The Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment is in the midst of significant change, moving to support government-wide efforts to improve service to its clients as well as its own significant shift to a new approach to environmental regulation.
From the outside, one of the most visible signs of the change is the newly established Client Service Office (CSO). As a first point of contact, the new branch will guide clients, provide information and, in the process, help the ministry establish new benchmarks for service excellence.
The CSO was created in March 2010 as part of a reorganization to better position the ministry for its move to a results-based environmental management framework. Results-based regulation puts the focus on environmental performance, not on rules. The ministry, as regulator, decides what the required environmental outcomes should be and proponents are held accountable to achieve them. Built into the system is the flexibility to bring forward innovative solutions, resulting in better environmental protection.
Work is underway on a number of projects to support the new approach, including information technology enhancements, transformation of the ministry’s business processes, and legislative and regulatory changes. The CSO will support this new approach by assisting clients through streamlined application processes, helping to build their capacity to achieve compliance, and facilitating better access to needed information for both clients and ministry staff.
An online application and permissions system is currently in development, supported by state-of-the-art software to help connect the ministry staff who review and process applications. Once in place, the system will make it easier for clients to submit applications and to track their progress through the approval process. CSO director Kim Clark sees his team as an important part of this process.
“We are working, along with the rest of the ministry, toward a future state where all our clients feel satisfied with our services and supported as they journey through the regulatory process,” Clark said. “In the future, more and more of our interactions with clients will happen online, enhancing accessibility and efficiency, but it’s important to have a team of people to support clients through those exchanges.”
The Client Service Office has two sections, each with distinct roles. The Case Management Section will be the entry point for many ministry clients, in particular new clients, who are looking for various types of approvals and information. Staff will help clients navigate through regulatory processes and coordinate regulatory requirements, both within and outside the ministry. Section staff will also respond to inquiries from the public, other provincial government ministries, First Nations, Metis and industry.
The Registry Management Section processes licenses, leases and permits on Crown resource land. The section also handles the sale of Crown resource land and maintains a registry of all transactions. Together, the two sections will support the rest of the ministry as it becomes more client-focused.
There are challenges. The ministry is large and diverse, regulating everything from timber harvesting and hunting to municipal waterworks and hazardous waste. As well, the ministry’s staff is spread out in various locations across Saskatchewan, so providing integrated and seamless service to clients can sometimes be difficult. As a first point of contact and an ongoing source of advice and support, the CSO will help to guide clients and coordinate ministry services.
“The ministry has a great deal of specialized knowledge in many different areas. We can help clients figure out exactly who they need to talk to for the information they need,” Clark said. “We know that dealing with government can be a bit daunting, especially for new clients, and our goal is to provide support to help make the process more straightforward.”
The CSO is working to build its capacity to respond to public and stakeholder inquiries. The branch is developing a knowledge base for the entire ministry and establishing a system to keep the information current and accessible. As well, a new telephone system is being put into place to allow a widely dispersed staff to respond efficiently to public inquiries.
The CSO is also charged with defining and promoting leading practices for service delivery, not just within its ranks but also across the entire ministry. Clark is excited by the possibilities.
“We are a new branch, still getting established, but our team is coming together nicely,” he said. “Our goal is to help the ministry provide great service consistently – service that is accessible, timely and meets client needs.”
Val Nicholson is a communications consultant with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment.