Zooming in on a virtual opportunity

 By Anthony Judd, Chief Executive Officer, Buloke Shire Council

Buloke Shire Council held its May Ordinary Meeting virtually, thanks to Zoom, and livestreamed the meeting. Both achievements were firsts for Council.

The COVID-19 pandemic will no doubt identify many opportunities for small rural Councils, but for Buloke in the state’s northwest, with its sparsely populated and large land mass, our meeting had never been so accessible.

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Moving towards an exceptional goal as we tackle COVID-19

 Julie Reid, Chief Executive Officer, Kingston Council

COVID-19 has brought with it challenges on a scale we have never experienced, and the economic impact has been felt across the Kingston community. As a council our job has been to find a way to alleviate some of the financial burden on our residents and local businesses, but also to continue to provide the essential services and programs our community relies on.  

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In times of crisis

 Chris Buckingham, President, Public Libraries Victoria 

If you ever needed proof of the critical importance of public libraries, the COVID–19 pandemic has delivered the evidence in full.

Over recent years there has been growing recognition that public libraries play a much deeper role in community than the storage and distribution of information. 

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West Wimmera during COVID-19 - Managing remotely in a small rural shire

David Leahy, Chief Executive Officer, West Wimmera Shire Council 

Despite the relative safety of being so remote, West Wimmera is not immune to the restrictions in place to manage the spread of COVID-19. 

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Organisational resilience, innovation & transformation

Mark Perrett, Team Leader Risk Management and Safety, Greater Dandenong City Council

Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher, said, “Change is the only constant in life.” 

Change can be planned or unplanned, incremental or radical.  Planned, incremental change is always preferred.  Globalisation, rapid developments in information and technology, and the damaging effects of climate change are making disruptive, unplanned, radical change events more and more frequent.

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COVID-19 and some reflections on (re) joining Local Government

Kerryn Ellis, Chief Executive Officer, South Gippsland Shire Council

Having spent a couple of years working for state government, I returned to the Local Government sector on 10 March, taking up my new role at South Gippsland Shire.  This has been a really interesting time to join a new organisation, and in particular to step into my first role at CEO level, and I have had to accept quite quickly that my 30 Day and 100 Day Plans have pretty much gone straight out the window.  

Council responses to COVID-19

We have collected examples of how Councils around the world are supporting their communities through new initiatives and innovating during this challenging time. 

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Emerging Leaders Program – Leading the way by adapting to challenging environments

Samantha Murfett

In a COVID19 world, we’ve had to adapt the Emerging Leaders program to an online format which has brought another level of complexity to the program. 
My syndicate group organised the first online facilitated ELP syndicate lead session of 2020 which was held last Friday. Of course, we had concerns, the main question we had before planning the session was; will the program be beneficial if we are not seeing each other face to face? 

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Council working with business to assist the economic downturn

Raymond Deegan, Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

It’s no secret that the current situation with COVID-19 has massively affected businesses of all sizes and industries across the state, but the proactive and swift response of Local Government has brought welcome relief to business owners struggling to cope with the financial and mental stresses of trying to either - continue to do business or assure their business will see the other side of these strange and challenging times.

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How a pandemic is changing Local Government - XLP during exceptional times

Chris Kotur, Lead facilitator, Executive Leadership program – April 2020 

My reflections on what you have to say help me draw on lessons from the major inquiries I’ve been involved with and sharing these learning will I hope be useful to you as local government is along with all of us, changing during this emergency.  

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COVID-19 - The burning platform to unite Local Government   

Patrick Dillon, Manager Business Transformation, Frankston City Council

COVID-19 is disrupting every aspect of human life and Local Government is not immune. Like every other Council, Frankston City has been thrust into and unprecedented state of pandemic emergency over the last number of weeks. While Emergency management teams were popping up across all 79 Council’s in Victoria, many of us sat outside of this remit and were feverishly looking for ways to help our community.

The majority of my team quickly began working from home. Luckily with laptops and Direct Access, it was a relatively straight forward transition, however with legacy IT issues to resolve such as network bandwidth and dated systems, many staff did not have the hardware or tools to effectively work from home at the drop of a hat. While longer term strategic solutions are being investigated short term alternatives have been sought. My team are utilising Zoom, Jira and Whatsapp to ensure we continue to be connected with each other and the business.

There is a constant challenge to guard against a whole host of concerns for staff such as disengagement, disconnection, stress and anxiety. Frequent and clear communication is paramount. My team has twice daily Zoom meetings to discuss the latest information from the Emergency Management Team. We also discuss the increasing requests for help and how we might prioritise. The team utilises a cut down version of our problem solving framework developed to enable departments across Council to problem solve in a consistent, structured and prioritised fashion.

Another key challenge is ensuring that reactive solutions, while required in the short term, did not contravene long term strategic direction. A great example at Frankston has been the deployment of PowerFront’s Inside, a live chat tool for customer service. Something on the road map for a couple of years’ time, it was fast-tracked to improve our reach to the community and allow business continuity in the event of a stage four lockdown.

The product itself wasn’t transformational. The way we rolled it out however was. The deep impact this method has had both internally for staff and externally for the community cannot be underestimated. Normally this project would takes months if not years to complete. Research, consultation, face to face meeting after meeting, business cases, funding, approval, negotiations, compromise, planning, internal politics, long protracted procurement, implementation, testing and finally go live. 

This project went from thought bubble to live in less than 72 hours. Staff empowered to make good decisions quickly while still following Council process. Importantly the project team were all working from home, utilising digital tools to communicate with each other. Within a week live chat is rapidly becoming the channel of choice for the community. Virtual Council meetings, community engagement and management meetings have been enabled by technology. Collaborative meaningful and efficient work is being completed online in the safety of our own homes. 

These digital solutions are more critical now than ever. Why? Because not only will they allow Council’s to continue support their communities in the immediate future, they are also or at least should be, the long term strategic aim of every progressive Council.  Having said all that I do get the sense in the current climate that technology is getting all the spotlight. We need to be very mindful that it’s only when you have the right people, with the right processes, utilising the right technology, that you will get long term sustainable solutions with measurable benefits.  There are no silver technology bullets. 

Thinking strategically about our workforce, a transformation barrier that has tumbled through this crisis is that of people thinking they cannot change. They cannot adapt. They were too ‘set in their ways’ for these new agile ways of working. When the need is great enough, everyone can acquire a growth mindset. This lesson will be invaluable as Council’s continue to improve and transform its workforce post COVID-19 and look to reduce the strategic risks associated with transformation programs.

Finally the biggest positive the sector can take from this pandemic is that it has created a universal burning platform for change. We will never have a greater opportunity than right now to collaborate across Council lines to innovate and transform for the good of all Victorians. No more ‘herding cats’ as one of my previous CEO’s used to say when describing Councils trying to collaborate. COVID-19 has brought into laser sharp focus the need for contemporary technology to enable Council’s to change how we operate at our foundation. To upskill, uplift and inspire our workforce. To do more with less, to concentrate on the essentials. To improve the customer experience. To find ways to not only work remotely but how to connect with our community. To redesign our outdated effective but inefficient processes. 

Let’s grasp this opportunity with both hands!

The critical role of your local Council in pandemic response

By Adam Lee, Pandemic Coordinator, Surf Coast Shire We are experiencing uncertain times with the rapidly changing global situation concerning Coronavirus (COVID-19) and with the Australian, State and Territory Governments leading the emergency response, it is important to remember the key role of Local Government in pandemic response at grass roots level. Local Government, through its emergency management responsibilities, will be using their Pandemic Plans and Business Continuity Plans to reduce the impact of a pandemic on their local communities. This involves input and expertise from a wide range of council staff to assist in this process, including Environmental Health Officers (EHOs). Increased threats to public health associated with events such as COVID-19 places greater demand and thrusts into the spotlight, the essential role of EHOs. EHOs play a lead role in pandemic planning and preparedness, providing credible public health advice to staff and the community about health hygiene practices to contain and prevent the spread of disease. EHO’s would also coordinate the provision of mass vaccination clinics for COVID-19 when this becomes available.
EHO’s will be assisting senior management and officers with emergency and risk management to ensure essential Council services continue during expected staff absenteeism in a pandemic.

Often the role of local Councils EHO’s is not well recognised in the community and local government is experiencing a workforce shortage in this area. Remember the vital role your local Council plays in keeping the community healthy and a big thank you to all the EHOs working hard during this pandemic period.

If you are interested in joining this important profession, find out more on how to become qualified by visiting Swinburne University of Technology’s Graduate Diploma of Environmental Health Practice.