Recently I sent out a short survey to 100 GovLoop members asking them what their biggest challenge was. The resounding answer: being asked to do more with less.
In cities, counties and states across the country, agencies are being asked to deliver more services and meet heightened citizen expectations — with fewer resources and people at their disposal. Budgets are being cut and staff members are being furloughed or not being replaced when an individual retires.
So what is one to do when faced with this bad math equation of being tasked to do increasing work with fewer resources?
Here are a few ideas:
1. Get (free) outside help. A bigger workload can’t just land in your staff’s hands — you need outside help. If you can’t afford consultants, build relationships with local schools and volunteers. Professors and students always are looking for real-world experience that makes a difference. Local volunteers (from developers to passionate citizens) are happy to make a dent if you give them a clear task and show them a little love.
2. Outsource to free. When budgets are tight, it’s time to outsource to free. A number of companies provide “freemium” services (where they make their money on the back-end, transactional or advertising fees). NIC creates amazing state government websites for free while sharing revenue on transactional feeds. YouTown provides local governments with free mobile applications as part of a freemium approach. The same is true in the emergency management and department of motor vehicles markets.
3. What can you stop? At Twitter it’s required that for every feature that’s added, one is subtracted. This prevents “feature bloating” and doing too many things poorly. Apply this approach to local government. For every new project, is there a legacy project you can shut down? This would eliminate processes that aren’t worth the extra time or effort.
4. Adjust to 2012 needs. Every business has the same issue: many conflicting customer demands that all can’t be met. For example, in the ideal world, your bank would be open 24/7, have the best mobile apps and websites, have well-paid, in-person staff members and customer service, and mail and email you your statements monthly. Guess what? They make tough choices based on data and return on investment. Do the same with your government agency. Do people truly need printed statements? What building hours do people really need? Can you save money by focusing citizens on lower-cost channels (encouraging self-reporting versus a phone call)?
Agencies will continue to face growing citizen demands and shrinking budgets and staff. While it’s possible for an organization and staff to step into Superman mode for a few months, it’s not sustainable. Take a hard look at ways for help, new funding models and what to cut. You should be on a better path to sustainability. And your staff will be happy to get time back.