Allegheny League of Municipalities (ALOM) is a place-based association of municipalities in Pennsylvania. Organized more by geography than by particular type of government (cities, boroughs, authorities, etc.), ALOM brings municipalities together each Spring. The potential of the these local governments to act collectively is unlimited!
To celebrate and congratulate ALOM on successfully pulling together another conference, still a challenge in post-pandemic 2023, the following ad was placed in the conference book to inform local leaders of our services and to offer a free online confidential organizational assessment tool (COAT). This tool has been developed to help local government boards and staff identify needs in forming a development plan. Assess your organization's focus, culture and actions today. Submit a service request here or text or call 412.353.3997 to get started.
better budgets build better decisions
Tis the Budget season and many executive directors, municipal managers and other public administrators in small organizations aspire for better budgets that facilitate policy making, particularly for volunteer boards or part-time elected officials.
Budgeting is an expression of values. But in a small organization, how do find time to do more than a basic spreadsheet? Instead of carrying around that frustration, why not set an intention to improve your budget little by little over a series of years? This smaller, incremental approach, if done with a clear vision of where you are going, will bring about lasting gains and won't require dropping everything else while you valiantly try to raise the bar .
To do this, take inspiration from the free criteria of the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) Distinguished Budget Awards program. That may seem counter intuitive as the Award is a significant accomplishment. But with the right "baby steps" approach you will begin to see real gains in the quality of information available for making decisions.
Start by being aware of the mandatory criteria of this program (see table below). This baby step allows the weaving-in of budgeting activities into the day-to-day management of your organization (instead of waiting until "budget season"). For example, has a strategic, comprehensive or other planning process recently taken place? Great! Rely on the mission, goals and objectives in that to kick of the goals of your budget. Participating in a certification programs such as Sustainable Pennsylvania? Awesome! A good place to start for performance measures.
Once you know the components of a "good" budget, you can begin to plug much of your existing work into each of the following major categories of the GFOA Criteria. This table presents the budget questions to be answered by each category (table best viewed in desktop browser). Make incremental gains over a few years and you are well on your way. It makes me think of what my dad always said, "Inch by inch, life's a cinch...Yard by yard, life is hard."
The Government Finance Officers (GFOA) of US and Canada has issued an "End the Acronym" policy statement urging all stakeholders to refer to the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report as just that or as the "Annual Report" or even say each letter of the former acronym individually "C. A. F. R." As the premiere professional organization of government finance officials, GFOA is challenging a population that loves acronyms to discontinue one of the most widely used.
It is about upholding the profession's ethics. The acronym sounds like a slur to a more international audience and GFOA has placed a high value on Diversity and Inclusion in its new Code of Ethics. This got me to thinking about how the Code has changed. I had been using the old code in teaching and training for years, so I pull out my synopsis of it a lined it up with the top level statements of the new code (in a spreadsheet, of course!):
What was most striking in this comparison was the use of "I" statements in the new code. That and broad statements of principles. It is simultaneously more expansive and more succinct. Overall, a very impressive change. When I dug a little deeper I found the YouTube video GFOA produced for the new code. At time of writing it has 3 likes (one of which is mine!) Give it some kudos if you too are impressed by GFOA's more holistic approach to ethics and how government finance strives to make the world a better place. After all, what we budget and what we measure is ultimately a statement of values.
And speaking of values, GFOA has also come out with a publication to take inclusion up a notch and address directly issues of racial justice and the concept of defunding the police. Whether that phrase inspires or exasperates you, one thing for sure is that local governments and finance officers will sit at the cross roads of divergent views. GFOA has taken the topic head on and produced various resources.
Coaching and facilitation helps organizations and individuals address important topics in a proactive and forward-focused way. I feel honored to be in this space and to do work imbued with peace and accountability. If you are tackling issues of ethics as an individual or in your organization, finance or otherwise, please let me know if my services can help.
happy pi day
Happy Pi Day ! Pi. 3.14159265359. And so on. The number representing the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is fondly celebrated by math lovers every year on March 14 has come again. Seemingly infinite and also constant, pi inspires lots of math-y fun and the baking of pies.
A few years ago a local leader suggested the formation of a regional committee to produce ideas for intergovernmental cooperation projects (we will get to Pi here in a moment). While discussing it, the concept of ideation was landed upon as the description of what the committee will do .
What separates ideation from brainstorming is that it is structured process. There are likely a lot of definitions, and the one we landed on was project ideation, and that project ideation is
Being government and all it was time for an acronym. Project Ideation became PI, and the PI Team was formed. And then a non-governmental type read the letters P and I sandwiched next to each other and saw, oh my goodness, an actual word! Then it all clicked. The "Pi Team" was born.
I love this story. Pi as a metaphor is so relevant to the creative process and creative shared in ideation. Like Pi, creativity is infinite and ideation is a structured and known process--a constant. The story also tells about perspective--I saw an acronym, someone else saw a word, and not just any word. The perfect word for what the acronym was trying to embody-a testament to the intelligence of teams. This came about not just because of an additional person being added to the discussion but the inclusion of the outsider's voice (nongovernmental in this case). And then there was the circle. The very shape of the ideal committee. And let none of this overshadow the purpose of the team -- intergovernmental cooperation which requires all of these things: creativity, structure, diversity of perspective, and the circle way.
So Happy Pi Day. May you celebrate it as a science and an art. As the infinite and the constant. As the user of the circle and the consumer of pie. Please contact me if I may help your ideation and team intelligence to flourish.
Have you ever been asked if you “believe” in climate change? I have and it caught me off guard. Believe? Is this a theology exam? Or what about this one: do you think climate change is real? Real? Is the reality of this something I can assess? Isn’t there someone more qualified? (increasing my streak of insights from comedians to 2). As an initial reaction, this kind of question bugs me.
However, I really do appreciate the interest. So, letting go of my reactions, what do situations like this teach that can allow me bring my authentic self to conversations about important things? Thinking about what I would have liked to have been asked helps me to think about how to have important conversations.
What stands out is that a focus on my experiences with changes in climate would make a difference. "Have you experienced climate change in your life?" There I have something that I can share. “Yes, I have had experiences with changes in climate. The dog got lyme disease and a travelling suitcase brought home some hitchhiking bed bugs. Yuck! And I have noticed we get more extremely heavy rain storms, landslides and flooding...” The interest in my story allows me avoid a perceived test or having to defend a position on a topic that feels complex and difficult. It also creates space for me to ask, “How about you?” Regardless of your answer we are conversing, not declaring positions.
Sometimes direct questions in search of a "yes" or a "no" don’t serve us. They are extractive, and when we’re being extracted, we aren’t connected. Yet connection is what we need to create solutions for group problems: like invasive pests and landslides. And climate change. Connectedness leads to creativity when a conversation includes perspective taking: How about you? When we tell our own story and also listen to the perspectives of others we get into a more constructive group problem solving space. We can be much more positive and effective.
As humans, we organize our thoughts and experiences into a set of beliefs and judgments, especially about complex or important subjects. It helps us remember things and handle a lot of information. At the same time, it is our humanity that allows us to work together. Next time you find yourself being asked about your beliefs and that generates an internal dilemma, try this experiment. (1) Smile and take a breath to disarm those totalizing words (“believe”, “real”) and (2) shift to your experiences. (3) Follow up with a question about the questioner’s experience.
And when you are the questioner, and it's a situation where you want to work with someone, lead with questions about experiences and not beliefs. See if that helps to build connection, creativity and problem-solving. Let me know!
Innovation in the public sector is not an oxymoron! In fact, government is a fertile environment for innovation because of the dedication to service, deep reserves of expertise, and competition for resources found there. Traditionally, bureaucratic thinking constrains innovation because of its general nature to be rule-oriented with an emphasis on equality towards all actors.
A 2015 article from Stanford Social Innovation Review gives the idea of co-creation in government, a popular method of organizational change and innovation in the private sector, a thorough exploration. One of its authors, Francis Gouillart, is also an author of the seminal work on the topic, The Power of Co-Creation (2010). Co-Creation was also a topic for 2018 webinar by Alliance for Innovation, and featured a case study from Hennepin County, MI.
I took some time to compare the steps of Co-Creation with the Arc of Coaching as developed by Duquesne University Professional Coach Certification Program. The table below explains the alignment in a simplified way. Within each step resides many tools deployed by the professional coach. If your organization is adopting a Co-Creation approach to change, professional coaching techniques and practices can help. Please contact me for further info or assistance.
peace and accountability
For a generation, one of the most influential ideas to impact public service has been the landmark publication Reinventing Government: How the Entrepreneurial Spirit is Transforming the Public Sector, by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. A rallying cry to "revolt against bureaucratic malaise" and "build something better," it has inspired many public officials seeking to promote initiative and a sense of ownership in public organizations. Costs have been reduced and programs have been reformed because of the performance management programs inspired by Reinventing Government. However, a recent column in Governing magazine outlined the unintended consequence of performance management: some public officials felt diminished by the performance management process, which shut down creativity needed to solve problems. For reinvention to deliver its high ideal, how can the technical changes such as performance management programs be built upon to allow people and groups to adapt and improve? We offer our help with this through an approach of peace and accountability. This is particularly useful when elected officials struggle with the efficiency and effectiveness of the organizations they have been tasked to lead or when staff feels politicized. This matrix shows the top level "action words" used to describe our assistance:
An approach imbued with peace and accountability doesn't avoid tough issues or assure certain outcome. It does, however, add integrity to an improvement process by building support across the spectrum of opinions on how effective workers and organizations perform. The result: increased creativity, critical thinking, and shared responsibility.
The TED talk by leadership expert Simon Sinek provides insight into the importance of trust in human relationships and organizations. Inspiring words and good advice, especially for governments and nonprofits with small budgets and scarce resources. Want to make the most of funds available? Hire and empower good employees and don't micromanage them . Are you an executive or employee feeling micromanaged by a board? Consider whether or not the seven big questions are driving them. If not, seek help. When considering the problem and costs of micromanaging, the lack of trust is the consistent theme.
considering the other view
It is always helpful when when we consider the perspectives of others. It enhances our ability to consider a variety of viewpoints and get to better decisions. The "logic of politics / logic of administration" graphic below provides a handy visual for learners seeking to become familiar with the perspectives of elected boards and paid staff. In addition to depicting points of view, the diagram literally shows "the gray area" and who is in a situation to be in-between. From 1994, this is an oldie but a goodie.
Susan Hockenberry's blog of suggestions for info and updates.