Saline County Staff Discuss Ideas for Innovation in Local Government

Saline County Commissioners and other staff gathered in the basement of the Salina Masonic Temple for a special workshop focused on innovation in government.

On Tuesday, 11 county staff members attended Andi Mirviss’ plenary study session-style presentation with the Center for Public Impact. The aim of the session was not to come away with immediate solutions but to draw inspiration from potential ideas for overcoming local government challenges.

CPI is a global nonprofit organization and think tank that has held similar workshops for counties and municipalities across the United States, focusing on streamlining government processes and describing what it means to have a “culture of innovation”.

A Look at Saline County’s Challenges

Mirviss began the presentation by explaining CPI’s perspective on approaching challenges: most problems are complex, the quality of human relationships is important, and progress is made through experimentation.

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“Anything that makes things better for residents and new to the person doing it is innovation,” Mirviss said.

After hearing Mirviss talk about ways to recognize challenges, the presentation became more discussion-based and county staff all shared ideas about innovation.

They first discussed some factors that prevent them from implementing new ideas.

Commissioner Mike White said the subject of slow measures comes up frequently when talking with friends.

“We have a government simmering in a microwave society,” White said.

Other commissioners joined in the discussion, outlining circumstances that could have held back progress in the county.

Commissioner Roger Sparks said getting people to fully invest in the changes is a concern.

“Sometimes we empower someone who makes change, and I don’t think we dig deep enough to believe in that change enough to have the right people make the change,” Sparks said. “We just tell someone ‘here’s what we’re going to do’, but those people don’t believe in this change at all.”

At one point during the presentation, Mirviss paused to ask those present to define innovation in one word.

Defining innovation

Emergency Management Director Michelle Barkley said “failure”, while County Clerk Jamie Ross said “progress”.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better script,” Mirvis said of the response. “Because it’s about failure and progress and their relationship to each other.”

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She then said that new ideas can lead to failures, which in turn can lead to better ideas. But the public isn’t always patient or accepting of potential failures, Mirviss said, because results affect people in the “now.”

Mirviss went on to address the issue of “status quo” in local government and how this is often a big hurdle to overcome. Commissioner Monte Shedwick agreed.

Eleven county staff, including commissioners, engaged in a conversation about challenges in Saline County government following a CPI presentation Aug. 30.

A big part of problem solving, she said, is focusing on what individuals or individual departments can control.

Towards the end of the presentation, attendees were asked to write down potential ideas for addressing the challenges discussed. An idea came up to put in place better mentorships in the county to facilitate the dissemination of information from more experienced staff and to draw on the inspiration of younger staff to better implement the changes needed in the future.

Those in the room collectively agreed with this sentiment.

“A big part of those processes — always — is putting learning at the center of your work,” Mirviss said.

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