The many benefits of working transversally.
Updated: Apr 20
Many (digital) citizen participation projects fail before they’ve started because no adequate internal organisation is in place yet to manage the project effectively. Taking a transversal approach to project-management addresses this, lays the foundation for better organisation in the future and pushes your citizen participation project to success.
Time is a scarce resource and it’s not surprising that many promising projects don’t take off for a simple lack thereof. Or because sufficient time can’t be freed up by reorganising tasks and roles internally.
This does not only affect digital citizen participation but the issue is particularly poignant here. In a community with less than 50k residents, you probably won’t find a government worker whose responsibilities revolve solely around citizen participation. If this person doesn’t exist, who will find the time to manage the project?
And even where citizen participation experts have a dedicated position, they might not have the skills or confidence to manage a project that relies on digital tools.
But although many communities struggle to find the right person to assume complete ownership of the project, most administrations are sceptical of dividing responsibility between multiple people as well. We often hear that the internal set-up is simply not flexible enough for taking employees from different departments, training them and diverting time away from their other tasks.
Instead, new projects are routinely postponed by public administrations, in the hope that their internal organisation will be better equipped for them in the future.
This, however, misses the central problem. If projects that don’t clearly fall within the job description of 1 or 2 employees fail for a lack of internal ability to manage them, a better managerial structure needs to be actively developed.
Implementing digital citizen participation with the help of an inter-departmental project team minimises the time spent on the project while maximising its impact. And at the same time, taking a transversal approach in this context will improve the internal organisation overall, laying the foundation for more effective project-management in the future.
Organisational silos can block new projects.
For most local governments, the challenge of implementing a project that requires a mixed set of experience and expertise doesn’t just lie in finding the right person, but in reorganising work structures internally. Time needs to be freed up, roles adjusted and new project teams put into place.
But rigid organisational structures can stand in the way of this. Bureaucratic specifications and a strict division of departments often become considerable hurdles. Organisational silos where employees work mostly isolated from colleagues with other sets of skills, knowledge and responsibilities are the result. In this set-up, groups of employees or entire departments work without having the means to share information or knowledge with each other or lack the motivation to do so.
This siloed organisation cannot only be found in public administrations. It remains the most common managerial structure across all types of organisations. And it gives rise to a myriad of problems. Rather than sharing expertise and experience across departments, the latter tend to hoard knowledge and guard their skills internally. As a result, information travels slowly, tasks get completed not necessarily by the person best qualified for it and employees have little incentive to think about the organisation as a whole. This doesn’t only impede efficiency on a day-to-day basis, it stands in the way of realising new projects.
Progress requires some flexibility.
For public administrations, this gives rise to a broader problem. While the work of public administrations needs to be strictly regulated to prevent haphazard and wasteful management of public resources, too much structural inflexibility can stand in the way of change. If new projects cannot be realised because managing them would clash with internal structures, progress is hampered. After all, a public administration needs to be able to adapt to new developments in order to stay connected to society, which is constantly undergoing change.
A telling example of this is Germany’s struggle with digitalisation. While different factors contributed to slowing the public sector’s digital transformation, an insufficient internal infrastructure ranks high on the list. Managing such a broad transition requires a certain openness for change from organisations. But the way public administrations are structured often proved too rigid to be adapted and many employees even resisted such efforts.
Being able to meet new challenges and projects openly makes every organisation stronger. Even if the internal set-up of public administrations is somewhat particular, they, too, will benefit hugely from bringing more flexibility to their structures.
Breaking organisational silos through working transversally...
An approach that yields much better results is that of transversal management. Here, complexity in projects is made manageable through collaboration between different employees from different departments or sections. This way, a rigid top-down and siloed structure is replaced by a more flexible one that focuses on the knowledge and skills needed for a project and how they can be shared and built most effectively.
Adopting a transversal approach will enable public administrations to better anticipate and respond to change in the future. This, however, is no quick undertaking. Breaking down organisational silos is a complex process that requires time and careful planning.
Rather than attempting to revamp internal organisation entirely overnight, it is therefore advisable to gradually shift to the new model over time. This process can be initiated by managing just one project transversally.
This first experience of working transversally allows the public administration to ‘test’ a different format of organisation without having to change their entire way of working. Over the course of the project, the team will see the benefits of collaborating with different departments and gain more confidence in the process. This way, organisational silos are loosened gently over time.
...using citizen participation as a trial-project.
Digital citizen participation provides an ideal framework for testing transversal management. Here’s why.
1. Your citizen participation project will be a success!
For a citizen participation project to be successful, experience, expertise and decision-making power from different departments is required anyways. Before, during and after the project, distinctly different tasks arise that demand equally different skills and abilities. The expertise required for communicating about the project beforehand is entirely different from the decision-making power needed for using the results afterwards. Finding just one employee for this is not only difficult but greatly reduces the effectiveness of the project. Rather than overwhelming the one person whose job title comes closest to that of citizen participation with a myriad of tasks, many of which will inevitably fall outside their expertise and power, different employees can put a few hours into tasks that they already know how to complete. This speeds up the process and increases the quality.
For this reason, Civocracy’s partners always work with a team of people from different departments, each taking on a role that is best fitted to their position, skills and interests. During a series of online-consultations on the public bus service launched by the city of Lyon, for instance, the project manager from the transportation department worked closely with employees from the communication department. This way, resources and time were managed more efficiently and effectiveness was boosted by the diverse mix of experience and expertise in the organisation.
2. An effortless push for digitalisation.
Digitalising the public administration is a complex and lengthy process. But it also comes down to simple steps like allowing public servants to familiarise themselves with digital tools and have positive experiences using them.
When Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes launched its digital participation project, one of their project team's members felt particularly anxious about using a digital platform. But as she learnt how to navigate it, her digital know-how and confidence grew - something she was able to build on in later projects.
For public servants sceptical of digitalisation, learning how to use a digital tool and seeing how seeing how much easier it makes it to engage with citizens in a meaningful way through it can go a long way.
By including employees from different departments, people who may not usually come in contact with digital projects are given the opportunity to experience the benefits digitalisation can bring to the public sector and gain more confidence in using them. This contributes to eroding internal barriers to digitalisation.
3. A collaborative approach for a collaborative project.
What citizen participation preaches does not only hold true for citizens; Collaboration unleashes potential in every context! Using collective intelligence by sharing experience and knowledge, working on questions together and learning from each other will inevitably yield more and better results.
If you advocate for collaboration in your citizen participation project, your organisation should get behind it too.
4. Laying the foundation for better project-management in the future.
Often all that’s needed for long-term change is taking a first step in that direction. Testing a transversal management approach when setting up a citizen participation project will become a positive experience that future projects can build on.
When the city of Lyon opened its citizen engagement platform in 2018, most of the project team members came from different departments and had never worked together before. Over the course of the first consultations, they divided responsibilities efficiently, shared their knowledge and collaboratively made the project a success. This had a lasting positive impact on the organisation. Marie-Helene Nougarede, a policy officer who was part of the project team later said that the transversal set-up helped them achieve their objectives and that they now “try to promote this transversal way of working internally”.
For many civil servants, managing a project transversally will be their first experience of working with some of their colleagues. They will get a better understanding of how other departments work in the process and be able to think beyond their own team’s or departments concerns and interests in the future. Moreover, they will gain new knowledge and skills - and are likely to work more collaboratively in the future.
Setting up a new project that requires time-commitment as well as a diverse set of skills, knowledge and decision-making power can seem so challenging to organisations that they prefer to put it on hold. But by managing the project transversally, it is possible to both put together a successful project and develop a more effective organisational infrastructure for future projects. That is why Civocracy supports its partners in setting up transversal project teams, knowing that it will make citizen participation more impactful and help public administration progress
If you’d like to learn more about how we support successful project-management through advocating transversality, shoot us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.