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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Nana Kusi Appiah
March 31, 2015
Having practiced as a city planner over 10 years in three governmental agencies, I thought implementing change would be easy in jurisdictions perceived to have well-qualified personnel, resources and the backing of elected officials. Personnel, political support and citizen actions may be unique from one jurisdiction to the other. However, the issues creating the need for improvement and the complexity of making and implementing change efforts are identical in most of the jurisdictions where I’ve practiced.
This complexity of improving operations of government through conscious change efforts usually calls for a participatory style of management and decision-making that includes stakeholders—citizens, elected or appointed officials, the land development industry and employees within the organization. Undermining active involvement of any of these groups can potentially derail the change efforts or implementation. This multifaceted technique of engagement ubiquitously requires the participation of various interest groups and makes change efforts in government agencies more complex.
Complexity of Change
The participatory tactic of management for leading such change efforts requires a leadership approach capable of employing pluralistic techniques that engage various stakeholders. It also requires a dynamic style of leadership capable of accommodating multiple stakeholder involvement. This is essential because of the multifaceted agendas involved and tactics used by the interest groups.
Citizen Participation in Change Efforts
To produce effective change in a government agency, all stakeholders must be actively involved. This is critical because financial resources to pursue change are likely to come from the outside stakeholders or must be authorized or mandated by stakeholders such as the city council or board of county commissioners. In addition, the populace in many jurisdictions has enormous influence on the directions of the elected officials who may be authorizing the decisions and resources for change.
More Citizen Participation in Public Agency Change Efforts
According to Sherry Arnestien, public participation in an agency’s change effort is embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Advocates of citizen participation claim that social acceptance of public policy correlates with the perception of fairness and public involvement in the decision-making process. A solution for issues concerning the public that is devoid of citizen participation is unlikely to be effective. In addition to the benefits of involving the public in agency decision-making, such inclusion promotes the democratic orientation of a community and helps improve public trust for the agency.
Personnel Participation in Change Efforts
Internal personnel have to also concur with the change efforts because implementation may be dependent on daily operations and the interactions of such personnel. Involving personnel also reduces sabotage, which can torpedo change efforts. Including personnel creates a sense of ownership of the change effort and reduces personnel underperformance.
More Personnel Involvement in Public Agency Change Efforts
Early theorists of management of administration advocated for the scientific style of management. Over the years, this ideology influenced management style in many organizations, including government agencies. For example, Frederick Taylor advocated for scientific systems, such as “time motion” studies, for the design of procedure for work tasks. Conversely, scholars such as Abraham Maslow and Douglas McGregor debunked the extreme focus on the science of management. Maslow and McGregor advocated that human needs and self-motivation are the essential techniques for optimum worker production.
Over the years, organization change experts have recognized that an amalgamation of the concepts promoted by Taylor, Maslow and McGregor are needed for effective governmental organizations. Thus, to foster a serene environment for implementing significant change, personnel involvement is critical in creating the environment that can lead to successful efforts. This involvement sometimes takes the form of direct participation in formulating goals and making decisions with managers consulting with subordinates and paying attention to their opinions. Such a participatory style creates a friendly environment, which aids teamwork and fosters ownership by personnel.
Warner Burke in his book Organization Change: Theory and Practice, believes resistance to change efforts by personnel within organizations is greatly influenced by anxiety emanating from the fear of the unknown. Overlooking such resistance can derail change efforts, leading to sabotaging of the change process by personnel who are normally responsible for implementing the change. Therefore, actively involving personnel can lead to their commitment to the change efforts, which can pre-empt ill ideas conceived by them.
In my overall experience, change efforts in government agencies are more complex than we think. The involvement of multiple stakeholders, leading to multiple interests, convolutes the process. Although government organizations may be perceived as stable entities, change within such agencies is inevitable.
To effectively roll out and implement the inevitable change, it is important to involve both external (mostly politicians, the public and special interest groups) and internal stakeholders (mostly staff personnel). Such involvement can curtail the forestalling or sabotaging of the change efforts by those groups. In addition, including the various interest groups can help them take actions that positively fulfill implementation of the change efforts and also increase their trust in government.
Author: Nana Kusi Appiah is the planning and development manager for Adams County, Colorado. Nana is a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. Nana holds a doctorate in public affairs from the University of Texas at Dallas and a master’s degree in community and regional planning from Iowa State University. Email: [email protected].