Explaining Away Complaints

Many local governments have a problem: they know it, they ignore it, and it doesn’t go away. This problem goes by different names, like – lack of transparency, going behind our backs, taxation without representation, and others like, ?%@*&%!

“Our Trustees consulted with a company before it went out to bid.” “How can they approve such a thing when so many letters to the editor are apposed?” “They passed a tax surcharge again?! Why was that authorized?”

The root cause of this problem has several branches: citizen complaints are lost and/or not responded to; issues get lost in the shuffle or lose their place due to a louder voice in the room; proposed solutions are not explained clearly or are made with limited input producing poor outcomes. There’s more, but you get the point I’m sure.

We have the problem, now let’s point the fingers – is not a solution, not even a description that can lead to a better understanding. The fix is to install a reasonable information management structure that guarantees a full, complete, and explainable assessment of any issue. Does a method exist that both, enables better decisions, and increases transparency (and does not involve hiring a paid consultant)?

Fortunately there is such a thing, and forms of it are in use by fire departments, financial institutions, construction contractors, healthcare providers, and local government agencies and departments. It’s called, risk management, and it’s been around a fairly long time

The formal process of risk management likely came about as a response to the developments of two technologies. In the late 1800s, those working with the new systems of fire extinguishing sprinklers and electrical power recognized the need for standards in construction and safety management. Thus was born, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA standards initially focused on fire and electrical dangers, but their codes are now embedded in many disciplines, including, most recently, local communities

Community risk management takes the basic risk assessment formula – comparing the degree of harm or loss, with the likelihood of that loss occurring – and applies it to a range of government functions, almost anything really. In practice, community risk management lists the component parts of an issue – factors – and identifies the positives and negatives of each, then sorts these by the level of concern in order to better understand which action offers the greatest gain with the least loss.

For example, if the concern is pedestrian safety at a particular intersection, the factors may be the numbers and speeds of vehicles, and the length of the pedestrian crossing. Corrective actions might include shortening the crosswalk, installing a stop sign or traffic light, or utilizing a traffic calming device such as a speedhump. Each proposal will offer positives and negatives, or gains and losses – the treatment offering the least loss with the greatest gain wins.

This assessment process is one component of community risk management, the others are documentation tracking, and recording the assessment process. This structure helps to assure that issue resolution is reasonable, accessible, and transparent.