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Saskatoon: A Great Place for Special Events

November 21, 2016 - 10:55am

From left to right Brad Babyak, Kara Lackie, Deb Davies (Emergency Measures Coordinator), Dean Crowe (Roadway Activity Coordinator), Kathy Allen (Arts and Grants Consultant), and David Hude (Boards and Agencies Superintendent)

Saskatoon has experienced an increase in the number of special events by over 70 percent in the last six years. Special events are considered programs or activities located in City-owned spaces that bring more people to that space than usual. Long running special events like the SaskTel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival and the Broadway Street Fair were joined by events like PotashCorp Winter Shines, YXE Street Food Festival, and Saskatoon Ribfest in recent years. Responsible for applications and permits, the Recreation and Community Development Division became increasingly aware of the sharp incline in the number of special events. Facing internal resourcing pressure, the team began to take action to ensure quality customer service and create internal efficiency.

In 2014, Kara Lackie, Open Space Consultant, and Brad Babyak, the Integrated Facility Supervisor, began an internal review of the City’s special event approval process. The review focused mainly on Recreation and Community Development’s role in special events and comparing current practices with other municipalities with robust and diverse special event seasons. Armed with the results from this study, the Division could see the potential to make a significant contribution the City’s Strategic Goals, including: Quality of Life and Continuous Improvement.

The City’s Strategic Goal of Quality of Life envisions Saskatoon as a warm, welcoming place. Special events provide opportunities to bring people together to experience the natural beauty of their city, take in diverse presentations of music and art, meet their neighbors, as well as attract new residents. Recommendations from the 2014 Special Events Review report highlighted the necessity of ensuring special events continue to occur in Saskatoon and being creative in attracting new events to the city.

“We were seeing this increase and wondering how Saskatoon could continue to grow as an ideal location for special events,” says Lackie.

To answer this question, the internal review team was expanded to include representatives from the 14 divisions who play a role in the special events process. The second phase of the Special Events Internal Process Review put the spotlight on the Strategic Goal of a culture of Continuous Improvement. Ideas for improved customer service included:

  • Create a single point of contact for event organizers when applying for special events,
  • Revise the length of the special event application from 24 to 4 and compile a quick reference summary to accompany the application form,
  • Develop in-person workshops for event organizers and citizens to ask questions and learn about relevant event information (i.e.: use of food trucks, risk assessment use, and vehicles in parks permits, etc.), and
  • Formally create the Special Events Interdepartmental Team, a group of employees from each of the divisions involved in the special events process (i.e. application approval or implementation of civic services). The team will review and approve event applications, coordinate activities to deliver civic services as well as review past event performance in order to collaborate with event organizers on possible improvements.

Not stopping there, the Interdepartmental and Internal Process Review teams looked at creating efficiencies within the special event process. Ideas generated from these discussions included:

  • Create an online application,
  • Have staff on-site at large events to provide assistance and monitor administrative conditions the event must adhere too,
  • Create a smart application system that allows users to “shop” for event spaces and civic services based on their events’ needs, and
  • Add special events to an interactive map that hosts other civic information like traffic detours and construction to help citizens plan driving routes with minimum disruptions.

“These review teams are the strength of this work. It can be hard to coordinate the activities, ideas, and opinions of people from 14 different divisions but the teams are committed to seeing the success of this initiative,” says Lackie.

To date, many of the customer-focused initiatives have been implemented leading to a collective time savings for customers (i.e. event organizers) of approximately 100 hours annually. Time savings like these allow event organizers to focus on creating a successful event not who they need to talk to next. Additionally, staff time savings in the administration of the new application process are approximately 200 hours annually or five weeks of full time work. Next, the teams will focus on moving to a digital-first approach, internal policy development, and a resource gap analysis.

When asked about advice to other teams working on Continuous Improvement initiatives Babyak and Lackie highlighted the importance of setting a timeline, dedicating appropriate resources for creating and managing change, as well as building support within the divisions, including management.

Lackie advises, “Get people excited by asking - what is on your wish list? What are the things you want to change? Get people to do to the work by building on small changes, persistence, and on great teams that support and work well together.”

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