Shifting Service Delivery: Post COVID-19
Hi everyone! I am thrilled to be a contributor to the Strategic Steps Inc. blog posts. Even more thrilled to be part of the team at SSI. Those who know me know that I am a big believer in things happen for a reason and that I love to surround myself with those who I can learn a great deal from. This opportunity to work with Ian and Kaitlin was certainly meant to be – thanks Ian for this amazing chance to be a part of what you are building.
For those of you who do not know me. I am a long-time municipal employee. I worked for Strathcona County for 28+ years prior to embarking on a new journey as a consultant. My last position with Strathcona County was as their Director of Corporate Planning. Many years working with Council and our leadership in strategic planning, business planning, corporate performance, and reporting. My niche was perhaps my greatest achievement while there – implementing Priority Based Budgeting. It was a big reason for starting It’s Logical Strategic Planning Services in February of 2019. This led to many chances to work with Ian. He was someone I had already held in great regard. Working in a new capacity with him only enhanced my feelings. Again – thrilled with this new relationship. Expect big things from us!
Now, onto the topic for this blog post. Service Delivery Post COVID-19.
Although I feel there are implications for every order of government I will stick to the one I know best – municipal (local) government. Before I talk big picture I’d like to share my thoughts in some more specific areas, perhaps most meaningful to me.
I love to walk my dog. It’s a great family activity. We get some exercise, as does the dog. We meet other dog owners and converse politely. Most times sharing each others’ dog’s name but not our own. Right – dog owners? Well, what does a dog park look like after COVID-19?
Before we were fully into where we are today I will admit I was a bit disappointed in the speed at which my municipal government closed our local dog park. Other places around us had not done so and it was done with little notice. In hindsight, bravo Strathcona County. I was wrong and glad you were not. That said, going forward, what will continue at dog parks and what will go away? Will we see a limit to how many people are allowed in the park at one time? If so, how will that be monitored? The reason I was disappointed about shutting these facilities down in the first place was that the area is huge and it is outside. Surely we could stay true to any kind of social distancing guidelines in a dog park? Or could we?
Are there more human amenities needed at the dog parks going forward? There is a porta-potty at the one I frequent most. Maybe there will be a few more and maybe there will be many places to wash your hands or at least disinfect them? Will these new operating models apply to other outdoor amenities like parks, sports fields, and trails?
Staying with the outdoor theme I wonder what big events like Canada Day will look like in my community going forward. We do a great job here. It has become a real feather in our cap and sincere congratulations to those involved, including the many volunteers. I am very curious as to how this event changes. I can foresee a more spread out set of attractions and events and perhaps fewer to accommodate for more space being required for that amount of people. Perhaps there might be more attention paid to a localized (neighborhood) celebration in many different areas in the community as opposed to one big, centrally located event? I can again almost guarantee there will be more attention paid to people’s ability to stay clean and wash their hands.
Let’s shift indoors now and the traditional way we have allowed many citizens to access numerous services. A lot of services are still being offered in person and at a centrally located facility. People can come into the central administrative building and pay their utility bills, taxes, apply for a development permit and access the Library. I personally love that this is still an option even though I don’t necessarily choose these options all the time except the Library. I pay my bills online and find it the most convenient for me. However, many in my community, either because of a lack of understanding, difficulty embracing technology, or limited access to that technology still access these services in person.
The ability to pay these bills in person has been impacted greatly by the pandemic. Should this be a wake-up call to seriously consider evolving away from in person payments? Could there be thought given to drive through services where people can come in person but without needing to access the building? Should this option exist in numerous locations in the community as opposed to one or two?
Now, the big picture I was mentioning before. In general, what will municipal governance look like after COVID-19? I strongly believe it can and should be better. I call this time the BIG PAUSE. I see this BIG PAUSE as an enormous opportunity to leverage the time after the initial response to COVID-19 to challenge what was previously normal and shoot for being great after this. If not now, then when would you do this? Is going back to the way things were good enough?
I am a big believer in public transit, and I wonder what this service looks like going forward. I think more people should be seriously considering their personal impact on the environment with vehicle ownership – myself included. But, with the increasing awareness of, and the anxiety around, being on a crowded bus in the future (more so if you are successful in encouraging people to use it) are these realities in direct conflict with each other? What do we do? Are we to transition toward smaller buses and an increased frequency of trips?
As hinted at previously, the way services are delivered at an administrative centre is likely to change. If so, what does this mean for typical municipal capital budgets that were traditionally heavy on adding buildings to accommodate for staff for this very reason – providing services in person or performing their jobs related to service delivery in person and in the office. Do we need to think about reallocating or re-purposing traditional building dollars to some different models of service delivery? These may include a more robust movement to working from home options or perhaps instead of hiring a full time equivalency, two part-time positions are supported and their hours of work are flexible to allow for services outside of the typical 9 – 5. This should mean fewer bodies required to be on site, less money required for what is typically referred to as overhead (desks, chairs, shelves, etc), less parking required and maybe even less attention needed for road infrastructure.
Maybe, just maybe, if we see some of these changes come to fruition, we can move our typical spending away from hard assets and try to maintain our human connectivity in some creative ways. I am very hopeful that, although we are going to be more aware of our physical distancing going forward, we do not lose sight of the fact that we are social creatures. Humans thrive when we are as one and work closely together and in a connected way. It is certainly going to be challenging but we have proven to be able to do some extraordinary things as a species in our past. I feel we have it in ourselves to do it again.