Webinar presenter Adam Leath answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Is Mission Creep Killing Your Agency. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: You have a particular kind of shelter software that you recommend for keeping track of your stats, I noticed the same thing, too. There were so, so many great numbers. What shelter software are you using, or how are you doing that?
Adam Leath: So, we actually use Chameleon as the main one that we use for our sheltering software, but we also use TeleStaff, which is a Kronos product that we use for time tracking and staff scheduling. So, those are the two main ones that we utilize here within our division.
Audience Question: Are Municipal Agency and many others, I suspect, are all expected to be all things to all people, with any sort of animal problem. We’ve become a jack of all trades and masters of none. How do we redirect our efforts to focus on the areas in which we really do have expertise, so as to convince our constituents and the decision-makers that we’re really not abandoning our commitment to animal welfare but actually enhancing it deflecting public criticism? I know that’s a pretty loaded question, but I suspect it kind of gets a part of what a lot of people are wondering. How do you pull this off?
Adam Leath: It’s a great question and there’s no easy answer. What I can say is, you have to look at the numbers. So, everyone expects that you are everything to everyone, because they don’t have a true and accurate realization of what resources you are working with. So, if you are able to articulate, here’s what my cost is most policymakers and decision makers are focused on the numbers, whether that’s the numbers of output, or how many dollars it takes to fund a particular function. So, you should focus on what resources are available, you don’t have an unlimited budget. Looking at your budget is an incredible tool to begin those conversations. If there is an expectation that you, for instance, do, a lot of the things that we talked about in our presentation today, mission creep may already be alive and well within your agency. You should recognize what those costs are and bring those back to the decision makers. If they have an expectation that you are doing this particular component of your work that you really don’t have a lot of the resources necessary to do it, then say that. You don’t have the money to respond. You don’t have the personnel. You don’t have the training, you don’t have those resources, because the last thing that a decision maker wants to hear, is liability. Oftentimes, if you’re being asked to respond, particularly with wildlife or a wide variety of species, and you don’t have the appropriate equipment, or your staff is not trained to appropriately respond to identify these types of things. You know, we’re dealing with liability, work comp, all sorts of things that will immediately get the attention of those policy makers. So, really having a discussion about numbers, what your cost is and don’t be afraid to say, no. People are still going to be upset. They’re still going to say the things that they’re going to say, but those are by and large, are the vocal minority. We do not want to make those decisions on anything other than the data. So, avoid finding yourself having a knee jerk reaction because of a citizen complaint that you didn’t do something. Avoid making a sudden change to your entire policy based on one isolated incident. That can be pretty challenging and a pretty dangerous road to go down. Because you could have been on the right path. You could have been producing some rock star results and getting really close to achieving your mission. But now, suddenly you’ve taken a complete fork in the road, just because someone had an opinion. So, the more that you can focus on the data, the better equipped you are and the more ammunition you have to respond factually to those types of questions.
Audience Question: The tables you did and so all of those numbers and tables and such they were beautifully formatted. Did you complete all of that as part of your strategic planning? Was it an auditing process? What kind of started you down that path?
Adam Leath: Sure. It’s a great question, and I’m happy to share any of those. If anyone would like those, I’m happy to share what ours look like. They are public record and we want to be able to share that information. This conversation started with performance measures within the division. I started in January of 2019. And, you know, we really did struggle, because a lot of the questions that you are asking, there was really no good data being captured. We just did things the same way because we’d always done it that way, and while I completely understand that sentiment, that’s not how I wanted to make decisions. I wanted to make decisions based on data.
So, we worked within our Department of Public Protection, which is comprised of seven different divisions here within Volusia County but we have a statistician that works with us all. We composed logic models or performance measures with the statistician. So, it was really by means of developing performance measures for all the divisions with Public Protection, EMS, Fire, Beach Safety, Corrections, Emergency Operations Center, Medical Examiner, and Animal Services Division. All of the divisions within public protection created their performance measures because we wanted to proactively tell our story and we wanted to ensure that the story that’s being told is steered by us. The last thing we want to hear is someone from the public indicating that we’re doing something wrong or not responding appropriately, which is typically a complaint by the public. There may be a specific reason why you weren’t able to respond timely, but you can show that out of all of the hundreds of calls that you’ve responded to, the complaint that wasn’t handled timely is an anomaly. You know, one of your performance measures might be that you’re responding within a particular time frame, or that you’re resolving it the first time that you go there. So, if you’ve got those performance measures in place, I don’t necessarily have to get into a semantic argument with someone. I can just show them the numbers and while I understand that this may have been an anomaly, we work closely to ensure that we provide a sustainable and predictable response to your concern. This is what our expectations are, and this is how often we meet that, and if we don’t meet it then we need to re-evaluate it.
Audience Question: Following up and just looking at the actual tables that you’ve built I suspect those meetings with a statistician? How long did it really take? Not only just get the data, then kind of digest it and then move it into that very manageable table and then socialize that through your staff or to your planning mission whatever that process looks like.
Adam Leath: I think, you know, staff really did have a glazed look in their eyes just by beginning these conversations. But we took these numbers, we did not have that database that I talked about. This process actually helped us get that database because we knew that was a priority across the entire Public Protection Department to start accurately capturing these measures. The biggest argument that I had is, I can’t do that, given my current resources. I said, no. I can’t without this, I need these things. So, it was an immediate argument that I had, was I want to get to where you are. I see where you’re going, I want to be there, but here’s what I’m going to need in order to get that done. And so then, at that point, we acquired the database and then started looking at those numbers. And I didn’t, by all means, share all of the tables that we had. There are a number of them that will say, trends are upward. Or target not yet determined because we only have you know, 4 or 5 quarter’s worth of data. Whereas some of our divisions, for instance, like our Beach Safety Department, who is our law enforcement agency on the beach, they have decades’ worth of data. So, they can not only identify trends based on season, they can identify trends based upon types of calls. We’re still in our infancy just trying to develop a baseline, and then once we develop that baseline, we’re sort of trying to figure out how we can move the needle slowly and what direction we want it to move.
Audience Question: How can we e-mail you and get copies of those tables?
Adam Leath: Absolutely. I’d be happy to share any of the information to the extent that it could be useful and I’m sure that our statistician would have no issues also in a having conversation, she actually teaches at our local university. I am not the sole author of any of this. There were a lot of people, including staff, here in animal services, but certainly, those that have much more data-driven experience than I do looking at this from a variety of different aspects. We wanted to be involved in steering the ship in a particular direction. But they helped us boil down the numbers. We immediately started asking questions. Who are we? What are we hoping to accomplish? What does that look like? How do you measure that? Where is that information captured? Those kinds of conversations were really, really helpful in trying to determine, what we wanted to accomplish and how we were measuring whether we’re in the right ballpark.