Efficiency: The Side Effect of Effective Citizen Engagement

Increasing efficiency can often be a challenging task and can come at a cost. Whether it be increased monetary costs to implement a new process in your workplace, or increased labour costs to train and bring on new staff, efficiency comes at a price. But imagine if you could implement a digital municipal citizen engagement solution for your community. One that looks to improve your residents’ engagement and overall satisfaction, and also benefit by handling more service requests with shorter turnaround times.

The Necessity of a Digital Solution for Municipal Citizen Engagement

In our increasingly digital world, properly implemented digital options are no longer a luxury. They are a demand. Consumers expect the solution to their problem to be solvable online – often without needing to speak to a person at all. This expectation has existed in private industry for quite some time and has now pivoted to government services as well.

Not providing a digital option has some very negative consequences. The customer will be significantly more dissatisfied or even worse, will choose not to engage at all. What this means for a municipality is that there is a large subset of your population that will avoid interacting with their local government if there is no digital solution provided for them.

Of course, providing this option for your residents will be a primary benefit. In fact, there is evidence showing that having a properly developed citizen engagement tool online can lead to improvements in the municipality for both citizens and leaders. However, there is another added benefit that isn’t as frequently discussed when looking at implementing a citizen engagement solution – the benefit of getting more done without needing to increase resources.

The Cost of Efficiency

Efficiency is something that is constantly strived for, whether it be private companies or government operations at any level. By definition, increasing efficiency allows you to get more done with the same or fewer resources. In a business, this might allow you to deliver your product or service more quickly or decrease the overall cost of creating your product. For a municipality, it might mean decreasing the time it takes to close a resident’s service request ticket.

On this topic, you might reasonably ask if a citizen engagement program might have a downside of decreasing efficiency. You are opening your staff to more communication with citizens and therefore increasing the volume of service requests coming in, and both staff and citizens both have to learn a new system. In other words, better citizen engagement could come at a cost to your department. Now imagine if you could increase the volume of service requests handled by your municipality AND at the same time increase the overall efficiency with which these are addressed. Let us look at how that’s possible.

We recently went through our customers’ usage habits to figure out basic information on how our customers are using AccessE11. Almost by accident, we discovered clear and direct links between engagement of citizens and increased efficiency within the municipality. To understand this better, let’s look at how staff and residents are using AccessE11 to submit service requests.

Some Data

The first piece of data is quite simple – submissions of service requests using AccessE11 over the past five years. Although this is straightforward, it is a very good sign. It shows that the longer a municipality has been a customer of AccessE11, the more frequently they are using it to streamline their service request process.

Growth over year
And this is not just the case for larger municipalities. In general, smaller municipalities might think that there is less need for digital solutions to meet the needs of their communities, but our customers are living proof that it is often the residents of smaller municipalities who crave engagement with their local government. One of our current customers, Hastings Highlands, is a wonderful example of how a well-executed digital solution can positively impact a small municipality.

Growth by population

So, this is all great, albeit somewhat expected data. However, you might be asking “what does this have to do with efficiency?” Well, that’s where a third set of data sheds some light, and this was discovered entirely by accident. Analyzing the usage data and looking at trends, we discovered something amazing. Given the first two charts, it’s easy to see that usage of AccessE11 by staff and citizens is increasing year over year. However, this data doesn’t address efficiency and simply focuses on total usage. But let’s look at this next chart.

Days to complete

This is a chart that takes all service requests raised over the past six years and looks at how long it takes for each service request to resolve and be closed. In aggregate, time to close is VASTLY decreased year over year.

What Does This Mean?

So, what does this mean for your municipality? It means that adopting a strong digital solution for municipal citizen engagement and managing service requests not only increases community contribution and overall satisfaction, but it also increases efficiency internally. Increasing efficiency leads to a direct savings of resources for your departments. Whether that be time, money, or a combination of both, your municipality can see a significant increase in service requests and still decrease the time it takes to manage these requests. Best of all, because AccessE11 is designed specifically for small to medium municipalities, it is created with your specific challenges in mind.

Don’t wait any longer to implement a solution for your municipality. The demand for digital services increases year over year. It is quickly becoming a requirement for every facet of business and life. Signing up for AccessE11 will give your community a strong, adaptable solution to manage service requests, increase your efficiency, and end up saving money rather than costing money.

 

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“Making Life Happen” Toolkit To Attract the Next Generation of Leaders to Local Government

CAMA’s “Making Life Happen” program was created in partnership, with a mandate of raising awareness of local government with a specific focus encouraging younger Canadians to consider a municipal career.

The next time you or your staff are asked to speak to local community groups or businesses, explain local government and the role of the Chief Administrative Officer, or talk to students about municipal government careers, “Making Life Happen” will give you the building blocks for a memorable presentation. Tailor a message from your own municipality using the elements and main messages we have created, including a powerpoint presentation with speaking notes and handouts. We are also pleased to have a bilingual website for this campaign: www.makinglifehappen.ca. Also, on the CAMA website you will find all of the promotional materials that are print ready and are provided to you in separate English and French documents along with instructions.

This initiative was a Canada wide Association effort with six of our Provincial Association partners:

 

  • Ontario Municipal Administrators Association
  • Local Government Administrators of Alberta
  • Association of Municipal Administrators of New Brunswick
  • Alberta Rural Municipal Administrators Association
  • Local Government Managers Association of British Columbia
  • Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario

 

The key messages of “Making Life Happen” were built on qualitative and quantitative research. You can view the executive summary of the Insights West research. The full report here. This report has some interesting insights which you may wish to pass along to your Human Resources Departments when recruiting your own employees.

 

We hope that you and your staff will use these resources to help us promote such a gratifying career to our next generation leaders

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Processing FOI Requests Off the Corner of Your Desk

 

Many public sector entities process FOI requests using generic applications such as Microsoft Excel.  In this article, Vayle guest blogger Else Khoury discusses how workflow automation software can streamline FOI processing and mitigate compliance risks. 

In an election year, municipal staff have a lot on their minds: hiring support teams, organizing polling stations, counting votes, and onboarding new council members; not to mention keeping the regular machinery of municipal programs and operations running – more or less – smoothly. Throw the processing of freedom of information (FOI) requests into the mix, and things can go sideways quickly.

Many municipal entities reported an increase in FOI request volume during an election year, often related to candidates’ positions on hot-button issues (mask mandates, anyone?), but also for answers to the questions that decide votes: meeting attendance and voting records, to name only two. Processing FOI requests can prove especially challenging for smaller municipal entities that lack the resources or expertise that larger municipal entities, which often process hundreds of requests every year, have. The FOI request process can be difficult, even at the best of times and even for the most seasoned municipal staff.

Volumes are increasing

Although the number of FOI requests across Ontario dropped somewhat in the first year of the pandemic, requests in 2021 were back up and approaching pre-pandemic levels. According to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC) of Ontario, over 60,000 requests were filed in 2019, while in 2020, that number dropped to around 44,000. In 2021, more than 55,000 FOI requests were filed across provincial and municipal entities in Ontario. Some have seen a surge in activity, particularly when implementing online FOI request forms and e-payment options.

So many requests, such little time

Initially, upon receiving a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA), municipal entities are bound by the 30-day response period. Once the request has been received and confirmed, the real work begins: finding records. This task can be particularly challenging for municipal entities that lack electronic records management solutions.

The search for e-records, including emails, in and of itself can easily extend the response timeframe outside the established 30-day limit. This is followed by the inevitable review, sorting, copying and redacting of records, at the end of which 30 days rarely feels like enough time. Of course, time extensions are always an option. Still, since requestors can challenge them by going directly to the Office of the IPC, the designated Head must carefully consider the risk of employing this option.

Next comes exemptions. As is the case with all legislation, the devil is in the details. With a laundry list of mandatory and discretionary exemptions to choose from, MFIPPA is rife with options. And because exemption descriptions can be complex and verbose, it is sometimes difficult to know which one to apply and when. When making a disclosure decision, the best option for the Head (or their delegate) is to review IPC orders related to the request in question to see how the IPC has ruled in the past. However, this approach often takes more time than is allowed when you’re in the position of processing FOI off the corner of your desk; and when IPC decisions on a particular issue are numerous (consider that a search on IPC orders related to “dog bites” yields 27 orders!).

Legacy tools are inefficient

For most municipal entities, processing FOI requests is still a manual exercise. Microsoft Excel and other software applications are often used for this purpose: Requests are logged and tracked in spreadsheets or databases, which lack the ability to track timelines and schedule each step of the request. It usually takes a day to send a confirmation to the requestor, a week for the department to send files to you, and about two weeks to collate, redact, etc. Without a means to track these timelines, municipal staff are forced to manually track each part of the process in addition to their core job duties.
All public sector organizations in Ontario that are subject to either FIPPA, MFIPPA or PHIPA must submit annual statistics to the IPC. Reporting requirements account for the number of requests received and processed, how long it took to respond, total privacy breaches, and the number of appeals filed with the IPC. Processing inefficiencies only add to the workload.

The benefits of FOI automation

Some municipal entities utilize purpose-built software to simplify and track FOI processing and annual reporting tasks. There are several benefits to this approach:

  1. Save time when inputting and tracking requests, fee calculations, maintaining records, addressing appeals, and publishing reporting statistics.
  2. Mitigate risks associated with missing response deadlines, improperly calculating fees, and publishing inaccurate reports.
  3. Improve insights through advanced reporting, tracking everything from total requests to year-over-year performance comparisons.

Assess your FOI program

If you are unsure about whether FOI automation will benefit your organization, consider conducting a simple three-step analysis:

  1. Map your workflow using a simple document to identify each step of your FOI processing system. Identify areas which are creating bottlenecks.
  2. Estimate the time required to fulfill each stage of your FOI processing system, starting with intake through to the appeals process.
  3. Overlay the benefits of automation into your current workflow, estimating the time saved by automating each task multiplied by the number of FOIs processed annually.

An FOI automation solution purpose-built for Canadian public sector entities 

If you believe FOI automation could benefit your municipal entity, consider Vayle FOI (formerly Nordat), a software application that streamlines the end-to-end workflow for FOI requests. While Vayle FOI provides many of the benefits mentioned above, some clients have reduced their workload by as much as two weeks through the application’s automated annual reporting feature alone. Vayle is currently offering complimentary assessments to help public sector entities estimate the amount of time and money that can be saved by utilizing their FOI automation solution.

Customers range from small municipal entities to large police services agencies processing over 1,000 FOI requests annually, some of which have been users of the software, and its modernized versions, for over 15 years. Built and hosted in Canada, Vayle FOI was designed specifically with the Canadian public sector in mind.

Guest Blogger: Else Khoury

Else Khoury has worked in the municipal privacy field for almost 20 years, and currently provides training and advisory services in the areas of Records and Information Management and Access and Privacy. She holds a Master’s of Information Studies degree from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies, an Information Access and Privacy Protection (IAPP) certificate from the University of Alberta, as well as the designations of CIP and ERM Master (AIIM International).

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CAMA’s Council Orientation Toolkit

Council changeover happens any time there is an election or by-election.

Municipal elections in Canada fall within the jurisdiction of the various Provinces and Territories. With municipal elections mostly occurring every four years, the probability of change is high. Even if all the same individuals are voted in, each term brings a new Council. With each election, the culture of Council may differ, the politics may vary, and return Councillors may become more confident in their role.

While the agenda may vary across jurisdictions and municipalities, the overarching purpose and importance of an orientation session is to ensure elected officials understand their role in governance and municipal service delivery. By providing each new Council with the information they require to get off to a good start and govern successfully, a CAO can build trust from the get-go, establish a strong Council-CAO working relationship and ensure Council has confidence in the CAO’s abilities.

To access CAMA’s Council Orientation Toolkit click here.

 

Following are just a few of the topics that are included in the toolkit:

  • Swearing-In Ceremony
  • Checklists for Staff for Incoming and Outgoing Elected Officials
  • Ideas for Teambuilding
  • Suggestions on How to Explain the Different Roles of Staff and Council (including the mechanics of governance of a municipality and committee systems)
  • The Decision Making Process
  • How to Chair A Meeting
  • Administrative Reports
  • The Life of a Capital Project
  • Media Relations
  • Tips on Setting Priorities of Your Community
  • Staff Orientation on Working with Council
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Leading succession and employee development with talent optimization at the City of Ottawa

Ottawa, Canada’s capital and fourth largest city, is home to more than 1 million people and houses some of Canada’s most famous tourist attractions. It is the role of the City of Ottawa to “provide day-to-day services that enhance citizen’s quality of life”.

The City of Ottawa as an employer is committed to its employees. This commitment is demonstrated by the recognition of the City of Ottawa as a National Capital Region’s Top Employer 10 times. City Manager, Steve Kanellakos states, “It is the people who work here who make the lives of our residents better, safer and healthier. We strive to meet the needs of our residents through a commitment to a diverse workforce that is reflective of the population we serve.”

See the City of Ottawa Case Study and learn how the introduction of the Predictive Index Behavioural Assessment, from Predictive Success has made a difference in the City of Ottawa

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CAMA’s Members in Transition Toolkit

When a municipal Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) experiences the turmoil and emotions that immediately follows a transition, it is often difficult to think about the resources needed and/or where to find them quickly. 

The Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) has a “Members in Transition Toolkit” to assist members, as well as their companions and families. 

Everyone experiences transition in their own way and throughout the project we learned that often just hearing the experiences of others can be helpful.  It became evident, however, that having the right tools and resources available when needed made the transition easier. 

The goal of the Toolkit is to provide:  peer support and guidance; inspirational quotes and practical tips from those who have experienced transition; and, easy links to professional resources across the country.  The Toolkit is divided into three parts: 

  1. Pre-Transition (Something’s up? I feel it coming!) 
  2. During Transition (It’s happened. Now what?) 
  3. Post Transition (Let the healing begin!) 

The Toolkit also features a checklist for companions, ongoing peer support, ask a peer / contact a mentor, and a feedback section.  

While nothing anyone says can really prepare someone for a career transition, hopefully the Toolkit can guide members in transition along the journey. 

If you would like to become a CAMA member and have access to this great resource please click here. 

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CAMA’s CAO Performance Evaluation Toolkit

The Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) offers a three-step CAO Performance Evaluation Toolkit that will benefit municipalities across the country.

This toolkit will enhance the CAO/Council relationship and help local elected officials achieve their strategic goals and objectives. It is available for free to member and non-member municipalities.

An effective working partnership between Council and its CAO can be one of the most critical prerequisites for municipal success.

Local elected officials rely on their CAO to be the link between them and municipal operations; to implement the municipality’s policies and programs; and, to help them achieve their strategic goals and objectives.

CAMA’s Toolkit is designed to be a system that is flexible for the CAO, Mayor and Council. It’s a tool that lets you construct an evaluation process based on what works for you and your organization. It offers a variety of ways to choose goals, set competencies, conduct your self-assessment, and have ongoing performance evaluation conversations. For CAOs, the toolkit provides a process that uses strategies and templates that can be shared with the Mayor and Council to ensure goals, key results, core competencies, and performance measures are mutually understood. For Mayor and Council, the Toolkit underscores the value of CAO performance conversations, and offers a process for conducting the performance evaluations fairly.

 

To access the Performance Evaluation Toolkit, click here. Our toolkit has a lot of gears and options that might, at first glance, make it appear to be dauntingly complicated. It’s not! It’s really a simple tool. CAMA is pleased to provide you with a webinar (approximately 20 minutes in length) that is designed to show you just how easy it is to use and how it can be customized and scaled to your municipality. The Frequently Asked Questions by Chief Administrative Officers document and the Frequently Asked Questions by Elected Officials document will also help navigate you through the toolkit.

 

Visit the CAMA website for all templates and information on this toolkit.

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CAMA’s CAO Employment Contract Toolkit

 

Recognizing the importance of an employment contract for municipal administrators, the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) developed a CAO Employment Contract Toolkit which is available to members.

This toolkit is meant to be a resource to support our members whether they are existing CAOs (or senior administrators) with past experience in the role or potential future CAOs with no experience as a CAO when negotiating their contract with elected officials. The toolkit provides guidance and support to our members along with recommendations and best practices that are a win-win for both parties.

The Toolkit offers information on how to assess the political environment and culture of the community, how to negotiate an employment contract, important provisions to include, the different legislation requirements between Provinces and Territories, pension/portability and benefits, the importance of having a performance evaluation, legal advice – just to name a few. It also provides some sample contracts, a sample CAO Bylaw with a job description and sample contract clauses for each topic.

If you would like to become a CAMA member and have access to this great resource please click here.

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CAMA’s Toolkit For Effective Chief Administrative Officers: The Right Questions to Ask

Recognizing the importance of building a team within any organization, CAMA developed a “Toolkit for Effective Chief Administrative Officers: The Right Questions to Ask”.

This toolkit is meant to be a resource to support our members whether they are just starting their job as a CAO (or senior administrator) or have been in the role for some time in a new community or one they’ve been in for many years. It will assist all of our members with building a team with their staff and Council. No one is born a local government administrator. Each of us comes to this role by way of a path of some kind. Being an effective CAO is not about knowing everything; it is about asking the right questions and challenging appropriately. This resource is a guide to support CAOs in their work. One of the most powerful management tools that you can have at your disposal is very basic…the question.

 

The Toolkit will provide the following tools:

· Sample Questions for Council. It is important to build and maintain a strong relationship with your Council and asking them questions will help to learn more about them as individuals and as a team.

· Sample Questions for each Division and Department. A template has been provided of sample personal, operational and specific questions that a CAO can ask their various Department Heads, Commissioners, Chiefs, and Managers about their operations whether you are just starting your job or have been in it for some time.

· A Resource for your Executive Team. In addition to being invaluable for CAOs, this resource is also a very useful tool for the Executive Team in understanding the kind of questions their CAO are likely to ask to learn more about the operations. Change is also difficult for the senior management team and it too creates a lot of anxiety. Therefore, a section has been included about how to deal with a change in leadership and the direction of an organization.

CAMA hopes that this toolkit will become a valuable resource to support senior administrators in their careers.

If you would like to become a CAMA member and have access to this great resource, please click here.

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Accessing Municipal Compensation Information Just Got Easier

INTRODUCING THE MUNICIPAL COMPENSATION DATABASE

Every municipality needs to undertake periodic compensation reviews to keep their compensation current and attract talent.

Municipalities generate vast amounts of compensation data that other municipalities need, but there is no easy way to access or share it.

Engaging third-parties to conduct a review is expensive and the day the report is presented, the data is already outdated.

Conducting your own compensation reviews is not efficient and results in a duplication of work.  How many times last year, were you asked your salary and benefits information, by comparator municipalities conducting their own compensation reviews?

The Ontario Municipal Administrators Association (OMAA) and muniSERV have once again partnered to bring a new tool to Ontario municipalities to address these issues.  Along with support from the Ontario Municipal Human Resources Association (OMHRA), the Municipal Compensation Database (MCD) was developed under the guidance of a joint CAO/HR Advisory Committee.

The MCD is a cloud-based platform to collect and aggregate current municipal compensation and human resources information.  It revolutionizes the ease at which municipalities share and access compensation and human resources data, when and how they need it.

Benefits for Municipalities:

  • Single source access to improved municipal salaries & benefits data and HR information
  • Comprehensive, Convenient, Collaborative and Confidential
  • Easy access 24/7 right from your desktop or device, from any location
  • Access to real-time, statistically valid information
  • Includes Council Compensation, Job Descriptions and Organizational Charts
  • Enhances efficiency – eliminates duplication
  • Guarantees measurable cost savings
  • Real-time reports created in a matter of minutes

The Province of Ontario encourages municipalities to work together and share services and the MCD fits the bill.

Learn more and participate in the Municipal Compensation Database, or to request a demo, email [email protected] or call 705 538 0176 or 905 459 9200.

By: Susan Shannon, CEO, muniSERV.ca

 

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