3 Ways to Align Strategic Reporting with the Priorities and Needs of Local Communities
Planning and reporting within Local Government can be complex. With various stakeholders, diverse community needs and many projects to consider, it can be easy to simply set and forget a strategic plan and fall into the trap of running periodic reports without considering how performance is communicated to the wider community.
Strategic Planning efforts should not only inform decision-making and measure progress towards council goals but also reflect the priorities and needs of your communities. But how can you achieve alignment and truly reflect the priorities and needs of your community?
Here are three ways to get you started:
1. Understand the needs of your community
How well do you understand your community? To truly align your strategic reporting, you must first have a clear understanding of what those priorities are. Consider working with your community engagement team to create surveys and host Town Hall meetings or tailored focus groups that truly gather insight into the wants and needs of residents.
At a recent conference, Luke Farr, Community Stakeholder Engagement Lead at Lake Macquarie City Council, explained how his team identifies key projects and takes a three-step approach to community engagement.
“We identify key projects that we know will have a great interest in the community. We then look to go out with pre-engagement to get the communities thoughts on what’s working and what’s not working," he said. "From that feedback, we then prepare a discussion paper where we will come back with the community and check in with them - have we interpreted what you told us correctly? This way, you can iron out issues before a report goes to council recommending public exhibition. The community then has three opportunities for feedback, they have had the opportunity to be involved, have their say, and can see their feedback interpreted into the draft strategy. This potentially allows for a smoother public exhibition period."
2. Identify Key Performance Indicators and Define Strategic Reporting Success
Once you have a better understanding of your priorities, you can then begin to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that are most relevant to those priorities. Tracking and analysing these KPIs can provide valuable insights into how you are performing, key areas for improvement and help you make data-driven decisions.
Once these are defined, you can start to set specific, measurable and achievable goals that align with your community priorities. This helps to define success and, in turn, effectively communicate your impact.
In a recent Industry Insights report, NSW councils state indicated that councils can lean towards vague measures due to a fear of community backlash. It’s easier to succeed at something unspecific and provide a positive news story than to be accountable to a measure that’s impactful, but that has consequences when not met. The internal culture around measurement needs to shift to a mindset that benchmarks are not about being the best or worst or success or failure; it’s about progress and direction. It’s how activity is kept on track, and that failure is OK because it gives us real feedback on progress.
3. Engage with Data Visualisation
Strategic reports instantly become more engaging if they are easily accessible and able to be viewed in charts, graphs or infographics. Data visualisation is an easy way to communicative complex data in a more digestible format, making it straightforward for local communities to understand the impact of your initiatives. Interactive dashboards are a great way to tell a story, build trust and enhance engagement.
But how do you know what to communicate? Luke Farr admits that while there can sometimes be an abundance of data, you need to be smart with the insights you have.
"There’s definitely data overload, but it’s about what we do with that data and how we can interpret it from our community. Our community tells us things through our community satisfaction survey, and we interpret that data, but it’s about looking at the data we’re receiving from community engagement projects and ensuring we’re not going back out and asking the community the same thing that they told us two or three consultations ago. It’s about being smart with your data."
Our recent Insights Report also discussed the importance of timely and accurate data collection and reporting across councils. Reports should be easy and automatic, as the manual nature of the data collection can create major bottlenecks, preventing organisations from being able to access data for timely decision-making.
To solve this problem, council systems must make it simple to interpret and visualise data from multiple sources. It should be simple to create visual representations of the data, using reports, dashboards and indicators to help individuals assess the status of strategies, projects, plans or services as a whole quickly and easily. Templated reports that are tailored to the needs of various stakeholder groups should be “one-click” away.
Envisio aligns people, plans, and performance data and helps local councils to develop and execute plans, track and improve performance, and communicate results.
If you're looking to turn your strategic plans into action and provide visibility, transparency, and increased community engagement, get in touch.