How One Municipality Connected Public Servants with Its Citizens

Våler Municipality used network analytics to engage its employees in one value-driven platform. The effect it had on communication internally and with citizens surprised everyone.

Våler is a fast-growing municipality in the south-east of Norway. As the population reached 5600 and kept growing, so did the municipality’s staff of public servants – and with it the need to handle an increasing number of tasks in a cost-efficient and timely manner.

“Our main ambition is to be a smart, innovative, competent and efficient public entity – and to improve the collaboration of the municipality internally as well as with the citizens, volunteers, businesses and academia”, says Petter Haugen, the municipality’s Rådmann.

These were Våler’s stated ambitions:

– Develop a digital infrastructure to make Våler known as an innovative and highly efficient municipality.

– Establish new ways of work while remaining true to its core values.

– Bridge a perceived gap between actual and potential innovation levels in the organization.

– Understand how the municipality could improve sharing of expertise – with employees, citizens, NGOs, business and academia.


The art of measuring collaboration: The two ways to understand an organization

To leaders accustomed to traditional chain-of-command organizational theory, goals like these can seem nascent and hard to measure. Innovation levels and communication flows are to point out when looking at an organizational chart. This is what Våler looks like in the traditional sense (I.e. what you’ll find by looking at the web):


Instead, Våler got in touch with JOIN21, a company that helps businesses and organizations gauge how the organization works as a network, rather than a hierarchy.

“JOIN21’s network analytics technology helps you perform a body scan of your business and provides you with a crystal clear view on how you stack up on parameters such as how well people authentically communicate; how effectively they collaborate, share information and make decisions; and how well do they do these things if faced with adversity or stress”, Taug says.

JOIN21’s technology helps you gather the data, and use that knowledge to drill down and see how each person in the network contributes. Simple tools and measures help you push these values upwards.

“Our network analytics technology is customizable to your needs. It gives you a map. The map shows your silos, bottlenecks, informal leaders and outliers. Your experts and go-to people. And it will probably surprise you.”

Våler used JOIN21’s Baseline Tool to gather data points through a digital employee survey, workshops and round-tables. Here is what Våler looked like as a network:


Each dot represents an employee. The arrows between dots show who each employee consults with or sends information to. The thickness of the line represents the frequency of consultation. The larger the dot, the larger the volume of requests from other people.


Discovering the bottlenecks and silos

The map was interpreted and presented in a workshop where everyone in Våler got to see their organization as a network. The network analysis main findings were:

1. Silos. Some departments and schools were almost completely isolated, meaning they were not utilizing the expertise of the rest of the organization. This stood in contrast to the great desire to work across sections and departments.

2. Poor innovation flow. Ideas have few places to go. The analysis uncovered that some people (large nodes) unwittingly functioned as bottlenecks rather than promoters of ideas (due to workload pressures).

3. Need for automation. Some very large nodes were a result of tedious manual routines.


Figure 3. A lack of cross-functional input. Decision network showing that key people on average only consult one or two people before making important decisions and that these people are normally in the same department – thus missing out on relevant insights in other parts of the organization.

Våler Municipality and JOIN21 presented the insights at several workshops where employees, politicians and citizens were invited to provide feedback. These are some of the insights that were discussed: 

Figure 4. Example network views that were processed to identify key insights and related actions


Several actions were agreed upon to achieve the goals:

– A “Way of Work” program was implemented to build interaction across departments and the regular chain of command.

– A collaboration platform (Workplace) was implemented to improve knowledge flow.

– Employees were shown their place in the network to reflect on how to better connect with relevant expertise across the organization.

– Areas of expertise were defined and a number of ‘expert communities’ built across the organization – including a designated management community to increase collaboration and build value creation in key areas.

– Several candidates for automation of manual processes were identified and prioritized for development.



A more agile organization
Six months after implementing the new “way of work” program, Petter Haugen reports positive results.

“We were able to connect our values to new ways of work. Fast. That is usually incredibly difficult and slow to achieve”, Haugen says.

“Not only did we increase engagement and connectedness between all employees, including the many part-time employees. We also reduced technology fatigue and identified a range of unnecessary manual processes with related cost savings”.

Here are some other benefits:

– Management got new and unique insights to make better and faster decisions

– Leaders and relevant experts got insights into how to better use partners and suppliers

– Schools began to share expertise and resources, increasing motivation for teachers and students

“And perhaps most importantly”, Haugen says, “is that the resulting changes in our way of work have led to a more open organizational culture that strongly improves employee engagement”.