On Governance and Making Change

Photo of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, November 2016 from the Revelstoke Current.

A few days ago, I got a great question on my Facebook Page.

For many of the candidates here, change is the largest or only plank in their platform. Just like it was 4 years ago. Are you aware of how municipal government works? Do you know what is the responsibility of the bureaucracy and what is the responsibility of council? When was the last council meeting you attended? How do you plan on making the changes you’re promising if you run up against a bureaucracy that is resistant to change?

It’s easy to say “we want change!”. It’s harder to come up with realistic ways to effect that change. Let me get into my experience with governance first, it will help give context to my answer.

I first got into Revelstoke meetings at the committee table of the Local Food Initiative (the LFI). At the time, it was part of the North Columbia Environment Society (the NCES). I was working as manager for Deenie at the time, working towards buying the business. I had a 30 hour work week, and time to volunteer and get more involved. I am proud of my work at that table as we grew our programming and set up as separate society.

After the transition was complete and I’d rebranded Chantilly Kitchen Bed n Bath to our current Big Mountain Kitchen & Linen, I got interested in the Chamber of Commerce again. I’d stood for election in 2012, but was not successful in getting a seat on the Board. In 2014, I was better known in the business community. I wanted to provide a voice for the independent business owners that were swamped with the operations of their businesses; most of the board at the time were managers in larger corporations that had head offices outside of Revelstoke. I wanted to know how the Chamber could better support the members in their community.

At first, I was learning. Lots of learning. The Chamber of Commerce has a lot more resources than the Local Food group! We didn’t get formal governance training until last winter however, due to scheduling challenges and the changeover in our Executive Director (twice in my time on the Board, both times positive).

Our strategic planning process for the Chamber last fall was enlightening. We wanted to set some lofty goals, and were continuously brought back to reality. “That’s actually not part of your job; you set the SMART goals, then your staff get to implement them how they see fit.”

Since then, Community Futures has held some great training courses around various topics of governance, and I’ve been learning as much as I can about the municipal processes so that I can properly advocate for our Chamber members at the City and Provincial levels. I attended the BC Chamber AGM this spring in Kamloops, and the Cities Reducing Poverty Conference where I was able to speak to our current challenges in Revelstoke. Both events gave me new insight into how our communities function, and where some common pain points lie.

To answer part of your question, part of our role at Chamber is to always have one of our Board of Directors present at City Council Meetings. I’ve been to several each year, and try to make the time away from the store when an important topic is up for discussion. I follow politics at all levels closely; I’ve always been fascinated by the processes that underly our communities.

I’ve sat in on discussions with, and listened to reports from many of the Committee tables around Revelstoke over the last 5 years. There is some incredible work going on behind the scenes on food security, poverty reduction and affordability, economic development and so much more.

There is a huge appetite in our community for “better”. Change is a part of getting to “better”, but is difficult to navigate when there are so many moving parts and poor governance gets in the way. I think that good collaboration is how we move forward. Currently, we still struggle with coordinating our efforts, and public consultation and discussion is less than effective.

Effective consultation leads to better decisions and practical policy; ineffective consultation leads to frustration and conflict as various parties try to make themselves heard.

So, back to the original question. How would I handle a bureaucracy that may be resistant to change?

First, I would explore where that resistance to change comes from. In my experience, decision makers tend to ignore good advice from their front line staff who actually deal with the issues on a day to day basis. I would be the champion of discussion. If proper consultation is done, mindful responses provided, then effective policies can be developed.

Second, proper feedback loops should bring any ongoing concerns to the attention of council. These concerns can be addressed either through adjustments to the document if appropriate, or corrective action if necessary. The idea of See-Click-Fix is great, but the effectiveness has been limited due to incomplete processes around its use, especially in reporting and metrics.

For those interested in how I feel consultation should proceed, I refer to the UK principles for government consultation. They’re well written and align well with my own views:

Through sharing best practice and by following the new principles, we can ensure that all consultations are of the highest quality.

The reward for this couldn’t be greater: effective consultations mean effective policies that are practical to implement. So, this is not simply about Open Government, it is also crucial to our efforts to provide the best possible service to the public.

Sir Jeremy Heywood, Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service

I am an entrepreneur at heart. I’ve never done very well in corporate settings, because I don’t say “yes” easily enough for their taste. I question decisions regularly. I look for ways to improve processes, especially using the new tools at our disposal. I know to listen to the concerns of customers and front line service staff; they know what’s going on in a way that managers just don’t see and often ignore. It seems overwhelming to try and tackle, but with the new tools available, we can engage on a whole new level with limited resources.

Don’t get me wrong, I also understand the futility of change for change’s sake. We need to make meaningful improvements to our services and bylaws for the future of everyone’s Revelstoke. These changes will take time; government works in small nudges for a good reason.

I think that my voice would be an asset for our community at the Council table as we navigate these changing times.

Please vote for Nicole Cherlet on October 20th!

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