Engaging with stakeholders when reviewing services

This article looks at various options for engaging with stakeholders affected by the service review process and/or its outcomes. Stakeholders should be involved throughout the review to provide information, analyse data, make decisions and evaluate success.

Key stakeholder groups can include:

  • Councillors
  • Management
  • Workforce
  • Community (residents, business and facility users)
  • Current service providers, and
  • Other councils or levels of government.

The form of engagement depends on the information required. Planning for service reviews should detail when and how the various stakeholders will participate during the review and what information will be shared.

Workforce engagement

Effective engagement with the workforce is critical for the success of a service review program. Gaining support and trust ensures constructive participation throughout the process.

The methods that councils use to facilitate staff engagement usually depend on the size of the council and the number of staff involved with each particular service. For a large organisation-wide review, a workforce engagement team may be established to assist with the internal communication and consultation throughout the program. The members should have excellent communication and facilitation skills, and be highly regarded by their peers.

Workforce engagement covers a range of information sharing and consultation activities such as:

  • Staff forums and presentations
  • Workshops
  • Newsletter articles
  • Feedback and suggestion boxes
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Breakfast meetings
  • Lunchtime briefings
  • Internal surveys
  • Individual interviews

At the commencement of the service review program, it is recommended that the CEO or a delegate hold staff information sessions to outline the proposed approach and seek preliminary feedback. As the service reviews progress, further sessions can be held to reinforce the reasons for the review and provide opportunities for comment.

A successful way of communicating with all staff is through written updates in staff newsletters and/or fact sheets, outlining progress and providing key messages on how staff can be involved in the process. Councils can also utilised their intranet or blog space.

Elected members

Elected members can provide important input into scoping, community views, decision-making, review of recommendations and implementation of change. Involving the elected members, not only in the decision to undertake a service review, but also in the process to be followed, is essential for an optimum outcome.

Holding one or more workshops for the elected members is recommended to help identify key opportunities for a number of key services. Councillors are encouraged to think ‘outside the square’ and consider alternative options. The workshop outcomes can provide the service review teams with an indication of what the elected members would support in terms of reduced service levels.

The recommendations from the service reviews should be reported to Councillors for endorsement or for information. This may be incorporated into other standard reporting and approval processes, for example the annual budget or management plans.

Key internal stakeholders

For each individual service review, it is important to identify and consult with key internal stakeholders. This is a narrower perspective then the broader workforce engagement. These are specific staff who have a stake or interest in the service under review and who may be involved in or directly affected by the review. This includes subject experts who have a good working knowledge of the service.

Stakeholders are given the opportunity to participate in the review by providing suggestions, raising issues and discussing options. They may also assist with gaining efficient access to information such as current outputs, service levels, legislative requirements, constraints, historical information, etc.

Current service providers

Current service providers for individual services should be engaged as appropriate to ensure they:

  • Are aware a review is being planned
  • Can provide important information on the demand and costs of their services
  • Can respond to suggestions made by other stakeholders
  • Can provide their view of whether their service is valued by the community

Community engagement

Understanding the community’s needs is a prerequisite to effective service provision and delivery. Community includes individuals, community groups and business owners who use local government services or own property.

Community engagement is conducted to incorporate community needs in the review program, and to promote community understanding and ownership of the pressures that the council faces. Councils that engage with the community generally view this as integral to the entire process. The engagement does not replace, but rather complements, other forms of consultation with the local community.

A range of methods is used for consulting with the community including contact with key external stakeholders, user groups, interest groups, and online surveys. Where a council chooses not to directly engage with the community during the service reviews, community needs may still be taken into consideration when formulating recommendations. This can be based on staff experience, interactions with members of the public, past customer satisfaction surveys, and previous consultation when developing strategic plans.

The SmartGov Team