Why councils conduct service reviews ‘in-house’

SmartGov’s research identified that many Australian councils have been undertaking their service reviews in-house, utilising council staff and teams. Apart from avoiding the direct cost implications associated with the use of consultants, there are significant cultural advantages in conducting reviews internally.

By undertaking the review process themselves, councils have a greater sense of ownership and control by staff; not only in the process itself, but in the outcomes that are derived. This is seen as critical to the successful implementation of the review outcomes.

Involving staff from all levels in the organisation increases the effectiveness of reviews, and facilitates acceptance of the outcomes. It enables staff to step out of their normal environment and work alongside staff from other departments in work groups, helping them to understand the organisation in a more holistic way. This also opens up opportunities for staff to develop professionally, and gain team building and leadership skills.

Service reviews can be resource intensive in terms of both staff time and budget as the review involves not just consulting and generating ideas but also analysis, making recommendations and preparing reports. Given the extended timeframes of some reviews, resources have to be allocated over both the short and longer term for the review to be effective.

Whilst there are benefits in councils resourcing the reviews in-house, there are also some dis-benefits such as:

  •  Personality differences of some staff may lead to a biased perspective
  • Vested interests may lead to a lack of objectivity and independence
  • Staff may be diverted from their usual duties resulting in not enough attention being given to council’s normal business
  • Lack of expertise in some key areas depending on the skills set of staff or the overburdening of those staff with those skills

Where this is critical, a council may decide to engage an external consultant to provide guidance and support as appropriate. This has the advantage of independence and use of specialist knowledge and experience. Examples of activities that councils have utilised consultants for include:

  • Team facilitation
  • Training in proprietary business improvement tools such as Lean Six Sigma
  • Cross functional mapping
  • Development of service unit costs.

The SmartGov Team