This case study explains how Rochdale Borough Council is working to develop an organisational culture that maximises the benefits of data and performance management.
Rochdale Borough Council measures corporate performance in two ways – via a leadership team dashboard and directorate business plan updates – with all measurements strongly linked to the council’s corporate plan outcomes:
The leadership team dashboard contains quarterly and annual key performance indicators (KPIs) for each of the council’s six directorates. At the start of each municipal year, directors – along with performance leads in each service – review these indicators. The indicators are then monitored by the council’s leadership team on a quarterly basis.
Directorate business plan updates are part of the scrutiny requirement for councillors to review the council’s business plan on a quarterly basis. Business plans are created by directorates at the start of the municipal year in conjunction with heads of service. Designated staff are required to provide a narrative and percentage completion update for those actions in the plan that they are responsible for. Reports are then submitted to the relevant committees, allowing key stakeholders to explore with officers the progress of the service and any apparent issues with performance.
The data, innovation and intelligence manager (DIIM) manages this process and has developed vital links with colleagues across the organisation. The DIIM circulates a timetable at the beginning of the year, which increases engagement and participation.
Seeing the data in a more visually appealing way makes it more accessible and keeps uniformity across the council.
Developing an organisational appreciation of data
The council's core aims are to work with colleagues to ensure:
- consistent data
- access to it
- enhancing understanding of it across the council.
To this end, the data, innovation and intelligence manager (DIIM) created 'ward profile' reports – providing colleagues with easy access to data they can use in reports and when responding to common questions.
Getting the right systems in place
The council uses performance and risk management software, built by Pentana, which allows users to update business plans and generate figures on key performance indicators. Performance management has improved within the organisation since this system was established, because it provides a centralised structure from which the organisation can collectively monitor information in the same way. Using the Pentana software allows data to be:
- accessed more
- engaged with more easily
- stored safely.
As a result, some colleagues are now monitoring information, updating their own indicators, and creating their own dashboard reports. The DIIM recognises the importance of buy-in from leadership and senior management – across departments – for embedding this way of working, and is looking to develop this further.
The council benchmarks against their statistical neighbours, recognising the importance of comparing against authorities with a similar demographic. In particular, the councils compare its statistics with other councils in Greater Manchester with whom they work closely.
Better understanding of performance
The data, innovation and intelligence manager (DIIM) has developed more comprehensive monitoring reports for senior management, which have increased understanding of the council's performance.
The clearer visual presentation of performance data for the leadership team dashboard has also helped to enhance understanding. For example, ‘red’ KPIs are highlighted on the front page, and added commentary helps to provide context for the indicators.
The creation of 'ward profile' reports has supported various areas of the council's work, for example, making funding decisions. The 'ward profile' reports provide consistent and reliable information that can be used by staff in multiple ways. These were particularly valuable at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic because they enabled the council to already know the needs in each area.
Staff from across different services, with expertise in a range of areas, are now being encouraged to write sections in the ward profile reports with the aim of linking together information that can be used corporately. Seeing the data in a more visually appealing way makes it more accessible and keeps uniformity across the council.
More productive conversations
Previously, there had been some reluctance to highlight less positive performance; but now there is increased understanding of the need to benchmark in order to view progress and see how the council compares with other councils, the national average, and its own previous performance. The leadership team's dashboard features 'red, amber, green' (RAG) rating system, and a comments section, and these have led to more focused and frank leadership team meetings where data over time, and targets, are now discussed in detail.
Discussion among the leadership team now focuses on actual data and areas of concern rather than on difficulties navigating the layout of the document (as was the case previously). Each directorate now takes ownership at the meeting and delivers its own section of the report.
Moving away from silo working
This has been one of the main challenges in developing performance management across the council. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has helped colleagues to understand how their data can link together to provide a more comprehensive understanding of performance and need (for instance around areas such as health, deprivation and the local economy). This one significant issue linked colleagues and voluntary sector organisations together and it is hoped that the council will be able to build on this approach.
Leadership team buy-in
Ongoing work is being done to develop continuous buy-in from the leadership team for the Pentana system – to ensure that all colleagues appreciate the benefits of monitoring information in a central location where data is ready to hand to be used to answer common queries.
Working more efficiently
Going forward, the council aims to ensure that data can be accessed in an increasingly coherent and efficient way by colleagues across the organisation – through an interactive repository of data and intelligence.
Learning from others
New staff coming in to the council often bring with them a fresh interest in performance management; and some have come from organisations where these systems were well established. This is proving helpful in starting to embed cultural change at the council.
The council has also learned from the experiences and successes of other authorities in initiating change. To achieve this, the data, innovation and intelligence manager (DIIM) first identifies gaps and then networks with other colleagues (externally and internally) and monitors the websites of other local authorities. For example, the council noted the ways that Leeds City Council and Wakefield Metropolitan District Council produced public-facing intelligence documents giving stakeholders the ability to self-serve to find and analyse information. Rochdale Borough Council identified that it could benefit from developing a similar approach – to pre-empt stakeholder queries and enable stakeholders to ask better questions, having first interrogated some intelligence themselves.
The importance of relationships
A network of analysts from across the council meet regularly to share expertise, knowledge, and skillsets. These analysts also benefit from seeing what others with similar capacity and resources are doing, and from sharing ideas.
Securing early senior buy-in
In developing the performance management approach and procuring the software system, senior organisational buy-in from the start was key to ensuring that the approach became embedded in the culture of the organisation.
This was achieved by providing reports to lead portfolio holders and cascading these to the leadership team – showing them the system and how it will benefit the organisation. When staff were asked to begin using the system, communications were sent both at corporate and service level to ensure that directors and heads of service were aware. A strong message from senior management to say: 'This is what we are doing as an organisation’ and that 'key stakeholders will view the outputs', was seen as key to ensuring that the system was actually used.
Senior colleagues were engaged with early, ensuring that they developed an understanding of the benefits of the system and of what they wanted from it. Bringing the ICT team and stakeholders together at the beginning of the process increased both groups' understanding of each other’s work.