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Top Tasks at Dutch Local Councils and Municipalities

The best governments in the world take as little time as possible from their citizens. Simplicity thrives on transparency. Corruption thrives on complexity.

I’m just back from a conference dedicated to the top tasks approach for Dutch local councils. Almost 200 attended. It was really impressive and encouraging to see such a tremendous take-up and enthusiasm for the Top Tasks approach.

Within a short period, many Dutch councils have begun to focus their energies on identifying what really matters to their customers. But the big question they were now asking was: Once you’ve identified these top tasks, what do you do next?

The answer is as simple to say as it is hard to do: Measure the ability of your customers to complete these top tasks. This requires a major shift in how organizations work and measure things because it’s a model of management focused on measuring customer outcomes.

Most organizations manage and measure inputs. It’s about units of production, units of publication. It’s about systems and tools launched. Did stuff get done? Did it get done on time? Did it get done to budget?

I heard from various councils that council news is not a top task for customers. And yet I was told that a huge amount of time and effort is still being expended producing news. Management likes to have news on the website because it can control the message. If the council is building a bridge, for example, those responsible for building the bridge want to publish exhaustive details on how they are building it.

But practically nobody is looking at all this news. The more of it that is published, the less of it that is read. Communicators have been aware of this for a long time and yet they still expend energy creating all this news that nobody wants. Why do they do this? Because they are evaluated based on production, not consumption. It’s like paying a sales person by how much they talk rather than by how much they sell.

Another council told me that when they reviewed the content on their website they discovered information on marinas. They don’t have a marina and they never will because they have no rivers, lakes or canals. How did that happen? Well, someone decided to migrate a whole set of standard government content onto the website. Most of it had no useful purpose. Again, the measure was adding or migrating pages. How is the migration going? Very well.

Another council had an extremely complicated and long form for those who wanted to report broken street lights. It had been like that for years. The old model was to measure success based on whether the form "works" and how well it integrates with internal systems. After healthcare.gov launched and proved to be a fiasco, an official was quoted as saying that the system was "working." It wasn’t working for customers but technically it was still "working."

Measure success based on the outcome. How quickly can someone report a broken street light? How quickly can they select health insurance that is right for them? Can we take a minute off the time it takes someone to sign up for a parking permit? Measure customer outcomes. That’s where future success lies. 

About the Author

Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994. His latest book is titled The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online.

 
 
 
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