The City of Edmonton is reorganizing in support of functional integration

The City of Edmonton is being reorganized effective March 1, 2016 around a new mandate of integration based on function. Acting City Manager Linda Cochrane announced the changes yesterday in an email sent to all City of Edmonton staff. She wrote:

“This new structure bundles work in departments based on function: all operations work, all infrastructure work, all planning work, all financial and corporate services work, all citizen services and all communications/public engagement work will each be grouped in the same department.”

The City’s last reorganization took place back in 2011, roughly a year and a half after Simon Farbrother was hired as City Manager. That restructuring was largely cosmetic though in that it didn’t dramatically alter the silos that had existed since the late 1990s (though the Financial Services and Infrastructure Services departments were later merged). This reorganization is all about getting rid of silos and breaking down barriers to more integrated service delivery. And the most notorious silo of all, Transportation, is now gone. More dominoes are indeed falling.

Here is the new organizational structure:

New Org Structure
Click for a larger version with the branches & managers

So previously there were five departments, plus the Office of the City Manager (you can see the old org chart here):

  • Community Services
  • Corporate Services
  • Financial Services & Utilities
  • Sustainable Development
  • Transportation Services

And now we have six, plus the Office of the City Manager:

  • Citizen Services
  • City Operations
  • Communications & Public Engagement
  • Financial & Corporate Services
  • Integrated Infrastructure Services
  • Sustainable Development

The new structure “bundles work in departments based on function.” This is perhaps most evident in the dissolution of Transportation Services. Here’s what happened to each of that department’s branches:

  • Edmonton Transit is now in the City Operations department
  • LRT Design & Construction is now LRT Projects in the Integrated Infrastructure Services department
  • Roads Design & Construction is now Transportation Infrastructure in the Integrated Infrastructure Services department
  • Transportation Operations is now in the City Operations department
  • Transportation Planning is now in the Sustainable Development department

Mayor Iveson spoke to the Journal about the changes yesterday, saying: “we’ve been talking about this for years; the transportation department, quite frankly, was very siloed and off on its own.” Well, no more.

Why now?

I had the opportunity to speak with Acting City Manager Linda Cochrane about the changes today. I wondered about the timing, given that a new City Manager could be coming on board in a few months and may want to make his or her own changes. “That’s true, some things could change with a new City Manager,” she acknowledged, but said that “Council endorses the bundling of services in a functional way.” She feels there is “strong support” for the new structure. On top of that, Linda is very interested in the role herself and will be applying to become the new City Manager.

During last year’s budget deliberations, Council asked for a full service review of everything the City is doing. Couldn’t that have an impact on the structure, I wondered? “A structure based on function will facilitate the service review,” Linda said. “It will let staff and stakeholders speak in functional ways and that will further the 2% initiative too.” She noted that this structure provides a different lens through which Administration can work to find efficiencies.

A number of City staff I spoke with about the change referenced the importance that Linda places on servant leadership. That’s reflected in her message to staff as well, where she wrote: “as always, service to citizens is our priority.” I asked if she had any other key messages for City employees. “Keep doing the good work you’re doing,” she replied. “That work is important on its own, but it’s also part of the context of service delivery.”

And that speaks to what I think is the big factor driving this restructuring: integration. “There is some phenomenal work taking place in the organization,” Linda said. “But we need to get better at integrating the good work that is happening.”

It’s about integration

There are four principles that “underpin the development and implementation of The Way Ahead,” which is the City’s strategic plan.

  • Innovation: A planning approach and operational culture within a municipality that encourages and enables continuous improvement and the exploration and adoption of new techniques, technologies, products and ways of operating in order to improve results and lead progressive change.
  • Integration: A holistic view of strategic planning that acknowledges the interrelated and interdependent reality of complex urban environments.
  • Livability: A set of interrelated factors that influence people in choosing where they live and reinforce their sense of well-being.
  • Sustainability: A way of living that meets the needs of the present and does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The reality of the last eight years or so is that the City has been tackling these things relatively independently from one another. On some, there has been good progress. Livability is central to the City’s existence and much of the work of “The Ways” has addressed this. Council’s 2% and the changes in culture really address innovation. And with The Way We Finance, there’s been a good start on addressing the City’s sustainability. That leaves integration.

I think the one tangible attempt at addressing the integration principle was the creation of the Great Neighbourhoods Initiative. It falls under the Neighbourhoods branch of Citizen Services, but it is really a cross-department effort to more efficiently deliver services of all kinds, to conduct comprehensive neighbourhood planning, and to improve communication with residents. And it has worked well as a way to revitalize our mature and high-needs neighbourhoods. In fact, one City report said it exemplified a “One City-One Voice” approach to “leading City efforts to deliver services in a coordinated, effective and efficient manner.”

This reorganization builds on that success and is all about addressing integration. Here’s another excerpt from Linda Cochrane’s email to employees:

“The goal is to help open doors for work groups to integrate their work and share expertise. It is based on the One City principle and we believe it will further stimulate our cultural effort.”

Most citizens don’t think about the City in terms of the silos that have long-existed. But thinking about planning things vs. operating them is a pretty easy distinction to make. By bringing that citizen-oriented perspective to the City’s internal structure, there’s a good opportunity to integrate the work of the City to really have a positive impact.

This won’t be easy. Just because a bunch of branches have moved into a new department that has the word “integrated” in its title doesn’t mean that magically everyone is going to start working together effectively. The leadership there has a difficult task ahead to break down barriers and really encourage that integration to happen.

A cultural fit

The City has been undergoing a cultural transformation since at least 2007. Over the years this effort has taken on different names, including “Transforming Edmonton Through Organizational Excellence”, and “Transforming Edmonton and Me” (TEAM). Currently known as “Building a Great City”, the City’s internal cultural strategy focuses on five outcomes:

  • Our Employees are Engaged
  • We Have Effective Leadership
  • We are a High Performance Organization
  • Our Workplaces are Collaborative
  • Our Work Focuses on Citizens

It’s the last two that this reorganization seems most aligned with. The strategy notes that “there are many excellent examples of collaborative success in our organization” and that building upon those will be critical for achieving business objectives “in a rapidly changing and increasingly complex world.” It also highlights the public sector trend toward “citizen-centered services redesigned around the needs of the end user.”

Communications & Public Engagement

I think the other big takeaway is that Communications & Public Engagement has been elevated to its own department. It’s a major change for the organization. I think it makes a lot of sense for Customer Information Services (which contains 311) to be part of the same department as Communications and the Office of Public Engagement (formerly part of the Office of the City Manager). It’s about listening to citizens and talking with them just as much as it is about telling them what the City is up to.

Some of CLT
Gary Klassen, Adam Laughlin, Rob Smyth, Linda Cochrane, Dorian Wandzura (some of the members of CLT)

The Office of Public Engagement is quite small at the moment, with only a handful of staff, so resourcing it effectively will be a challenge. The good news is that improving public engagement has the full support of both City Council and Administration. The Council Initiative on Public Engagement has been underway since 2014 and just began Phase 2 a few months ago. Over the next year and a half, citizens will come together with Council, Administration, and other partners to improve public engagement in Edmonton.

And the timing for this could not be better, with the full service review later this year, a municipal election coming in 2017, and a more complete review of the City’s vision and strategic plan commencing in the next couple of years as well. Effectively engaging the public will be important for all of these initiatives and more.

  • Sig

    Some quote about “deck chairs” and the arrangement, thereof, springs to mind.