Goodbye bureaucracy

Any project in a local authority setting has a certain degree of bureaucracy. And that’s good, bureaucracy makes sure people are kept in the loop, makes sure services are fit for purpose, makes sure we are accountable and transparent.

But bureaucracy can also make our workdays too long, frustrate us and distract us from our, and the organisation’s, motivation.

In a context where we are all held in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty with very little open to us in the way of relaxation (figuratively and literally), more than ever, unnecessary bureaucracy has got to go.

Upon returning from sick leave at the start of the first lockdown to a wildly different workplace than I left, and with everyone simultaneously up to their eyeballs in work, I reached out to colleagues in the Public Health team to offer support.

Supporting our residents through Covid

This led to the Research Team’s involvement in the Essex Coronavirus Action and Support Facebook Group, an innovative way to make sure our vulnerable residents were supported and to combat the overwhelming amount of misinformation out there.

Within 3 weeks the group had over 30,000 members and was getting attention from some key external stakeholders, and so it was decided to put the project through a formal evaluation.

We had a small team and unanimously decided to make sure this project worked for us. We have a standing two-hour slot blocked out in our diaries on Wednesday (at 10am, I am not a morning person) which we use differently every week. Sometimes we meet, discuss the project or just download a tough week, or use it to work separately uninterrupted.

Thankfully the sponsor for the project has given us a lot of freedom. This allowed us to dictate our own timelines and deadlines and to be fluid with the scope of the project as and when new work is discovered or progressed elsewhere.

Has this way of working reduced our outputs or limited our reach? No, we’ve presented to central government, have already been published in the Behaviour Science and Public Health Journal, involved partners at Facebook HQ, and we’re not done yet.

Has it caused confusion among the team and stakeholders? No, even without a rigid timetable for updates we keep in contact in an ad hoc way that allows us to only create and share what is strictly necessary, in fact streamlining the process.

Obviously, this way of working is not possible for all projects, but where it can be done, or aspects of the approach can be adopted, it should be. It requires a lot of trust between all those involved, it requires flexibility and true delegation, but the rewards are worth being a little bit brave.

Even after almost a year we are still excited by this project, it still has the momentum it did at the outset and the stakeholders are still as eager to remain involved. We are not exhausted; we do not resent going to meetings and the mechanisms are there if one or all of us need to readjust our focus to other projects for varying amounts of time. Win. Win. Win.

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