Government Department Network

Government Department Network

Villages, towns, and cities have a range of management groups – departments, councils, boards, committees, task forces, commissions – and depending on the issue, individuals may be called together to have a discussion in what is sometimes called a work-group.

This is a normal form of governance, but the problem with this practice is that there is often no mechanism in place to guide officials on when to initiate a work-group, who its participants should be, and what process it should follow in addressing an issue. The result is that significant issues may be overlooked while less important ones take up time and resources, and that actions may be decide upon, not by assessing critical factors, but by bowing to the loudest voice in the room.

One type of issue-management often relied on in fields like business, insurance, and medicine is called risk management (sometimes referred to as Risk Reduction) – that is, decisions based on a structured process of assessing gains and losses. The basic idea is simple: Select an issue that needs resolving, make a list of the significant aspects of that issue, called factors, then prioritize those according to the importance of each. Next, consider proposals to address significant factors in a way that offers the best outcome.

For example, in considering the safety of children crossing a busy intersection, a prioritized list of factors might look like this:

  1. Length of the pedestrian crosswalk
  2. Vehicle speeds
  3. Visibility drivers have of pedestrians
  4. Visibility pedestrians have of vehicles
  5. Number of vehicles per hour

In some situations, 1 and 2 may be considered the most significant factors, and ways of reducing risk for these would be the most important task; for other intersections the list might be prioritized differently. The goal is to choose an approach that offers the greatest gain for the least acceptable loss (cost is also considered).

The Government Department Network (GDN) utilizes a process that is similar to risk management requiring a work-group formed of representatives from various government agencies.

It doesn’t really matter what you call the process, the critical emphasis is on creating an inclusive work environment, one that clearly defines the steps a review must take. GDN is really just another way of saying work-group – but with a requirement to spell out in policy how the work is done.

The key components are:

  • Create an ongoing list of critical issues. This list can also be prioritized according to importance.
  • Select an issue to resolve and create a multi-department work-group. Its makeup can vary with different issues.
  • Create a narrative: Clearly state the primary concern. Making this statement clear at the start can help avoid problems later).
  • List the component parts – the factors – that can affect outcomes of this issue.
  • Prioritize the list of factors in terms of how critical they are to the primary concern. Testimony, evidence and facts are considered here.
  • Propose actions to take that will improve outcomes.
  • Note any negatives or downsides to proposed actions.
  • Select the actions that offer the greatest gains with any acceptable loss. Included financial costs.
  • Document the results.

The GDN process is not an automatic “plug-in-the-numbers-and-out-pops-the-answer” program, but it does offer several significant benefits, namely a clear path that emphasizes collaboration and a reasoned approach to problem-solving. It is a clearly definable process that can increase government accountability and transparency.

This process provides:

  • A standardized assessment method to document and track issues and administrative decisions.
  • An effective way for one municipal department to offer feedback and suggestions to other departments.
  • A way to assess and document problems and complaints that are reported to the local government by citizens, one that can be clearly explained.
  • A level of communication that is inclusive and helps ensure that important issues don’t “fall between the cracks.”
  • A defined structure that puts everyone on the same page and focuses attention on critical points, not personalities.
  • An assurance that all necessary information is presented – a checklist approach to issue management.
  • An assurance that documentation will be include follow-up for reference and comparison of different issues, and be available to the public.

A standardized assessment procedure means that everyone will have a clear process to follow and complete information to rely on in explaining decisions.

Next Section: Collaboration