The BRIDGE to improved government services in Charleston

Authors: Jonathan Ingram, Senior Manager at Raftelis (Email)

When John Tecklenburg was elected Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina in 2016, he set an ambitious goal for city government—to create a culture of innovation that empowers employees to make impactful improvements to municipal services. To meet this goal, the mayor and city staff developed and executed a dynamic innovation and process improvement program that focused on systematically building expertise and capacity within city government while partnering with management consultants at Raftelis to tackle large-scale organizational initiatives.

The city began this effort by sending nine Charleston employees from various departments to external training on LEAN and Six Sigma principles. This training empowered local government employees to identify government process improvements, enhance the effectiveness of government operations, and build a skill set and vocabulary for continuous improvement.

Following the training, Charleston’s Process and Service Improvement Division formed the Process Improvement Team, composed of city staff who completed the initial training. This team worked with city departments to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (a SWOT analysis) to various city processes and created an internal resource to help redesign and improve public services. This internal process improvement effort identified nine large-scale improvement projects and many smaller, rapid improvement projects that, if addressed, would fundamentally improve the resident, employee, or customer experience, and advance the city’s strategic goals.

As the Process Improvement Team began implementing these projects, the city determined that additional capacity would be needed to carry out the large-scale improvement projects. In 2017 Raftelis was selected to support the Process Improvement Team and complete these large-scale assessments over the course of several years. Since then, the Raftelis consulting team has worked closely with the Division of Process and Service Improvement and the Chief Innovation Officer to complete the projects identified in the workplan, and other high priority projects for city.

These projects span multiple service areas, from affordable housing development, to staffing and deployment studies, to workforce and culture assessments. Regardless of the focus area, our consistent focus had been to form a trusted, collaborative relationship with the city and help build capacity.

Our role as trusted advisors has continued to evolve and strengthen with time and is reflected in Raftelis’ newest partnership with the city – the BRIDGE Academy. The academy is an internal process improvement and innovation training program that is designed for local governments and utilities. It takes the original external training and develops a city training program that can be rolled out to far more staff.

The BRIDGE Academy, which stands for Building Resilient, Innovative, Data-driven Government Employees, is designed to create an internal engine of innovation. BRIDGE Academy participants, as formal and informal leaders in the city organization, develop in-depth expertise in LEAN and Six Sigma process improvement techniques. They then apply those techniques in their daily work and, just as importantly, train their peers, creating a culture of continuous improvement.

The goals of this customized program include:

  • Developing a common understanding among city staff of process improvement techniques to improve work processes and solve organizational issues.
  • Teaching and empowering staff to effectively use data to inform decision-making.
  • Equipping city staff with knowledge and skills to address barriers to equity and inclusion in city business processes.
  • Connecting staff from across the city to break down organizational barriers and grow individual leadership skills.

As evidenced by the work of the Process Improvement Team, innovation has been happening in the city for some time. BRIDGE is intended to put these efforts collectively under one umbrella – with a focus on developing talent internally to maintain sustained momentum for innovation. The first cohort of 15 employees concluded the first BRIDGE Academy class on July 30 and the second cohort is scheduled for the academy in October.

Raftelis is proud to serve as trusted advisors in this visionary effort to improve the Charleston local government for those it serves, and those who work within it.