Located adjacent to the Niagara Peninsula in Southwestern Ontario where the Grand River meets Lake Erie, Haldimand County is comprised of diverse urban and rural communities, offering a friendly small town atmosphere and providing a picturesque setting for many recreational pursuits.
Haldimand County encompasses many towns and hamlets for visitors to explore, including Caledonia, Cayuga, Dunnville, Hagersville, Jarvis and Selkirk, alongside many smaller communities. The Haldimand County Central Administration Office is located in Cayuga, and serves the municipality’s growing population of more than 45,500 residents.
Haldimand County’s processes for the creation of agendas and reports were largely effective but entirely manual. As documents were prepared, users moved digital files between multiple folders on shared storage depending on their current status.
“Our existing process worked well and was actually quite effective compared to what I had seen previously,” said Clerk Evelyn Eichenbaum, who had worked in larger urban municipalities before joining Haldimand County eight years ago. “However, the process required us to manually move documents from folder to folder as they progressed between workflow stages such as collaboration and approvals. We had no software tools for managing our agendas and reports, so no means of version control or tracking documents through their lifecycle.”
That manual effort could become quite cumbersome, with nearly 40 council, committee or budget meetings annually, and agendas for committee meetings averaging more than 300 pages. Haldimand County recognized that there was technology available that would help make the process much more efficient. “Even before I came into the Clerk role, there was a desire to move to a more streamlined and efficient approach through software. There had been earmarking of some kind of meeting management software in our budget for many years before we actually moved forward with it.”
Streamlining, not Supplanting
In evaluating solutions, it was important to Eichenbaum that the chosen system fit well with Haldimand County’s established report preparation workflow. “We knew that this change would affect a number of staff in our organization, so we wanted to make sure that the software was closely aligned with our existing processes and really just made them more efficient,” she explained. “We didn’t want to totally reinvent the wheel; we just wanted the solution to make the wheel run more smoothly.”
Haldimand County also wanted to ensure that the publishing of documents to their website was a step forward in terms of accessibility. “We had been uploading agendas and minutes on our website as PDF documents with hyperlinks to each of the related reports,” Eichenbaum recalled. “We wanted to make sure that with the new solution our materials would be even more accessible to the public, not reverting to any format that would be less easy for them to navigate.”
Haldimand County found eSCRIBE’s comprehensive meeting management solution to be the best fit for their organization. “Right out of the box, we found that it aligned well with our existing processes,” said Eichenbaum.
“One of the key factors in our choice was eSCRIBE’s tight integration with Microsoft Office,” she continued. “An important capability for us both before and after implementing eSCRIBE has been using Track Changes and Comments in Microsoft Word documents, so it’s very clear who’s making what changes during our review process before finalizing the reports.”
Advancing Citizen Engagement and Efficiency
eSCRIBE’s Internet Publishing Plus module met Haldimand County’s goals for increasing accessibility on their website by enabling material to be presented in HTML5 format. eSCRIBE’s online tools have also helped the municipality publish more content to their website — such as uploading supplementary materials immediately after a meeting that previously would not have been uploaded — thus delivering an added benefit of improving transparency.
Beyond pre-meeting preparation and post-meeting website publishing, Haldimand County also uses eSCRIBE during the meetings themselves. “Before eSCRIBE, we would take notes on paper for staff to transcribe after the meeting,” said Eichenbaum. “Now I or Deputy Clerk Jennifer Shaw use the software to capture anything we need for the preparation of minutes, including who’s moving, who’s seconding, the results of votes and more. It’s much more efficient, as the notes are already in the software for inclusion in the minutes, and staff simply format them.”
Haldimand County also deployed eSCRIBE’s Approval Manager module, which enables the municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer to approve reports on-the-go from his smartphone. “Our CAO is the last approver on every report, and with his busy schedule, it’s sometimes more convenient for him to approve them on his mobile device than to start up his computer each time,” Eichenbaum explained. “In addition to being easier for him, Approval Manager benefits the entire process by enabling faster approvals.”
Haldimand County went live with eSCRIBE just over a year ago, and the solution has delivered the improvements in efficiency that the municipality had hoped for.
“eSCRIBE has certainly streamlined our agenda and report preparation, all while staying true to the successful processes we wanted to retain for collaboration and workflow,” said Eichenbaum. “Our agenda creation time has been reduced by 1/3, while our post-meeting time preparing minutes and publishing to our website has decreased by 50%.”
eSCRIBE’s tracking tools and version history have made it easier for staff to see where reports are in their lifecycle and how changes came to be. “We can quickly get a snapshot of where reports stand, which also makes it easier for us to identify and resolve any bottlenecks in getting them completed and approved,” praised Eichenbaum.
The municipality’s implementation of eSCRIBE also aligns with its long-term initiatives. “eSCRIBE helps our organization and staff move towards more efficient government, which is one of our strategic priorities,” Eichenbaum explained. “In conjunction with a planned new administrative building, we are looking at expanding online customer service and doing a technological overhaul in a number of areas. We want to adopt more and better technology to help us do our day-to-day work, and eSCRIBE is a key step forward in that.”
Since first deploying eSCRIBE, Haldimand County has expanded its usage to support the municipality’s Police Services Board: producing agendas and minutes for the board and publishing them through the eSCRIBE portal onto their website. Eichenbaum also hopes to further broaden the use of eSCRIBE for multiple types of internal and public meetings in the future, when the municipality’s heavy project load permits.
“Our experience with eSCRIBE has been positive,” she summarized. “It has certainly fit our needs, and helped us achieve the efficiency that we were looking for. And the people we have worked with at eSCRIBE have been very supportive and helpful.”