Accuteque has worked with a major Arts Funding Body (AFB) which plays a significant role in the arts sector in Australia. Alongside cultural and social benefits, the arts sector also generates economic benefits contributing over $30 billion towards Australia’s GDP per annum (ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, 2011).
A review of the AFB was undertaken with the aim of assessing its original purpose and determining an appropriate governance and administrative model to meet this agreed purpose. The Review set out 18 recommendations across six key areas for major reform within the organisation. This included a new governance structure that established a conventional, skills-based governing board with a new Board appointed in 2013. In addition, recommendations around a five-year strategic plan and a general stream for grant applications across all art forms are being progressed.
A core activity for the AFB is the delivery of significant grant funding for Australian arts organisations and artists. It is therefore one of the fundamental ways in which artists and arts organisations interact with the AFB, with opinions formed on the basis of this experience.
Following the implementation of a simplified grant allocation across all art forms in 2015, it was time to review the grants process. In particular, it was critical to determine how a service model focused on the needs of artists and arts organisations across multiple disciplines could support the successful transition to a simplified grants program and enhance the reputation of the organisation.
The purpose of the Client Service Model Project was to recommend process improvements in support of a Client Service Model for handling grant applications, which could begin to take effect with the delivery of 2015 grant programs.
The Project was undertaken in three stages:
1. Literature review - key attributes and elements of client focused service delivery, best practice in grants management and varying models of grants management.
2. Stakeholder consultation - views of staff, artists and art organisations on the current approach by Australia Council to servicing potential and existing grant applicants; strengths of current grant management processes; and opportunities for improvement of current grant management processes.
3. Model development - current grants management processes, process improvements and characteristics of a client focused service model for the Australia Council.
The stakeholder consultation included: a staff workshop, 13 individual staff interviews and 11 client interviews.
During the third stage, the outputs from the grant management team workshops undertaken by AFB formed the basis of current process maps. Further clarification was sought in staff interviews and finally the maps were tested with the Project Director and Program Manager, Business Development, Arts Funding.
A reference group was established to test information collated about the AFB grant application process and provide feedback on changes proposed to meet the strategic and operational objectives of the AFB.
The analysis overall identified that existing processes exhibited due diligence however there was considerable room to streamline aspects that appear to be unnecessarily complex, pass through too many functional areas, happen at a time that impedes better practice or represented duplicated effort.
Based on best practice and process analysis of current grant management practice, key areas were identified for consideration by the AFB in designing a contemporary client focused service model.
It was proposed that the model be underpinned by consistent practice; accessible information; ownership, client empowerment and minimization of duplication of effort.
In working with the AFB to review, develop and implement a new client service model inline with new strategic directions, it was essential that we recognise that the transformational change that was occurring across the organization was impacting everyone from the board and executive team down, and that we needed to work collaboratively and flexibly with management as they considered the findings of the review, the potential implications for the AFB and made decisions about how bold a vision for the future they were prepared to embrace.
Many of the structural and procedural changes implemented went a substantial way to addressing client and staff concerns regarding inconsistent practices across the AFB. However, it was also an opportunity to align practice with the elements of a contemporary client focused service model and best practice grants management. This essentially required people to think and behave differently in how they interacted with each other and their clients.
The impact of the proposed model
The introduction of a contemporary client service model represented a significant shift for staff in how they viewed themselves and their role in providing assistance to clients about the grants process.
In working with key managers and members of the executive team throughout the project, we developed a relationship through weekly meetings meant that we not only discussed project management matters but also took time to explore project findings, create a vision for the future and deliberate about the implications for the AFB. Importantly, we talked about how to engage staff in understanding the new model and in determining how it could be implemented.
As the project evolved, everyone built a deeper understanding of what the new model could achieve and what it would mean for staff. Significantly, it required staff to renegotiate their relationship with clients, no longer developing personal relationships or acting unconditionally as advocates for the artist, but providing objective professional consultation. This included directing artists to more appropriate avenues if they considered the artist as not “grant ready.”
Accuteque worked with the AFB to develop a change approach that strongly engaged staff in implementation of the model. Accuteque facilitated a process whereby staff and management worked together to develop new ‘rules of engagement’ that embodied the vision for a contemporary client service model. Through this process, staff and management were able to identify what additional support they needed to be able to fully operationalise the model. They identified that while maintaining important elements of their existing approach and continuing to draw on their expertise in particular art forms, they also needed to develop skills that would allow them to interact differently with clients and apply their knowledge in a more systemic way.
Through structural changes to work teams, skill development workshops and action learning groups, staff from across different artforms are developing new skills, such as how to have difficult conversations, creating new knowledge together and determining what sort of team environment they want to work in.
This process has been strongly supported by the executive team and managers through attendance at workshops, listening and acting on staff input and creating time for staff to develop and adapt to the new environment.
Throughout, Accuteque has supported the change process by remaining open to making changes to the project brief and training and development program as our joint thinking has evolved, asking questions and providing advice at key points and working as a partner rather than just an expert.