Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Innovate or stagnate

This budget situation must inspire new thinking about how the work of the town gets done. We need more emphasis on finding better ways of doing things. Not just at budget time – all the time.

Recently, Amherst’s Information Technology department changed the town offices’ inefficient and unreliable phone system. IT Director Kristopher Pacunas knew there had to be a better way. He researched alternatives, and chose a digital network that provides reliability, more phone numbers for more direct lines, flexible growth, and according to the Gazette, it “is not expected to cost the town more money.” Better service, no extra cost. Innovative thinking. Bravo!

What other processes and systems could be improved? Changing the phone network was a big deal, but new approaches to simpler situations could also save time, money or effort, or yield better results.

Renewing a dog license – is there a better way to do that? Producing the town’s Annual Report – might that be improved? Replacing street signs, fulfilling common information requests, inspecting smoke detectors – isn’t there some potential gain lurking everywhere?

Giving a fresh look to that which is so familiar that it’s barely noticed is inspiring. Ask yourself: if I were creating this today, is this how I would do it? With all I know about this, can’t I come up with a better way?

If improvement for its own sake isn’t incentive enough, can we find concrete ways to encourage innovative thinking? Can we reward great ideas that improve processes, save money or give better results?

Naysayers and status-quoers will protest: “We/they are too busy just keeping things going – there’s no time or energy to think new thoughts or try new things.”

They are stuck in yesterday’s Amherst. Tomorrow’s Amherst will have higher expectations and greater demands, and we must prepare for that today.