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What is good governance?

Businesses measure success in margins, units shipped, and profit, but how is success in local government measured? Good governance, not profit, is the goal, and four major premises make up good governance. Adherence to these should be obvious to most any staff member or elected official, but to make these a reality is surprisingly difficult. All jurisdictions struggle at times, and inexperience, turnover, and low morale are all understandable impediments to getting it right.

Good governance is:

First, Transparent. There are precious few instances when secrecy is warranted in local government. Meetings, documents, and even emails should all be available to the public, and long before FOIA is even mentioned. The public should also get a key seat at the table when new plans, programs, and expenses are considered. This doesn’t mean that experts aren’t also important, but citizens are experts on their own communities, regardless of their credentials. Public involvement can take the form of surveys, interviews, and workshops, among others, but communication is paramount, and flows in both directions.

Second, Predictable. Governments have policies and procedures in place to ensure citizens that all are treated equally, with due process, and in due time. Predictable government means following the same policies and processes, regardless of the issue at hand. Whether newcomer or longtime resident, major corporation or first-time entrepreneur, standards should be followed unfailingly and to the letter.

Third, Accountable. Successful governments must banish the dreaded “not my job” that results in callers being transferred from one department to another, none supplying definitive answers. Customer inquiries should be answered in one transfer or less. This doesn’t mean that everyone in City Hall must have all the answers, but is does mean that they should know where to turn to get them. A great answer to the toughest questions is “I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you” – then set an expectation – tomorrow, Monday – and follow through.

Fourth, Effective. Good government must be straight-forward, proactive, and results-oriented. Rather than remaining reactive, staff and elected leaders have a duty to plan ahead, setting realistic and measurable goals that come with timeframes for their completion. With real goals in place, successful governments chart the most direct path between where they are now and where they need to be.

All four of these principles are linked by one common theme; customer service. Citizens, business owners, and visitors are all customers of local government, and should be treated as such. Good governance is polite, professional, and responsible.

The Berkley Group offers several services to help our clients achieve higher quality, and more efficient, governance.

  • Our Auxiliary Town Hall (ATH) program provides on-demand, contract staff to support local planning and administrative functions. An experienced extra hand can help with day-to-day functions or special projects, reducing customer frustrations with the pace of local approvals and processes.

  • Berkley’s Executive Transition Assistance (ETA) program places experienced city/town managers and county administrators with localities experiencing a temporary vacancy. Our managers provide the accountability of seasoned pros, and can help hire and coach permanent replacements.

  • Our Organization Strategic Assessment (OSA) service can give your local government a neutral, third-party assessment of structural and procedural systems. Our experience can show you where gains in efficiency, communication, and customer service can be made.

Can The Berkley Group help your locality sharpen its focus on good governance?

For more about local government strategy, see our Change in Local Government Series at

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