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close this bookTraining for Elected Leadership - The Councillor as Overseer (HABITAT, 1994, 16 p.)
close this folderPart I. Essay on the councillor as overseer
View the documentDefinition
View the documentSummary
View the documentReflection
View the documentConcepts and ideas
View the documentGeneral benchmarks and targets
View the documentOverseeing policy development
View the documentOverseeing implementing
View the documentOnce implementation is underway
View the documentKey points
View the documentReferences

Overseeing policy development

The closer you get to the performance of specific tasks, the easier the overseer role becomes. Unfortunately, your councillor role as overseer is not to scrutinize specific tasks, although the temptation is always great to tell the street crew it doesn't know how to fix a pothole, particularly the one at the end of your driveway. As a member of the elected leadership body of the community, you need to resist these kinds of temptations and focus your overseer attention at higher levels of community concern.

The highest level of scrutiny you need to exercise will not be defined in any legal document outlining the legislative boundaries of your role as councillor. Rather, it has more to do with your ability to do the right things beyond the legal dictates of the job. When Drucker was referring to effectiveness, we are confident that he was not confining his remarks to the legal parameters of the council's role. He says "effectiveness is the foundation of success - efficiency is a minimum condition for survival after success has been achieved."

In most situations you will be faced with overseeing the effectiveness of both policies and programmes. Policy effectiveness is much more difficult to assess because it is concerned, in part, with whether you have made the right choices between competing demands for scarce resources. For example, would it have been more effective to have allocated funds for a new elementary school, to repave five streets, or to initiate a new pre-natal training programme? Obviously, the effectiveness of these kinds of decisions is highly subjective. Nevertheless, you and your colleagues must go beyond subjectivity to make these kinds of decisions.

Several factors enter into the picture at this point:

· Is there a demonstrated need for the programme and service you are considering?
· Is it feasible to do anything that will make a difference?
· Who else could do it as well or better?

After you have satisfied these kinds of inquiries and the policy is enacted, the overseer role becomes one of monitoring and evaluating efforts to implement it:

· Is the programme or service meeting the need you thought it would when you initiated it?

· How well is the need being met?

· Did you misjudge the magnitude of the task and your ability to make a difference (the feasibility trap)?

· Can and should the programme or service be produced by someone else, subject to your continued overseeing?

The ideal time to undertake these kinds of policy assessments is during budget deliberations. While we have not advocated zero-based budgeting (ZBB) as an approach to financial management, the underlying philosophy and strategy makes a lot of sense as a way to evaluate policy performance. ZBB essentially says that every programme and service should be reappraised at the beginning of each budget cycle. At the beginning of each budget cycle, you could ask your chief administrator or finance officer to prepare a list of all current programmes and services. Each programme or service would then be assessed, using the questions listed above and any other the council might believe important to determine future direction.

This kind of systematic inquiry will help your council keep a better focus on those policies that lend themselves to monitoring and evaluation. Overseeing policy implementation is an attempt to provide long-range navigation for your community. It's as though you are on a long space journey and need to make mid-course corrections. It is also a time when you take stock of what you have on board that can be jettisoned to help you conserve your resources for the long haul.