We’re really trying, but please forgive those of us struggling to be ecstatic about the “exciting new blueprint for the shire” adopted with fanfare recently by Noosa Council.
Back in February 2022 Cr Tom Wegener bemoaned the fact that Council’s Operational Plan reporting was “sugar coated” and falling short of its intended purpose of providing an accurate snapshot of council’s current projects.
At the same Council meeting Cr Wilkie opined that Noosa was a relatively small council and if we were serious about the projects being undertaken then we would be serious about allocating more resources if we want to complete the projects.
And isn’t this the nub of much of the problem with Council’s planning and reporting? You could paper the walls of Council’s offices at Pelican Street with the number of plans and strategies on offer. But if the accompanying action plans cannot be implemented, monitored, and reported on in a timely manner then council is setting itself up to fail.
At the last count there were some 36 plans and strategies and 73 policies on the books. To be fair, some are a statutory requirement such as the recently released Corporate Plan. As a strategic planner from way back I am normally a fan of corporate and strategic plans, but I sometimes wonder whether Council is more focussed on long wish lists of projects with little in the way of prioritisation or timeframes. Most of Council’s plans and strategies are detailed and provide good background information; obviously, a lot of effort has gone into research. But, as in the case of the new 67-page Corporate Plan we must wade our way through thirty-two pages of background (half the document) before we get to the nub of the Plan.
A good plan should address the issues at hand, provide an analysis of feedback from stakeholders, and include a set of specific, achievable, and timely performance measures or indicators. This is where the new Corporate Plan fails. Most of the proposed actions in the various planning documents are commendable but there is little indication as to the extent to which the objectives will be achieved in the five-year period.
The Corporate Plan has at least 31 proposed actions in support of 42 key objectives. The recent draft Eastern Beaches Coastal Management Plan had up to 50 proposed actions that will require funding in 2023-2024 and beyond. Many are not budgeted for and will be subject to budget considerations. The resources (both financial and human) required to achieve these objectives is enormous and well outside the resources of Noosa Council. As Cr. Wilkie commented, if we were serious about the projects being undertaken then we need to be serious about allocating more resources. Now that councillors have committed to the new five-year Corporate Plan will the upcoming Council Budget reflect their commitment?
Council consults, but are they listening?
Council received over one thousand submissions in the process of developing the Draft Corporate Plan as well as input through surveys and community workshops and information sessions. Yet there is no detailed analysis of the issues raised through this consultation process and no quantitative analysis as to which issues are of most concern to residents.
Appropriate feedback is a critical component of the community engagement process. It is ironic that the month before councillors adopted the Draft Corporate Plan, they also endorsed council’s revised Community Engagement Policy 2023; one of the key principles being that “council will reflect back to the community how they have influenced council decisions”.
In accordance with Council’s Community Engagement Policy, the Corporate Plan should have included a detailed analysis of the issues raised by residents. Without such an analysis it is difficult to judge whether the Corporate Plan adequately addresses the issues, concerns and aspirations raised by the community for the forward five years.
The Corporate Plan would have benefited from the approach taken by Council staff when presenting the Noosa Housing Strategy back in November 2022. That Strategy was supported by a community feedback / consultation report.
The 69-page community feedback report was an integral addendum to the Housing Strategy and provided critical contextual information to the Strategy itself. It allowed councillors (and the community) to see what issues were raised by the community in formulating the strategy and the extent of community sentiment on the issue.
Performance Measures that don’t stack up
Council staff are to be commended for at least trying to identify performance measures against which Council’s performance will be measured. The problem is that, with few exceptions, the performance measures developed cannot be adequately measured. They are not specific enough and are couched in motherhood statements, most with no timeframe.
“Enhanced quality of life for Noosa’s residents (Liveability Survey)”Page 59. Noosa Council Corporate Plan.
Given there is an obligation on the part of the CEO to report quarterly on the progress of the Corporate Plan, the broad nature of the performance measures – the general lack of specificity, the absence of measurable indicators, and the lack of timed performance goals – in this Corporate Plan will make it a difficult, if not impossible, task to report meaningfully on progress. And that takes us back to Cr Tom Wegener’s earlier criticism.
Performance measures need to be much more specific than most of the broad statements of intent contained in this document. The community needs to know how progress on key actions is being measured. Progress can then be much more easily monitored through Council’s lower-level reporting mechanisms (e.g., Operational Plans) as well as the CEO’s quarterly reports and Council’s annual report.
As the old adage goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
Read Noel Playford’s analysis “TOO MANY SPINNING PLATES” for some extra insight into why our Council is finding it difficult to deliver projects efficiently.