Fresh thinking about Quality, Performance & Resources

My last post  on this topic asked for challenge/push back, and, being lazy, I hoped no one agreed with me (then I wouldn’t actually have to do anything). #fail. While not in direct response to my blog, several groups we’ve been working with recently have set the challenge: “You do all this benchmarking stuff at PAS – why not take it a bit further? Rather than just a club, with a periodic and backwards-looking focus why not be a bit more proactive? “. This chimes so nicely with my previous blog that I am happy to rise to the challenge.

Are you sitting uncomfortably? Then we’ll begin

I don’t propose to do this by halves. I am talking about big and lasting changes – it makes sense therefore to go for broke. Rather than stay in the comfortable territory of measuring what’s just happened, let’s use this opportunity to invent a performance framework that not only tells our customers how we’re doing, but also starts to help us answer the ‘how do we measure quality?’ and ‘how do we resource in an unpredictable world?’ questions. Big questions that no – one has ever really suceeded at answering.

Here are some early thoughts on how we can achieve this. They are ideas that need expanding and especially, they need challenging. Last time I wrote, I made it clear I am only interested in a ‘sector-led’ approach to all of this – so please let me know what you think.

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 Part 1 – The Quality/Cost Model

The premise: councils can measure application quality by asking 2 simple questions:

  • Does it accord with our plan?
  • Does it accord with the NPPF?

There are 3 answers:

a)    Yes (good quality). The applications should be cheap and quick to deal with because they attract the minimum resource necessary.

b)    No, but we like it (potentially good quality). We’d like to say yes but the proposal is at odds with our current plan. These applications will be more expensive and slow, attracting resource appropriate to the work required to make them ‘fit’.

c)    No. (poor quality). Quick and cheap refusal.

The better the fit with policy, the better quality the application, the better quality the application, the less resources required to process it, and so on.

Part 2 – The Resourcing/Cost Model

This involves using our benchmark data sets – the past to predict the future:

  • What kinds of applications are we likely to receive and when?
  • What quality will they be?
  • Knowing this and the volume, can we predict our resource requirements and benefit from a shared resource pool?

So rather than just help councils understand what happened in the past a bit better, why not use what we know to help councils predict their resource requirements into the future and:

  • Share scarce resources
  • Understand the peaks and troughs of work
  • Spot capacity problems earlier
  • Offer a better service by predicting decision dates better (whether via a PPA or not)

Part 3 – Performance/Improvement Model

  • Good quality applications – shouldn’t ‘touch the sides’ but where they do there are opportunities are to improve speed and reduce cost.
  • Potentially good quality applications – pre app, negotiation, PPA, + policy improvement opportunities
  • Poor quality applications – why are we getting this stuff? – communication opportunity + policy improvement opportunities

The ‘potentially good’ and ‘poor’ quality applications represent excellent opportunities for improving how we go about pre-application and negotiaiting applications. They make us question the quality of our customer communications AND are a really neat way of tie-ing this work back in with policy; perfect.

WHO WANTS IN? Next steps

Effort without talent is a depressing situation… but talent without effort is a tragedy. I see PAS as the ‘effort’ and the people we know are out there delivering planning  as the talent.  I have a feeling that we are sitting on something big here and potentially game-changing. The danger is that it just remains a feeling.

These ideas will only be properly tested if we can find some forward-thinking councils that will share the brains of some of their people with us and give us some data to work with. For our part, we’ll bring the data slicing and dicing skills and some glue to hold it all together.

I know we’re all struggling to find time and resources to do the day job, but these kinds of opportunities only come around once in a while before being snuffed out by less worthy, as-you-were projects that are less taxing.

So, please respond to this post – get the debate started, and if you are interested in helping us contact me martin.hutchings@local.gov.uk

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2 thoughts on “Fresh thinking about Quality, Performance & Resources

  1. Splitting applications into the ‘good’, the ‘maybe’ and the ‘no way’ and then thinking about how we consider each type sounds like a common sense approach to me.

    Our Planning System is not particularly good at dealing with the ‘goods’. The process does not give much certainty, is not flexible, takes a long time and can be very costly for the applicant. We need to deal with as many as possible of the ‘goods’ as a simple, quick transaction. The land zoning / design coding approach used by planning systems throughout most of the rest of the world lends itself to simple transactions. We could replicate this by wider deployment of LDOs, and by being more ambitious in what we would allow through the LDOs.

    Re the ‘maybes’, this is the main area where Planning Officers can add value – by turning the ‘maybes’ into ‘goods’. This is where we need to devote more resources, whether it be at the pre app stage or in the way we negotiate the live app. For me, the ability of Planning Depts to turn a ‘maybe’ into a ‘good’ is the biggest quality indicator of a Planning Service.

    Re the ‘no ways’, it’s a shame we could not just refuse them straight away on receipt. Processing these is time wasted for all concerned. It should be a case of in and out the door as quickly as possible for these.

  2. Pingback: How to define a good planning service | Planning Advisory Service

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