Magazine article Government Finance Review

Engaging Citizens through Accountable Strategic Management: Mecklenburg County Consistently Tries to Incorporate Transparent Business Processes as an Integral Part of Daily Operations as It Works to Become a More Transparent Government

Magazine article Government Finance Review

Engaging Citizens through Accountable Strategic Management: Mecklenburg County Consistently Tries to Incorporate Transparent Business Processes as an Integral Part of Daily Operations as It Works to Become a More Transparent Government

Article excerpt

Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, won a GFOA Award for Excellence in Government Finance in 2012 for this initiative.

Over the past few years, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, faced several challenges that led the organization to change the way it manages its business. Faced with double-digit population growth, decreasing revenues, unfunded state mandates, education funding needs, and an increasingly diverse population that requires more diverse services, the county's strategic direction now focuses on improving its key processes for planning, budgeting, and performance management, ensuring that the county maximizes its limited available resources to deliver value to customers and stakeholders. This process, called managing for results, has become part of the culture for Mecklenburg County employees.

As part of the managing for results philosophy, Mecklenburg County consistently tries to incorporate transparent business processes and practices as an integral part of daily operations as it works to become a more transparent government. Implementing a comprehensive dashboard portal and the budget evaluation survey tool (known as BEST) increased accountability and transparency, helping the county provide information to departments, elected officials, and the community in a way that is easily understood by all.

ACCOUNTABLE STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT

"Managing for results" is built around goals, corporate strategies, program alignment, and budgeting for results, a data-driven budgeting method. These principles are cascaded through county government and to the community through the Community and Corporate Scorecard, which lists the goals established by the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners and reports the county's performance in meeting these goals. The scorecard focuses on four areas: community health and safety; effective and efficient government; community sustainability; and social, educational, and economic opportunity. All county services are aligned with these goals, which are long-term in nature--through 2020--to achieve the board's vision for the community.

The Community and Corporate Scorecard comprises 41 performance evaluation measures. Because many of these are actually indexes that aggregate multiple measures to evaluate one performance goal, the county chose traffic light colors--green, yellow, and red--to communicate whether a target has been achieved, is showing mixed results, or needs improvement.

The county has always published a performance report each year for the community and the board as a midyear update during the board of commissioners' annual strategic planning conference. Information is presented as quantifiable data and narrative information. These reports are provided to the public as in printed form and as a downloadable document available on the county's website.

The annual performance report was an excellent step toward providing useful, easily understood information, but stakeholders needed more frequent access to the county's performance data. The county therefore developed an online performance dashboard that is updated monthly (available at http://www.mecklenburgcountync. gov). The dashboard communicates the county's Balanced Scorecard progress using graphs, timelines, and narrative information.

OPEN BUDGETING AND FINANCIAL REPORTING DASHBOARD

Historically, budget and financial information has been available to county departments through a series of management reports. Budget, finance, and departmental staff consult these reports frequently to stay abreast of their status, but users must have a certain level of existing knowledge before they can access the budget and financial system to generate the reports, and to interpret them. These documents can be intimidating to those who aren't budget or finance professionals, given their esoteric focus. As a result, decision makers such as department directors rarely reviewed these reports and instead relied on their financial staff to brief them on the unit's financial condition. …

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