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  Committe Based Decision Making

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Salford City Council - Committee-based Decision Making


The case study revolved around the need to re-engineer the administrative process supporting the current committee-based decision-making structure in the Council. This was taken as the baseline process.

Where possible illustrative examples are included in the text. However, click on any links to download Word documents for certain tasks.

1. Phase I

Task 1.1: Stakeholder identification

Rather than plunging into a detailed analysis of this process, the methodology stresses the need to stand back and not analyse the process per se, but to analyse the business context in which it is enacted. This change of perspective is crucial if the investigation is to have a radical character.

To map out this broader domain, task 1 requires that all parties with an interest in the process, either as actors or beneficiaries, be identified. In this case, the following stakeholders were identified:

  • Committee clerks
  • Management: corporate services and IT
  • Committee members and Committee chairmen
  • Officers
  • The Press and The Community?

The following primary settings were also identified:

  • Committee meetings at Civic Centre: main and sub-committee meetings
  • Community meetings: community committee meetings, area housing meetings, school governor meetings
  • Council meetings
  • Administrative offices
  • Local surgeries?

Task 1.2: interview stakeholders

This table indicates the personnel interviewed classified by stakeholder group.

Interviewee Stakeholder group
David Lancaster
Derek Antrobus
Bob Boyd
Norman Owen
Sue Miller
Paul Templeton
Keith Clare
Steve Worthington
Elaine Watts
Alan Eastwood
Peter Whittaker
Harry Seaton
Anne Williams
David Chadwick
Ailsa Cranna
Chairman (Housing)
Chairman (Corporate Services)
Elected member
Elected member
Deputy Chair (Planning)
Committee Support
Committee Support
Committee Support
Member services
Head, Legal and Admin
Assistant Director, Housing
Director Housing
Director Social Services
Education Officer

Task 1.3: Observe the process

The following committees were observed: Corporate Services, Housing, Community and Social Services, Planning and Development Services, Policy. A full Council meeting was also attended, as was one community committee meeting, one area housing committee meeting. Also observed: Meeting of Directors, Chairs and Deputy Chairs for Corporate Services, as well as Performance and Development sub-committee for Policy. Considerable time was also spent in the offices of the committee support staff, observing work and inspecting documentation, e.g. minutes, reports, agendas etc.

Detailed notes of these observations were kept, along with copies of agendas etc.

The main findings are summarised here:

  • No attendance by public at Town Hall meetings, except where there is an inflammatory matter of local concern. Press just looking for juicy stories.
  • The Planning Committee is an example of how subject matter can motivate the public to respond. The Planning Committee allows public representations to be made - thereby allowing public anxieties about planning matters to directly influence the decision making process. Does this encourage well-informed decision making or reactive decision making?
  • There were marked variations in the style of meetings. In some committees there was almost no debate with decisions being made very rapidly with little discussion. In other settings, more debate occurred.
  • When discussion occurred, it typically lacked real substance. Reports were seldom examined in any depth. Very few references to general policy issues. Many of the contributions were anecdotal and often tangential to the agenda item
  • Members frequently use committees to air issues relating to specific service users and arising from public contact. Such interventions are highly focused. They are used to test the policies or operations of the directorate - but do not encourage overarching policy assessment.
    Committees seem, therefore to function largely as decision ratifying mechanisms (confirmed in interviews).
  • Presentation of information. It is difficult to find information in the reports; not very effective for communicating information.
  • Very limited use made of any technology, OHPs etc
  • Policy issues not discussed in main meetings even when ostensibly dedicated to this purpose. Agendas mainly reflect operational decisions
  • Community meetings were often very protracted. Lots of unfocused discussion with little strategic content. Not focused in any coherent way on issues affecting the local area. Information sharing mainly. Well attended though.

These findings were supported by a range of 'evidence':

Observations of Critical Incidents


Critical Incident: Ambiguity over interpreting performance indicators

At a Policy Subcommittee meeting on performance review, the Chief Executive (CE) presented the performance indicators required by the Audit Commission. It was commented (by the CE) that although PIs are crucial, the present set are confusing and require care in interpretation. A more meaningful set is required and the assistance of members is necessary in defining a better set of indices.

Although it was agreed that PIs are crucial, members were highly critical of the way the present set were presented. Some form of graphical presentation would be useful supported by helpful explanations and commentary. E.g. it was not obvious for some indicators whether being in the first or the last quartile reflected good performance.

The way that the information was presented was simply not conducive to a systematic discussion.

Observations of Exemplary Scenarios


Exemplary Scenarios: Ambiguity over interpreting performance indicators

A detailed Action Plan on the Housing aspect of community care (32 pages) was presented to the Housing Committee meeting on 17th Sept. Of the 23 recommendations, only one was discussed at all and then in a very cursory way. Much anecdotal discussion did take place which was tangentially relevant. The Report mentioned the DA's recommendation to implement a handy-man service. This provided an opportunity to discuss at length the issue of garden maintenance for elderly tenants. One member expounded at length on an idea that had recently been mentioned to him, of using raised beds as a way of ameliorating the amount of bending involved in gardening.

Content Analysis


Content analysis of committee interactions: Community & Social Services Committee 27/09/99. Overall 13 questions from members ­ multiple categorisation permitted. ;
Category of interaction Frequency
Drawing on current problems and anecdotes from community involvement. 11
Based on or directly questioning reports before committee. 1
Aimed at Director 6
Aimed at representative of Age Concern. 1
Aimed at representative of press 1

Task 1.4: Formal mapping

A Rich Picture of the committee process was undertaken.

RADs were produced of:

Both diagrams were created from an account given in a single interview by a member of committee services staff.

Task 1.5: Benchmarking

Not performed in the case study.

Task 1.6: Critical Goal Analysis

A tabular goal summary was produced for each goal.


Goal: Effective representation of local community interests
Primary stakeholders: The Community
Strategic relevance: Central to rationale of local democracy
Critical Success Factors Well informed members re. forthcoming operational decisions Direct involvement of community in decision making process Community participation in decision making events whenever appropriate
Current performance: Hard to assess!!!
Support by baseline process: Committee agendas provide some help to elected members, but it is hard to locate decisions/issues impinging on a local area
Other support systems: None!
Metrics: None in place. Citizens satisfaction surveys??

A goal network diagram was also produced.

2. Phase II

Task 2.1: Development of a business vision in terms of key goals

This table provides a selective summary of the results of the goal-gap analysis. The goals and the critical success factors derived from the CGA were evaluated in terms of the degree to which they are currently satisfied and in terms of their perceived priority to the Council. CSFs are operational sub-goals which contribute significantly to the attainment of the more abstract business goal.

Business Goal CSF/sub goal Gap Priority Comments
Effective representation of community interests Support community representation role of elected members Mod High  
Support direct involvement of community in decision making process Low High At present, some powers are devolved to community committees. Discrepancies amongst reports of effectiveness, also some concerns about membership of community committees.  
Support community participation in the decision making event Low Low Related to above issue - there is a need in some circumstances to involve community at the point of decision making - e.g Planning Committee.  
Policy development attuned to needs of City Support Policy development role of elected members High Mod Important in the eyes of some members and emphasised in the government reforms. Some officers regard with scepticism.
Better community consultation High Mod Elected members play role of intermediaries. Filtering role is important; too much consultation could be overwhelming  
More effective policy co­ordination between directorates High Mod    
Open government Low High    
Effective policy monitoring by elected representatives Low High Publication of decisions will not be sufficient. Members will need to have access to supporting documents and the rationale for the decision.  
More rapid decision making Mod High    

Task 2.2: Creative Exporation of Re-engineeering Opportunities

The heuristics have been applied throughout the case and have been helpful in suggesting redesign opportunities:

Heuristic Example of Redesign Opportunities
Organise work around the achievement of outcomes, not tasks. Focus on improving the quality of information: i.e. the intelligibility of reports, their indexing, the documentation of decisions etc. Aim to improve enhance communication, consultation and decision making.
Have those who use the output of the process, perform the process. An agenda management tool allowing Senior Officers to add items directly to electronic agendas, including reports. Chairs can access and review agendas directly too.

Better tools allowing members to search for relevant documentation.

Better tools to allow officers to access information without needing to make a special reference to committee administration

Put the decision point where the work is performed, and build control into the process Again, make the production and dissemination of agendas and reports the responsibility of directorates.

Require authors to index documents prior to their release.

Subsume information processing work into the real work that produces the information Chairs to directly manipulate electronic agendas (see above)
Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were centralised Put all documentation on a Web Site
Link parallel activities instead of integrating their results Agenda management tool does this: products are linked as they are produced through the tool (see above)
Capture information once and at the source Eliminate all paper flows. All documentation to be put on Web site or use email.

Task 2.3: Redesign proposals

Two specific BPR proposals were examined at this stage.

  • An agenda management tool, enabling electronic agendas (including all supporting papers) to be created directly by Senior Officers without assistance from Committee support staff.
  • Development of an information management service (Corporate Information Repository) for the support of decision making in Salford Council, focussing on the support of members and officers in the new Cabinet/Scrutiny structure. However, a broader vision is implicit: we foresee an integrated information service that underpinning much of the Council's activity.

The benefits of each proposal was assessed. This is an example of a benefit derived from the Corporate Information Repository (CIR).

Benefit Rapid access to community information for elected members
Benefit target Instantaneous access to any decision or report pertaining to a community area
Timescale Available by June 2000
Metrics To be assessed through the customer survey

A set of benchmark tests will be developed

Accountability Director of Legal and Admin

The following was used to describe the impact that the CIR will have on business processes:­

"A highlight will be the development of a new process for setting up meetings with agendas (e.g. Cabinet meetings). This will rely upon electronic media for the submitting agenda items and sharing the agreed agenda with stakeholders. In brief terms, people wishing to place an item on an agenda (e.g. Directors) will deposit the items electronically. The Chair of the meeting can then review the developing agenda periodically. If there are issues to be discussed, the Chair will contact the person who submitted the item. Confirmed items will be made available to other stakeholders (e.g. members and officers attending the meeting, other members or the public)."

This impact is shown by the by the drawing of a RAD. See committee minutes example above


SPRINT was used comprehensively throughout this project and most of the tasks detailed in the methodology were useful. The observation and the formal process mapping identified areas for improvement. In Phase II we identified 2 specific re-engineering proposals which addressed these issues: an Agenda Management Tool and a Corporate Information Repository.

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