Sunday, May 12, 2013

Assessing the Risks of Change

Any time council proposes doing things differently, we're guaranteed to get emails or phone calls from residents or other interested parties about how we shouldn't make changes, because the change will cost more.  The most recent example is our decision to move to monthly water billing in January 2014, rather than the current quarterly billing.  The immediate reaction from some has been that our costs for the actual billing will now be triple, and certainly, for paper billing, mailing a bill every month rather than quarterly will cost three times as much.

Any time change happens, there is a cost involved.  What has to be part of the decision-making process, is an assessment of what benefits are associated with the change, and whether those benefits outweigh the costs.  In the case of monthly water billing, I think that the benefits of making it easier for residents to pay water bills, the reduced risk of delinquency of payment because we'll know monthly if if someone isn't paying, and the reduced risk of a leak going unnoticed are all big benefits that have to be part of the analysis.

We also need to see if there are ways of lessening the increased billing cost.  I'm not sure if administration has investigated the option of electronic billing, as provincial utilities now have available, but I think that's something that we should look into.  I also think that we need to figure out a way of encouraging more people to submit their meter readings electronically - what sort of incentives might increase the proportion of residents who voluntarily do this for us, reducing the need, and the cost, of having city employees read all the meters.

Now, those are just some simple examples of the sort of analysis that needs to be done any time we propose change.  Too often, I think that change is proposed because there is new technology available, and we want to try it out.  As an example, our move to I-pads a couple of years ago for meeting agendas and emails has not been totally smooth, and there's still a fair amount of paper that has to be put together related to meetings.  Emails sometimes disappear before they've been read, and I know that some councillors are concerned about email being accessible to administration, losing a sense of confidentiality that we had when we each had our own email on our own systems.  But none of these issues was discussed fully before the change was implemented.

We need to have as much information as possible, and we need to discuss openly all the pros and cons about any changes that we're thinking about.  It's just as important to think of all the potential problems ahead of time, and how we can resolve or avoid them, as it is to think of all the wonderful things that will happen with a change.  And each councillor needs to honestly look at both sides of the issue, no matter which way they lean, to ensure that these discussions happen.

Very few things in life, or at council, are purely black or white.  Weighing the costs and benefits takes time, but it also allows us to find the appropriate shade of grey that we can defend, and explain to our constituents.    I've found that most people, when you give them the complete picture, and the steps that were taken in making the decision, are appreciative of the effort that was taken.  They might have made a different decision, but most will also respect the fact that our job, as members of council, is to make those decisions to the best of our ability.  And then we move on to the next decision.

"If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary." - Jim Rohn

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