Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Forward progress

I am looking forward to the day when I can shutdown this blog, my job being done.  I don't see my job as reporting graffiti or complaining about pot holes - my aim is to transform the way our utilities think so that instead of them requiring me to report a problem to them, they find problems off their own bat and fix them quickly.  I am hoping that I can convince them to move from be reactive to proactive.  When that happens, I'll hang up my keyboard and find a better use for my time.

We are not talking about enormous, groundbreaking shifts in policy here, or massive bureaucratic restructurings or organisational transformations.  We are talking about small, simple changes - like the way Canada Bay Council rewards staff for reporting problems.  Each month, the names of all staff who reported something go into a hat, a name is drawn, and the winner gets a voucher or reward of some sort.  It's not expensive, it's not sophisticated, and it doesn't work for everybody - but it motivates enough people to make a significant difference at minimal cost.  

Similarly, council uses a simple online database to track graffiti.  It's not even their database - they've simply purchased access to an off the shelf system that can be used by any medium or large organisation with a graffiti problem.  Council are running reports on the database, finding out where there is a lot of repeat business, and targeting those sites for regular, proactive checks and cleanups.  How simple is that?  You can call that data mining if you want, but I call it plain common sense.

I would like to think that Energy Australia will one day move to a policy of proactive monitoring of their kiosks and substations.  They have hundreds of staff on the road everyday in Energy Australia vehicles, attending to jobs and tasks here and there.  Is it really that hard for management to ask their staff to keep an eye out for kiosks as they are driving around, and to report graffiti on any that they pass?  Are there any realistic impediments to them adopting a Canada Bay style rewards program for reporting graffiti?

Similarly, the RTA has hundreds of trucks and cars on the road everyday.  Many RTA structures are the targets of vandals - particularly bridges and noise barriers.  Is it that hard for RTA management to motivate their staff to report damage to their assets?  

Then we have Australia Post.  A postie visits a post box every day to empty out the mail.  It's not like they have to look out for post boxes as they drive past, or peer at them from across the street to see if they have been vandalised.  Instead, they stand in front of them, open them with a key and remove a sack of mail from the inside.  They get to walk around them too as the doors are on the footpath side of the post box.  The posties are obviously seeing the graffiti up close and personal - and I'm sure many of them are sick of it - so why aren't they reporting it?  What cultural change is required to motivate posties to report vandalism?  What kind of cultural sickness or malaise are they currently suffering from that stops this sort of thing from happening?

The same goes for Sydney Buses.  Buses pull up at bus stops 50 times a day or more, and sometimes those bus stops are vandalised to hell and back - but not a single driver seems to think that they might be doing their customers a favour by reporting it.  

Telstra seems to be coming around.  I was told this week that Telstra are working on a deal with Canada Bay Council that will allow council to remove graffiti from Telstra exchanges in the area.  At least I hope that's what they are intending.  I'm sure the lawyers will be working on it for the next six months before a deal is signed, but the change of heart is encouraging.

RailCorp have also put in a big effort recently to remove a huge slab of graffiti from a very badly vandalised site in the council area.  I hope this is the start of a change of heart when it comes to removing graffiti from the rail corridors - but I'm not holding out much hope just yet.  I'm worried that they won't bother going back each month to remove any minor graffiti that appears, and before we know it, the site will be a disaster area again, and RailCorp will be moaning about the huge cost of removal.

Well, you know what?  Graffiti is like cancer.  If you tackle it early and quickly, you can get it under control and even defeat it.  If you let it go, it multiplies like crazy, and you're dead meat.  If you treat it regularly and keep it under control, the cost is much lower than allowing it to go to hell, and then facing a massive bill for a huge cleanup.

The Education Department is also showing signs of a change in thinking.  I'm hoping that they might decide that it is more sensible to handover the job of graffiti removal to council, since council do it quickly, effectively and relatively cheaply.  Getting council to do it also removes a lot of the hassle that schools currently have to go through when they are vandalised.  Here's hoping that sensible thoughts don't get shot down by the bureaucracy before they are given a chance to succeed.

So I might get the chance one day to hang up my keyboard.  Here's hoping.

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