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In an ideal world, councils and managers would always be on the same page. But the reality is this often is not the case. Personalities clash. Priorities compete. Time is wasted. In the end, the community suffers the consequences of misaligned decisions. Community data can unite managers and councils by surfacing the important priorities, eliminating unnecessary debate, and fortifying organizational strength.
The Problem With a Misaligned Government
“I’ve gone to strategic planning retreats where a councilmember is like, I want a community arts center. Another says, I want a new park—No, we need to recruit more businesses downtown. And they spend the whole day arguing about what is best for the community,” said Michelle Kobayashi, principal research strategist at Polco. Polco is a resident engagement and civic analytics company.
Oftentimes councils can be inundated by single voices. Members react to the vocal minority, social media, or worse, personal interest. Sometimes these opinions are representative of the community as a whole, but other times, they are not.
“When you're out of alignment, typically it's because there's a fracture on the council,” said Matt Fulton, Polco’s national director of engagement and former city manager for 30 years.
The manager spends more time essentially managing the council's personalities than putting it together meaningful projects and plans because you’re always knocking heads.
How Data Can Unite Council and Manager
With data, councils and managers can unlock the horns with indisputable evidence about what’s important. Assessments like The National Community Survey (The NCS), for instance, ask residents what they think about their city and government services in a representative way. Survey results clearly show what matters most to residents and where governments should focus their attention. There are also public data sources that spotlight where cities are successful and what areas they could focus on improving.
“If you have data to start that conversation, there's no arguing about what's important to residents. There's no arguing about what needs fixing in the community. We have data to demonstrate the biggest needs and we also have data to demonstrate what residents want you to improve,” Kobayashi said.
Data can also help councils develop a strategic plan, as well as gauge the results of that plan. Fulton says managers depend on that strategic direction from council so they can frame council-manager conversations around those targets and put those ideas into action.
“Communities must have a goal and put together a plan on what they need to do every year and stay disciplined to that plan,” Fulton says. “The plan has to be data driven, not just gut driven.”
Data help implement plans as efficiently and positively as possible. It can overrule a single voice lobbying for a low priority concern. And data can rally councils and managers around the same shared goal for the best decision-making.
“Data allows decision-makers to say, I may have my quirks and personality, but we've been able to navigate public service delivery in a way that residents are happy with or not happy with,” Fulton said. “If you're not happy, then there's legitimate data to support a notion of changing the way that you manage and your strategy. That’s the value of data.”
About the Author
Jessie O’Brien is the head copywriter at Polco. Polco makes community engagement accurate and reliable. Hundreds of government leaders trust Polco for insights from surveys and data analytics on one easy-to-use online platform. Learn more about Polco..
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