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We’re in This Together – Developing Cross Departmental Community Goals

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Tim Dodd
August 8, 2017

As a bureaucracy, local governments tend to be segmented and consist of several silos, or “cylinders of excellence.” This is common in governments at all levels across the United States and occurs for several different goals peoplereasons. Chief among them is that individuals who go down a particular career path, such as teaching, or public safety, or public health, view things from the perspective ingrained in them from their education and years of service in a particular discipline. Also, the structure of most governments does not focus on cross-departmental collaboration, save for standard department head meetings on a weekly or monthly basis. While the development of this structure is understandable, it does not allow for governments to focus on issues that cut across jurisdictions.

The issues facing a municipality are not the challenges of a particular department, but rather are the issues faced by an entire community. Juvenile crime is not only a police issue but also an issue which involves schools, human services and health departments. Homelessness is not just a human services issue but also one that involves police, fire and several other departments. While different departments have different perspectives based on their training and professional background, working together they can identify common challenges and work to achieve common goals.

To begin the process of working together to achieve goals, a municipality first needs to set common goals. This should be a process initiated by the Mayor’s Office in a strong-mayor form of government and a City Council in a Council-Manager form of government, but the process should also engage groups and individuals across the organization and from the community as well. While there is not a “magic number” for community goals, the goals should be manageable and focused.

Once goals are established, teams should be developed for each goal across the organization. Teams should include all of the relevant stakeholders, who together should set goals, identify activities and develop routine metrics to determine whether they are making progress and “moving the needle.” Typically, meeting once a month works well for goal teams, although small groups of the team will likely meet on a more routine basis.

This challenge should also be considered when developing a performance management program, specifically the CitiStat approach. Many cities that use this leadership tool focus on service delivery in specific areas, such as how quickly a 9-1-1 call is responded to and processing times for a permitting counter. However, this approach can also be developed for community goals, such as HomelessStat, and provide a platform for teams to work together to report on results.

Author: Tim Dodd is the Chief Performance Officer for the City of Santa Monica, CA, previously serving as the Performance Manager for the City of Baltimore and Director of Performance Management for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. [email protected]

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