THE BIG PICTURE (THE DELIVERY PROGRAM)
Local government organisations are COMPLEX! Councillors and staff - let alone the general community - often struggle to see the big picture:
what does council do, and what does that cost?
what are we actually trying to achieve, and how do we know if we're doing it well?
what state is our infrastructure in, and what do we need to do to address the issues?
A council's DELIVERY PROGRAM should answer these questions.
But more often than not, the big picture is not at all clear because of:
a lack of integration (the worst - and most common - example being that 'activities' are in one document and 'budgets' in another... but the lack of integration is just as problematic when it comes to links with, and between, long term asset and financial plans in the Resourcing Strategy)
the use of 'themes' (social, cultural, economic, environment, civic) to describe what council does, instead of its functions (as per the L.G. Act*)
excessive detail (often running into hundreds of pages!) which means it's virtually impossible to see the forest for the trees.
A council's Delivery Program should TELL A STORY - with services or FUNCTIONS as the 'common thread' - about:
where we are now (current challenges and opportunities)
where we want to be (strategic objectives, or 'outcomes')
how we're going to get there (strategies to achieve those objectives, or 'outputs' to realise 'outcomes')
how we'll know we're on track (performance indicators, measures and targets).
Over the last 7 years, we've worked with over a dozen councils in regional areas to refine a FRAMEWORK for telling this story.
These councils are serving communities from under 5,000 to over 70,000, some have declining populations while others are experiencing rapid growth, some have relatively simple asset portfolios while others are quite complex. The different challenges and opportunities facing these local communities, and the way each council is responding, is fascinating, each has their own story to tell! ...but our framework that's intended to help all of them tell their story clearly is the same:
Perhaps the most notable feature is that FUNCTIONS (not themes) are the basic building block. This overcomes the barrier to integrating 'activities' and 'budgets' because virtually all councils have functional / program-based budget structure. *It also aligns with 2016 amendments to the NSW Local Government Act (section 404, relating to the Delivery Program).
A clear, simple narrative about 'where we are' and 'where we want to be' is vital (but often missing) from the Delivery Program. There is also, often, a lack of robust performance measures including specific baselines (where we are now) and targets (where we want to be).
In terms of integrating with other documents under the Integrated Planning and Reporting (IP&R) Framework, there is clearly strong alignment between a Delivery Program in this format and the Resourcing Strategy:
Perhaps the most interesting insight we had while developing this framework was the need for a MATRIX RELATIONSHIP between a Delivery Program in this 'function-based' format and the 'themes-based' format in most Community Strategic Plans:
This overcomes a major shortcoming of many Delivery Programs, which 'pigeonhole' functions into a theme (e.g. water supply into 'our environment', transport into 'our community') and in so doing fail to acknowledge the other perspectives on these issues. The reality is that ALL functions have some degree of influence over ALL quadruple bottom line outcomes.
It also introduces an opportunity to better distinguish OUTPUTS of the council's activities in the Delivery Program and the OUTCOMES identified as being needed (or aspirational) in the Community Strategic Plan. This is essential not only so that councils are clear about what they are trying to achieve (and whether performance is adequate) but also so they can meaningfully engage with their local community about the 'level of service' they want and are willing to pay for.
But it is equally important to recognise that the Community Strategic Plan is not the only source for the 'outcomes': issues such as corporate risk management (including but not limited to legislative compliance), affordability and sustainability may or may not be covered, but they are part of the council's operating environment and so necessarily inform its priorities.