1. High-performing services depend on strong and motivational leadership
The quality of political and managerial leadership, and the access a green space team has to this, was identified as the most important driver of performance. Strong leadership provides advocacy, vision and ambition for the service at a cabinet or managerial level; secures and protects funding; builds partnerships; drives innovation; and provides motivation. Investment in skills at all levels is needed to achieve good leadership. Successful heads of service are communicators, motivators, advocates and brokers.
2. Unified management and maintenance functions matters
Those green space services which separated their day-to-day maintenance functions from the overall management found it harder to deliver good quality and efficient services than those that unified them. Separation can lead to competing priorities, communication failure and lack of familiarity with day-to-day operations, and can reinforce silo mentality. When services are integrated, priorities are more likely to be shared and there is better advocacy of the interests of the service.
3. The location of a service, whether in a dedicated parks department or a larger department, is not the most important driver of performance
The division or directorate within which green space services are placed is not of major importance, with one exception. Green space services are at risk of being neglected when part of a larger waste department. Priorities and resources can be diverted because waste is a significant statutory responsibility for the local authority.
4. An active understanding of the policy and practice context is needed to stay responsive and relevant
Keeping alert to the internal and external context is critical. The way local services are delivered is changing rapidly. The government is firmly advocating that local authorities share services to deliver efficiencies and to empower communities to lead on service delivery. The green space sector is a relevant sector that will deliver on these agendas. An understanding of the current context, and how it relates to their role, enables green space managers to respond fast and be relevant.
5. Provide evidence to gain the support of leaders and partners
The absence of a robust evidence base demonstrating the value of high-quality services is a deal-breaker. Tracking change and putting together benchmarked data is invaluable for both strategic planning and day-to-day management. The benefits far outweigh the effort of data collection. Local authorities now have the ability to set their own indicators of performance, defined by what is important locally. As local communities value their local green space, this provides a chance to devise appropriate indicators that clearly measure the contribution of green spaces over time.
6. Transparent, legible structures are more effective for those using and delivering the service
Structures that place, in an organisational sense, green space mangers close to senior management encourage better, and a more frequent, communication and co-ordination. In deeper, more hierarchical structures, the green space service may end up buried. A transparent service structure, where it is clear who is responsible, is also beneficial for users of the service and avoids duplication. However, structure does not dictate performance. Motivated individuals with the desire to make it work can override structural difficulties.
7. Effective and targeted partnerships underpin successful services
Green space services are non-statutory and can meet the objectives of other public service areas so active partnership working is fundamental to success. Forming effective personal relationships, and proving the value of green space services to the partnership, is especially important. It is not just about internal partnerships. This is about ensuring that the green space service’s delivery objectives are met with partners from national and local agencies, and friends groups. Delivery in partnership with communities is critical.