Laura Sharman 10 March 2017

Critical lessons from merging councils

With recent reports suggesting that creating 27 new unitary councils across England could save up to £2.86bn over five years, it's no surprise that local government reorganisation has come to the forefront once again.

One person who knows first-hand the opportunities and challenges created by council mergers is Virginia Cross, Manager Program Delivery Support at Central Coast Council, Australia. Ms Cross was working at Gosford City Council at the time the Government approved a voluntary merger with Wyong Shire Council to create a single Central Coast Council.

In a new webinar - visit for full details - Ms Cross has explained how process mapping helped the two councils to merge successfully.

She said that at the time of the merger, Gosford City Council was already undergoing a Continuous Sustainable Improvement strategy to help facilitate business excellence. A review of the council's processes found there was no consistency in its methodology, no register of processes and no single location where all the processes were stored.

'The positive side of all this mess is that we saw we had plenty of room for improvement, and the excellence and innovation team saw the immediate benefit of rolling out a standardised approach to process mapping across the organisation,' said Ms Cross.

The council's excellence and innovation team identified 'as-is' business process management as the baseline for improvement so that became the first stage of the rollout of our process management tool. The plan was for every single team at the council to attend a process mapping workshop to get a list of processes undertaken by the teams.

However, by the time they got to team number 19 out of 120 teams, their schedule was 'disrupted in a big way' with the news the councils were hoping to merge. A joint transition team was created, containing staff from both councils and headed up by a senior manager from each council.

It was agreed that mapping as-is processes of both councils would be beneficial even if the merger didn't go ahead as it would help deliver more effective services to the community. This mapping effort would then help decide which processes the new council should adopt, or whether a hybrid of both was required.

Ms Cross explained: 'It was essential that the time available prior to the merger proclamation was used as efficiently as possible. It was also important to consider tasks that would be of demonstrable benefit to both councils, whether an amalgamation proceeded or not.'

The process mapping workshops were originally held on a weekly basis at each council. The council names were removed from all documents and renamed 'north' and 'south' to avoid any unnecessary competition. Ms Cross said the feedback from staff was that they felt 'empowered' by attending the workshops and could see the benefits of sharing expertise across both councils.

'At the beginning of each workshop, staff were understandably nervous about the process of documenting all of our processes, but after the workshops they realised that it was going to make their lives a lot easier,' she said.

Ms Cross explained there were seven outcomes they wanted to get from the workshops:

1. Overview of transition process - this would help staff understand where the council was heading.

2. Understanding of business processes and mapping - a lot of staff may have been involved in process mapping using another system but Ms Cross stressed it was important to learn to map in a standardised way

3. First look at our new process management tool - this would give staff an understanding of the basics prior to entering any information into the new tool.

4. List of processes undertaken by team - at this stage this was simply a way of documenting processes to gain an idea of how many there were to map.

5. One process collaboratively mapped - Ms Cross explained that staff particularly enjoyed this section as they realised just how easy process mapping is. 'Promapp has really opened up the fact process mapping can be used by everybody - there's no jargon and it's just plain maps that explain what we do,' she said.

6. Where to view and comment on processes - all staff were encouraged to comment on the processes to help them feel part of building the new council.

7. Action plan for mapping the remainder - this included a list of actions required and who was responsible for these actions.

To keep the momentum going, weekly updates were sent to managers to pass onto staff. Ms Cross said: 'Over an eight week period, we delivered ten process mapping workshops to 173 attendees and nine Promapp training sessions to 74 attendees. Looking at progress today, we currently have 1,524 processes mapped.'

Ms Cross explained that once all the processes are mapped, the focus will then shift to comparing and improving them.

Lessons learnt

In the webinar, Ms Cross also explained what lessons the council had learnt from the process, and offered advice to other local authorities looking to undertake a process mapping project.

'Support from the top is absolutely essential,' she said. 'Both of the CEOs saw the value in mapping our processes and encouraged senior managers to get staff to attend the workshops.

'Encouraging all staff to attend the workshops makes them feel empowered as staff can often feel like managers are making all the decisions - with this process they felt like they were making the decisions themselves.'

She also added that it was really important to get people who know the process to do the mapping, identify 'process champions' from the workshops and create FAQ documents from regular queries from the workshops.

Ms Cross added: 'The biggest lesson we learnt is that when it comes to process mapping, it really is the more the merrier. The more people that attended the workshops, the more people are mapping processes and this helps reach the target faster.

Visit to view the webinar in full

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