VRSA’s Insight application: Bridging the gap between your strategic plan and everyday decisions

Public bodies make important decisions each day as they serve their communities. Decisions may involve daily operations – utilities, public safety, refuse parks – or may be responses to new challenges and uncertainties – like COVID-19. Often these decisions not only impact the lives of citizens but staff as well.

How do public bodies ensure they make optimal decisions that support their communities and strategic objectives?

The Virginia Risk Sharing Association (VRSA), in partnership with City/County Insurance Services (CIS), an insurance pool for Oregon cities and counties, created and designed Insight: A Strategic Decision Support Application.

The application is designed to bridge the gap between the strategic objectives of an organization and its significant decisions. The application can help organizations set priorities based on financial impacts, as well as meet increasing expectations for transparency by providing point-in-time documentation of the considerations taken leading up to significant decisions.

Let’s walk through a scenario:

A city’s recreation center remains closed in response to COVID-19. It’s now October, and the city is contemplating whether to reopen the recreation center for community gatherings.
Before beginning their decision-making process, city staff complete an organizational profile in Insight. This one-time step involves entering the organization’s annual operating budget, financial thresholds for enlisting management and governing board approval, and the organization’s strategic objectives. This information is used throughout the Insight application and the reports generated.

As the city staff start working through this decision, they first identify which strategic objectives are supported by reopening the recreation center.

Through a sequence of steps, the staff have conversations among themselves and various interested parties in order to identify and document considerations, including:

  • Team members involved in the decision process;
  • Issues that may require input by the governing body and top management;
  • Internal and external stakeholders who may influence or be influenced by the decision;
  • Potential advantages or opportunities arising from the decision, as well as financial impacts; and
  • Potential threats or downsides of the decision, including financial impacts and how they may be mitigated.

The city staff enters information at each step and provides supporting documentation where available. This provides the staff with a point-in-time perspective as it relates to the decision being made.

Finally, the staff document their outcome or recommendation.

Ultimately, a thoughtful and documented decision adds value by considering the resources of the city at the decision-making level, rather than exhausting resources on a poor decision made in the hopes of a good outcome. Documenting the city staff’s recommendation provides an area to capture resulting impacts, lessons learned, and/or other pertinent feedback.

At the end of the process, Insight generates reports which provide high-level decision summaries, including cost implications. This helps the city avoid unanticipated consequences relating to financial implications with its operating budget. As more decisions are added, the staff are able to identify which have the highest potential impact on the organization.

In our example using Insight, the city decided to reopen the community center. The decision was supported because it furthered the city’s strategic objectives to strengthen neighborhood communities – and those involved felt that the benefits outweighed the exposure. The city involved both internal and external stakeholders in the decision-making process, so the outcome was overwhelmingly supported. Response plans were in place in the event of adverse impacts, and the city had documentation as to why the decision was made, if needed, to defend its decision.

Calls for transparent operations are becoming more prominent. As public bodies adapt and adjust to this new normal, VRSA is here to ease what worries our members – so that you can focus on what matters most – serving your community. Call VRSA to learn how Insight can help you be more thoughtful, inclusive and transparent in your decision-making when your governing body and leadership team hold a conversation on the challenging issues facing your community.

Learn more about Insight here.

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