atlas, an online government marketplace and this year’s TLG Technology Partner, will enable these conversations to continue remotely— helping government leaders find best-fit technology solutions to help their communities thrive.
For the “doers” in local government, The Alliance for Innovation’s Annual TLG Conference provides a safe space to build an extension of their modern tribe. Leaders connect with other leaders from cities across the country and the knowledge transfer that occurs between sessions, learning labs, and conference networking provides a strong foundation for innovation between public and private sector partners. If #TLG2019 was any indication of the progress that can happen in just two days, we can’t wait to see how the TLG Tribe evolves throughout 2019 and into next year’s conference in Phoenix, AZ.
With rigid budgets and procurement processes, local governments sometimes have to wait years to upgrade their technology. Luckily, with a world of developers and creative ideas, there’s a whole market of free software tools at our fingertips. From designing more engaging social media posts to better intra-office communication, these easy-to-use tools can be integrated into your regular workflow without spending a dime. To help you do this, we’ve rounded up a list of 10 free tools your local government can use to start working more productively and creatively right now.
This article was authored by John Covey and originally published in the Alliance for Innovation’s Solutions Journal.
About John Covey Having worked in the technology field for the last 36 years, John currently serves as the Chief Information Officer in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. As a civic technologist, he supports ViewPoint in continuously improving ViewPoint Cloud, bringing modern permitting services to more forward-thinking local governments like the Town of Shrewsbury.
Volunteers who work full-time jobs often use their weekends and evenings to participate in community service. Now, some employers are providing employees with paid volunteer time off for mentoring at their local after school program or working at a nearby soup kitchen.
This growing movement to provide paid volunteering time off (PVTO), empowers more employees to engage in service, while acknowledging the ones already doing so. Though the private sector has garnered most of the attention around PVTO, many local governments across the country are starting to develop their own programs.
As any modern software sales team will tell you, the process of buying and implementing new software solutions has changed drastically over the last two decades; the roles have almost completely reversed. In an oversaturated market, buyers hold all the chips, and it’s up to vendors to take a more creative, consultative approach by helping their prospects find the best solution for their needs—even when that solution isn’t the one they’re offering.
Given this environment, the biggest obstacles to purchasing and implementing new software oftentimes arise internally—difficulties aligning expectations, needs, and processes between different departmental stakeholders. Although company websites explain software features, functionality, and benefits, it can still be difficult to identify which one is the best fit for your departments and community members. All of these stakeholders have their own considerations, as well as existing processes, which have many times been in places for years or decades.
As a key decision-maker in this process, you are likely tasked with bringing together these voices and finding the solution that encompasses the most needs. No pressure, right? We want to help. Drawing on over two decades of experience helping local governments, our sales, customer support and success, and implementation teams put together the most common concerns communities face when considering, purchasing, and implementing new software. Use these examples and strategies to guide you through the process, and if you’re experiencing something different, reach out to our team with your questions. We’re here to help!
Problem 1: “I’m having trouble getting buy-in from all the departments.”
What’s really the problem here? There are many stakeholders involved in the process of identifying and selecting new software. There’s also uncertainty about how day-to-day operations will change, potentially causing stress and resistance when trying to get all parties on board. Without having concrete examples in front of them, staff members may find it difficult to justify taking the time to learn how a new system could improve their processes, and in turn, create a better citizen experience.
How to solve it. Identify all stakeholders, from the Mayor to the City Clerk, and get them involved in the decision-making process. What are their concerns? What potentially excites them about the change? One way to bring together these voices is to put together a short 5-10 question survey, and have everyone complete it on their own time. That way, you can address concerns up front, and get an at-a-glance picture of available resources and motivations. Bringing stakeholders to the decision-making table will make them more invested in the success of a new project.
As for providing solid, empirical evidence on how process improvements might look and feel, make a day of it. One ViewPoint community set aside an entire day to weigh the pros and cons of all potential software vendors in succession. Their staff was able to make a difficult and abstract decision more manageable by having a centralized discussion, rather than trying to round up disjointed impressions gathered over several days or weeks.
On a similar note, don’t discount a vendor’s flexibility in scheduling time for a presentation. If their sales team can’t make time to help you find the best solution, it’s probably a good indication of what their customer service would be like post-sale.
Problem 2: “My community is already having trouble managing all of our requests, and this new system will only increase the amount of requests coming in.”
What’s really the problem here? This is a common concern among staff members when beginning the conversation about new software. While it’s true that once fully adopted, departments typically see an increase in requests, any software system worth your city’s investment will make processing these requests much easier. By centralizing information and removing the need to bounce physical documents between different departments, both the number of steps and time required to process requests are drastically reduced.
How to solve it. Bring up the issue with your sales representative. Given that this is such a frequent roadblock for those involved in the decision-making process, your rep will be more than happy to a) demonstrate how your workflow will improve within the software and b) provide real-life examples of other communities who were experiencing the same doubts, and were pleasantly surprised once they started analyzing results. Taking this evidence back to departments members who are doubting the process will help them realize their ability to improve operations. In comparison to the government software technology available 10 years ago, modern, cloud-based solutions offer the ability to facilitate greater efficiency at a lower cost, while achieving a higher level of citizen satisfaction—a win-win-win opportunity for forward-thinking municipalities.
Problem 3: “My department and I aren’t very tech savvy. We don’t want to lose control of our existing system by transitioning to a software solution.”
What’s really the problem here? Everybody, to some extent, fears change. People like what they know, and get comfortable with the way they operate. Any disruption to that can be perceived as threatening. A prime example is government reluctance to move from paper-based workflows to cloud computing solutions. Again, it’s important to remember that “not being tech savvy” and not wanting to “lose their existing systems” are distractions from the real problem—fear of change. Some staff members might resist new software because they don’t believe it will be able to replicate their current workflow—“the right way to do it” or “the way we’ve always done it”—in a digital format.
How to solve it. This is another concern that your sales rep should be well-prepared to handle. Have them demonstrate the flexibility and personalization of the software, and if possible, set up a pilot environment so staff members can play around with the interface. The ability to customize workflows will vary between different platforms, from very rigid to highly customizable—consider what makes most sense for your needs.
If breaking away from traditional processes is a major concern for you and your team, opting for a more malleable platform will be the best way for you to move forward with a given vendor. Using such a product allows your team to build their departments’ unique steps into the overall workflow, and alleviate any fears that moving to a software solution will severely disrupt their day-to-day work. Remember to keep team members informed of new changes as you move through the process. Change can be hard, but time, pilot environments, and the opportunity to discuss concerns will make the transition easier.
Problem 4: “Each department has it’s own process and no one is willing to change it.”
What’s really the problem here? It’s true. Each department does have it’s own processes, which can seem irreplaceable, having been honed for months or years. Whether these processes are the fastest, most efficient, and reliable way of getting things done is another topic entirely, and it’s the one that needs to be addressed when approaching this problem. However, department members may have been using the same systems for years, so relinquishing them can cause significant anxiety and frustration.
How to solve it. This is one of the most common frustrations for municipal departments implementing any new software, but solving the problem is actually quite easy. ViewPoint’s Client Success Manager, Valeria Amato, suggests scheduling a time for relevant departments (or department heads) to meet for a few hours as you lead the group in creating a process map.
First, ask each team member to write down every step of their portion of the workflow up until they hand it off to the next person.
Then write each individual step down on a separate post-it note and arrange them in order.
Finally, take each department’s bundle of post it notes and lay them out on a wall or a whiteboard from left to right (left being the beginning of the process, e.g. an applicant submitting a permit request and right being the end of the process, e.g. an applicant receiving their permit).
This gives all departments an opportunity to see an overview of internal processes, as well as identify inefficiencies, gaps, or redundancies. After this activity is completed, you can work together to create a process that makes more sense for everyone involved, and automate these new workflows in the software. Involving the entire team in this process is an integral piece to any successful software implementation.
Problem 5: “How will I show my team that the software is working and improving our processes?”
What’s really the problem here? Team members may have different metrics for evaluating the performance of new software. Keep in mind that some people may never be perfectly happy, but having measurable goals will help you and the rest of the team feel more confident in the value of the software.
How to solve it. Most modern software has reporting functionality. ViewPoint Cloud, for example, has robust analytics that allow customers to pull reports based on any field in their database. Pre-built reports will tell a high-level story of how many applications have been processed in a given time period, among other helpful metrics.
Even with these tools at your disposal, you still need to put in advance work to make sure you’re getting personalized value. Spend some time identifying how things have been done—how quickly, how many, and how often—so that you have a starting baseline. Then identify the most important metrics of success for each department (as well as the team as a whole). This pre-work doesn’t need to take long, but it will pay off when you start seeing the value of the software in numbers that are highly applicable to your team’s goals.
Problem 6: “We’ve spent all of this time setting up our solutions, and now we’re worried that our constituents aren’t going to use it.”
What’s really the problem here? When introducing new public-facing software to your community, citizen adaptation can be one of the biggest factors in a successful launch. Part of the issue here is that those who will be interfacing with your digital initiatives will have a wide range of potential uses. Contractors, for instance, come in many different forms; some are more tech savvy than others, and some have more capacity to learn how to use a new interface. As the team implementing new software, it’s your job to ensure constituents are on the same page. They are your customers, and as such, they deserve a user-friendly process.
How to solve it. The first step to getting constituents to use a new program is to ensure that you have a user-friendly, intuitive product. As the standards in the private sector increase, citizens expect better customer service from their governments. In order to keep up, forward-thinking municipalities are prioritizing customer-centric technology that’s easy to use internally and for the public.
With permitting software, for example, contractors are going to be the main user group. Most building department officials could easily identify “frequent flyers”—those contractors who are constantly in and out of City Hall. Why not hold a small focus group or send out a survey to understand their greatest pain points? Once you’ve set everything up, invite those contractors to come in and test-drive the software. To address ongoing concerns from new or less frequent users, consider offering a kiosk service, where someone in City Hall can speak with applicants, help them learn the new system and answer questions. Most importantly, forward-thinking municipalities remain in the mindset of continuously improving in order to provide high-quality citizen service.
As you can see, there are many important questions to consider when picking and implementing a new software solution. It’s important to remember that good communication and interdepartmental transparency are key in resolving each. You’ll be off to a great start by making sure you’ve outlined everyone’s visions and concerns, shared this information with your sales representative, and made sure to keep everyone involved at each step of the process. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to take on too much by yourself—government administration is a team sport after all, and the more you play together, the easier it becomes to do what you do best: providing your citizens with a level of government service that makes you proud.
We all do things we know are not good for us. Whether it’s taking a second helping of dessert or staying up an hour later to watch a favorite TV show.
Yet, there are few things as pervasive in modern life as our addiction to email. A 2015 Adobe survey of 400 office workers in the U.S. found the average respondent reported using email more than 6 hours a day, checking email from the bed, car, and even the bathroom.
That may sound shocking, until you think about how that could easily be you, or several of the people you work with.
Over the past five years, local, state, and federal governments across the country have adopted cloud-based productivity suites. Local governments in 42 states have already started using Google Apps for Government. For those who haven’t made the switch to cloud, it’s no longer a matter of if, it’s a matter of when.
When you hear “government workplaces” what comes to mind? Probably not something terribly exciting.
When you hear “Google workplace,” you may imagine a young engineer riding a scooter past a ping pong table, returning to her ergonomically-designed standup desk to eat free snacks. Or something like that.
We all know the Silicon Valley stereotypes of tech companies who have bucked workplace norms. Some ideas are absurd, some seemingly obvious, and some genius. But to their credit, the intent is always to enhance human productivity and creativity. And there are lessons here for any office looking to innovate, including government workplaces.