According to Robert O’Neill, writing in Governing (July 24, 2013): “The challenges facing today’s governments require a management approach that cuts across disciplines and departments.”
As the world has grown more complex, government leaders have responded by constructing their organizations to leverage specialization. Today’s local governments, for example, have separate departments for police, fire, recreation, engineering, public works, social services and the like. But is this the best way to produce the best service-delivery outcomes?
Over the past few years, the International City/County Management Association has examined surveys to identify the issues that matter most to people. Six emerge as most important: jobs and the economy; education; safety; health care; the environment; and infrastructure, including transportation. What these issues have in common is that they require a multi-sector, multi-disciplinary and intergovernmental strategy.
Already many public-safety organizations are employing not only aggressive cost-cutting strategies but also new ways of collaborating, such as shared services and consolidations; indeed, the stand-alone, single-discipline governmental department may be going the way of the dinosaur.
So how do we take advantage of the enormous power of specialization yet organize around the issues that matter most to those we serve? It stands to reason that if new ways of thinking about the impact of organizational structure and leadership can transform public-safety operations, then the same would be true for departments and agencies throughout all levels of government.
There are already examples of public library CEOs being responsible for neighbourhood services and community centers, cultures services, municipal day care services, even by-law enforcement, parking and harbor master. Is this the wave of the future?
Certainly, team player (sometimes code for go along to get along), is a critical leadership attribute. Indeed, my personal observation is that school library coordinators/directors survived only when they willingly, even enthusiastically, embraced a broader portfolio including the arts, social studies and other curricular/service areas.
Should public library directors draw a line in the sand around the public library? Or should they embrace broadened responsibilities in the city/municipality?
What does the future, even survival, hold?