Incorporating public service values in process improvement and innovation training

Local governments and utilities across the country face many similar issues – aging infrastructure, tight budgets, legacy technology systems and processes, staff that are stretched thin, and customers, taxpayers, and ratepayers that demand innovation and accountability. To address these challenges, our organizations are frequently called upon to “do more with less,” and to “run more like a business.”

To deal with these issues, many organizations turn to proven tools and techniques for reducing waste and increasing efficiency, like those in the Lean and Six Sigma disciplines. These are effective tools for cutting costs and streamlining processes, but they were created for the private sector. By design, they fail to consider the public sector values of equity and inclusion. Unfortunately, this can lead to solutions that may improve the efficiency of a process for some members of the community, but fail to meet the needs of others.

An example of this type of issue that many utility and local government organizations experienced recently was the push early during the pandemic to transition many types of transactions to be exclusively online. When transitions like these happen quickly, without considering equity and inclusion, those without reliable technology access or limited English proficiency can be left behind.

When designing the Process Improvement and Innovation training program for the Raftelis Performance Academy (RPA), our team adapted the best parts of what Lean and Six Sigma can do to help an organization improve its efficiency, and wove them together with an intentional approach toward addressing equity, inclusion, and other organizational values.

From four voices to five

Traditional Lean training often includes a discussion of the “Four Voices.” These are four perspectives that should be considered and consulted when framing an issue or an innovation opportunity. They include the Voice of the Customer, the Voice of the Organization, the Voice of the Process, and the Voice of the Employee. In RPA trainings, we have added a fifth voice to the roster, the Voice of the Heart. This concept is designed to reinforce the importance of identifying those individuals and groups that may not historically have had a voice – to identify the unspoken issues, challenges, and perspectives that may be held by the broader population that is impacted by an organization and its processes.

Defining the problem

Crafting a problem statement is a cornerstone of traditional process improvement work, and often includes a checklist of questions to identify the problem and its scope clearly and concisely. Equity and inclusion are highlighted in RPA trainings as part of defining a problem statement at the outset of a process improvement project. In addition to identifying any operational challenges, participants are taught to investigate equity and inclusion with the following prompts:

  • Who benefits from this program or service?
  • Who is burdened by this program or service?
  • Who is missing from this program or service?
  • How do we know?
  • What do we do about it?

Identifying any equity or inclusion issues at the outset of defining the problem ensures that they stay front of mind throughout the process improvement and innovation effort.

Measuring the impact 

In addition to learning to evaluate data related to the cost, accuracy, and speed of a business process, participants in RPA trainings are instructed in concepts for describing and measuring equity and inclusion as well. While not always as clear cut as measures associated with costs or speed, equity and inclusion measures can help monitor progress toward important public service values including:

  • Opportunity – These measures help identify where there are gaps in a population’s opportunity to take advantage of an organization’s programs or offerings.
  • Accessibility – These measures help identify where organizations can do better for their customers and stakeholders as they engage in their services and processes.
  • Representation – These measures reflect the extent to which an organization’s governance and leadership reflects the community it serves.

A common sense of purpose

One final way that RPA trainings for Process Improvement and Innovation uniquely address these cornerstone public service values is not found in the curriculum, but in the program participants themselves. By specializing in trainings for the utility and local government sectors, we bring together talented professionals who care deeply about the communities and organizations they serve.

Participants learn together and from one another to identify innovative solutions to common organizational challenges. They build lasting professional connections and gain access to ongoing resources to support their process improvement and innovation efforts when they return to their organizations.


For more information

To learn more about the Raftelis Performance Academy and upcoming Performance Improvement and Innovation training programs visit here. For questions or to explore ways to bring customized Performance Improvement and Innovation training to your organization, contact Jennifer Teal at