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Is stakeholder engagement the key to successful change in local govt?

Delivering change and innovation in local government has become one of the most high-profile objectives for public sector workers. Sustained reductions in public spending have been particularly painful for local authorities (in the absence of a ring-fenced budget), with councils under great pressure to increase productivity, redesign services and consistently deliver more for less.

It’s clear that such a challenging environment creates a need for strong leaders. But research by Simon Willson, head of performance management and quality assurance at Cambridgeshire County Council, has revealed that senior figures in local government can struggle to deliver change at this level.

Writing in the Local Government Chronicle recently, Willson explained that he interviewed several council chief executives and directors who admitted to “stumbling” with recent change efforts. These leaders identified a range of unanticipated obstacles that affected the delivery of their change programmes, including a tendency to underestimate the need to address behavioural issues, failing to recognise the emotional impact of change and failing to engage stakeholders properly.

“There was a strong sense that most councils were just moving from one change effort to the next, without considering the wider implications of operating in continuous change,” Willson observed.

Stakeholder engagement and change initiatives

It is impossible to overstate the importance of an effective stakeholder engagement strategy in supporting change. As Willson recognised, the new reality is that councils must work in a constantly changing environment, rather than moving from one standalone project to the next. This heightens the need for open and productive relationships with all stakeholders.

Willson stressed the need for local government leaders to “facilitate better problem solving and decision-making based on genuine engagement and open dialogue” with their stakeholders. His suggestion was that achieving this will enable leaders to “engage more with the management of changing as opposed to the management of change”.

At Kahootz, it’s our belief that cloud collaboration provides a solution to many of the practical issues associated with stakeholder engagement in the public sector. For example, instead of a local authority having to engage with different groups individually, it can communicate with many types of stakeholder in the same online workspace by using a collaboration platform. In addition, a cloud collaboration tool like Kahootz makes it possible for organisations to build custom workspaces that meet the needs of different stakeholders.

As councils across the UK continue to adjust and adapt their working practices against a backdrop of “continuous change”, such tools will become increasingly important as authorities look to make improved and ongoing stakeholder management the basis of successful change strategies.

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