Innovate or Stagnate: Why “Creative Problem Solving”?

Innovate-LightBlubwButtonSome folks have asked about the Town’s use of the “Creative Problem Solving” process. Where did it start? Why do we use it? Has it been successful?

Why CPS?
In the summer of 2012, Council directed our new CAO to recommend strategies to make Pelham more innovative in our provision of services. After researching several options, the Town’s Senior Staff introduced Council to a “creative problem solving” (CPS) process taught by McMaster University professor Dr. Min Basadur.

To see if the process worked Council tested it on our hardest community problem – the infamous questions about recreational and cultural services in Pelham and what to “do” with the 32 acres of land the Town purchased in East Fonthill in 2005. It worked extremely well because the process allowed us to not only clarify our main challenges, but also helped us to start solving these community problems.

Since it worked once, Council used the process on our next most difficult problem – to help resolve the request to develop a highly contentious “site alteration” bylaw. Instead of adopting that very restrictive bylaw, we used the process to develop an Environmental Protection Bylaw which helps protect agricultural lands and stops the importation of construction waste.

Council has also used the creative problem solving process with the Library Board and the Friends of Maple Acre Library to confirm a long-term commitment to library services in Fenwick.

We “flexed” the CPS process to help establish the Thursday night Supper Market, to help make Pelham Street more walkable, to update our Strategic Plan, to develop an economic development framework, and to determine the final location for the skatepark.

Staff has used the process extensively to do big things – like developing a performance management system or following through on actions to deliver on the Town’s strategic plan – but also on smaller, important things – like developing a better way of thawing frozen water pipes, or of clearing snow.

Finally, I have also used the process at Niagara Region to help advance inter-municipal transit discussions and planning, to reevaluate Regional development charges, and to discuss strategies to help single-parent families receiving the Ontario Works benefit.

Innovate or Stagnate:
Council and I believe in the importance of ongoing training and education; if we don’t train or innovate, we stagnate.

Over the last three years the Town budgeted $266,324 for all types of professional development ($70,512 in 2012, $111,222 in 2013, and $84,590 in 2014). This budget is for everything from mandated accreditation and health and safety training, to more forward-thinking professional development like sessions at the Ontario Good Roads Association or the Parks & Recreation Ontario conferences.

What about the “creative problem solving” process? From 2012 to March 2014 the Town invested 38% of this training and development budget – or $100,222 – on the CPS process; this included training, facilitation, and strategic planning for all Staff and Council.
Implementing the Innovation:
When it comes to training, a big challenge is how one implements the innovation or “learnings” from the classroom / conference into one’s work processes.

That is, how do you actually make best use of the training to deliver positive results? This becomes even more problematic if you are the only one who’s been trained and you have try to introduce the change to your co-workers.

That’s one of the main reasons we trained all staff in the same process; so that once we all knew the process, we could focus on the innovations and implementing the solutions.
Based on Pelham Council’s and Staff’s many successes, the creative problem solving process has helped the Town to not only clearly define important problems, but, more importantly, to develop and implement innovative solutions.