Local government technology partnerships fail by design in all but the rarest of cases. We don’t like to talk about it, but it’s hardly a secret, especially in those projects for which the mandate is handed down from the political or senior administration level. In many cases the failure of these partnerships is virtually inevitable. A couple of politicians put their heads together and say, “Hey, both of our communities want to buy a GIS system so we’ll just pool our resources and buy one together and share it.” This seems logical on the surface, but when the people who are charged with the task of looking into the details get together, they usually discover that GIS (and other) software licences contain clauses that ensure that two organizations can’t share the same licence and thus there are no cost savings to be had.
Even when the more obvious caveats are avoided, there is a whole host of reasons why multi-community local government partnerships don’t work. Differences in objectives, resources, technical sophistication, budgets, time constraints, vendor relationships, system compatibility issues, standards and customer expectations can all contribute to the difficulty in identifying common ground for an agreement. If you add in the human factors of professional ambitions, personal biases and egos, it’s a wonder that any partnerships exist at all.
With this in mind, it’s no surprise that there are very few multi-local government co-operative technology projects that have survived long enough to serve as a model for the rest of us. One of the few such projects that has managed to survive in B.C. is a multi-community portal style Web site called Fraser Valley Local Government Jobs (www.fvlgjobs.ca). This site started out as the brainchild of a group of human resources managers at local government offices in the upper Fraser Valley. Exasperated with the high cost of advertising employment opportunities, especially for entry-level positions such as clerks and labourers, these HR managers banded together to create a site that would serve as a one-stop shopping source for local government employment. Each of the participating local governments was already using newspaper advertising and online job posting Web sites for recruiting. Each also had a space on their own corporation’s Web site to advertise job opportunities, but due to the irregular frequency of postings, this method was not attracting enough attention. By agreement, each of the participating local governments discontinued the practice of posting positions on their own Web sites and instead provided a link to fvlgjobs.ca. Based on a traffic rate of more than 100,000 measured hits in its first year of operation, visitors appear to be coming back to the site regularly.
One of the unique features of fvlgjobs.ca is that it provides an optional data interface for the more technically advanced members of the partnership. Through this interface, jobs are automatically posted from the HR systems without duplicate data entry. Employment opportunities are automatically removed from the current postings section of the site once their close date has passed. It even offers an RSS feed so that job seekers can receive automatic notification of new postings via RSS client software. The content of this site reflects the fact that these local governments know something about the secrets to a successful multi-government partnership. There is no evidence that one of the members owns or claims credit for the site, which shows no favouritism and acknowledges equally each of the member local governments. During implementation, the partners assisted each other to get up and running. Each contributed some of their own effort towards the creation of the site, so there was no cash outlay involved in building it. Most importantly, the initiative had a good beginning in that it was a “grass-roots” concept that had solid buy-in from the HR managers whose commitment has made fvlgjobs.ca successful. Now that cost is no longer a barrier, all the job postings can benefit from the exposure required to attract a strong response from qualified candidates.