Councils change organisational structures to meet demands

Local government managers should tackle the bureaucratic nature of their organisations and create environments that promote risk-taking and innovation, new research finds.

The study by corporate governance researchers at Macquarie University suggests that more decentralised, flexible structures in local government are important for councils to respond to change.

The analysis, based on a survey of some 200 councils in Australia, notes that successive reforms have seen local government provide a greater range of services, with increased emphasis on “people services” rather than the traditional focus on “property services.”

As a result, councils are also changing their structures and work processes as they seek to respond to changing community demands and institutional and policy pressures.

The research examined the role of organisational culture in influencing strategic change in local government.

It found that innovation helped councils to respond strategically while a focus on detail hindered them.

The study found that:

“Local governments that value an innovative culture will be able to respond proactively to any opportunities and threats related to the business environment, thereby enacting change and increasing customer satisfaction.”

A focus on detail and precision, on the other hand, was found to constrain strategic change in local government.

“Attention to detail, with its components of being careful, being precise, paying attention to detail and being rule-oriented is found to constrain the initiation of strategic change,” the researchers found.

More “business-like” structures that often provided for greater flexibility and delegated decision-making could help councils to respond more promptly to threats and opportunities, they said.

Survey responses showed that local government professionals greatly valued respect and teamwork. The researchers said there was evidence that “the participation of employees during the change process has been shown to encourage employees to express their concerns about change.”

The analysis by Salha Alshumrani, Rahat Munir and Kevin Baird was published in the journal Local Government Studies.

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