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Research and implementation for local impact

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

Over the last four months, I have had the distinct pleasure of working with a bright, talented, and motivated team that committed over 2600 hours to five research-intensive projects for Municipal Innovation Council (MIC) members.

The team developed recommendations and prototyped solutions to improve municipal service design and delivery, information technology (IT), training and organizational development, municipal procurement, and downtown revitalization.

Why do this work?

Municipal innovation relies heavily on the skills, knowledge, and abilities of staff and Council. Our goal was to provide elected officials, senior leaders, and municipal staff with the information and tools necessary to catalyze collaborative action and prepare for future needs. Each project serves as a footing for a well-built house and sets up MIC members for years of thoughtful innovation.

Each project started with the question “how might we…” as a way of identifying the value that our work provides people in Bruce County. You can think about the output as value potential. High-level findings for each of the five projects include:

  • A mindful approach to staff competency development strengthens each municipal team’s ability to improve service offerings and spur service innovation.

  • We require sound IT infrastructure that is safe, secure, and reliable as digital innovations are increasingly integrated into daily operations.

  • Understanding how services are administered provides vital information for future service improvements and expansion to meet community needs.

  • Shared procurement allows for all MIC members to find cost savings and/or service improvements as budgets continue to be stretched.

  • The revitalization of our downtowns, especially post-pandemic, requires thoughtful action and creative approaches.

When our analysis and recommendations are integrated into decision making, the value potential is unleashed and will have an exponentially positive impact on our staff teams, councils, and communities.

Spring and Summer 2021 MIC Innovation Team

Ayaan Hussain, Christie Downey, and Scarlett Wang were first introduced through the MIC blog earlier this year. All three have been incredibly thorough in their work and have painstakingly synthesized their findings to provide value to members.

Since May, I have also worked with Aniqa Shams and Fatima Hirsi, two graduate students from the University of Waterloo’s Masters in Economic Development and Innovation program, as they completed their final applied research projects. Both chose research problems developed in partnership with economic/community development staff from across Bruce County and me.

Investigate to inform development

All five of my colleagues produced deeply insightful reports with solid recommendations for prototyping and implementation over the next three years. Each report provides:

  • A comprehensive environmental scan describing each member’s current state

  • Information on proven practices from other regions/municipalities

  • The identification of opportunities to innovate and improve individually and as a group

  • Recommendations with a proposed timeline (by the end of 2021, in 12 months, by the end of 2024)

All reports have been distributed to MIC members through each municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Interested parties can do a deep dive into the MIC's research and gain a more thorough understanding of recommended next steps for the next three, 12, and 36 months.

Presentations and recommendations

The MIC team presented all findings and recommendations at the MIC Summer Research Symposium on Thursday, August 12. The purpose of the Symposium was to orient attendees to the MIC’s methodology, findings from each project lead’s discovery work, and recommended next steps.

The high calibre of work is evident throughout, and MIC members now have the necessary information and analysis to make sound decisions that will positively impact municipal staff and communities.

Our process allows for informed innovation instead of inventing without purpose (see the April 29 blog), and I am confident that the recommended actions for implementation will have a lasting impact on rural Ontarians.

Each presentation can be watched below, along with recommended timelines for implementation.

Introduction and project methodology with Dave Shorey

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Revitalizing vacant properties in Bruce County with Aniqa Shams

Aniqa grounded her work in two research questions:

  1. What are the challenges and opportunities associated with rehabilitating vacant derelict downtown buildings in rural communities?

  2. What are the best practices for rehabilitating vacant derelict downtown buildings in rural communities?

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Investigating procurement practices in Bruce County with Fatima Hirsi

Fatima’s work was guided by two research questions:

  1. What are the opportunities and challenges with procurement in Bruce County?

  2. What are the best practices for municipal procurement within rural communities?

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Municipal service analysis with Scarlett Wang

The purpose for Scarlett’s work was to gain a deeper understanding of the current state of service offerings in all member municipalities, and to explore opportunities for shared growth, collaboration, and partnership in service offerings and delivery.

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Organizational development with Christie Downey

Christie grounded her work in three broad objectives:

  1. Understand the current state of each MIC member municipality as it relates to training & development

  2. Conduct an environmental scan of training & development efforts in other municipalities across Ontario to leverage this within Bruce County

  3. Through a gap analysis, identify opportunities for each individual municipality and collaboration between municipalities related to training & development

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IT business analysis with Ayaan Hussain

Ayaan sought to identify the current state of IT infrastructure in the MIC’s seven lower-tier member municipalities, and to highlight opportunities for improvement through observed pain points & inefficiencies.

Municipal staff and subject experts critical to R&D

Significant contributions were made by many municipal staff and subject experts who supported each project from our May launch to August 2021. Numerous interviews and surveys were completed by senior leaders from across and beyond the MIC’s membership. In-field data was collected and sent to the MIC team that provided valuable information that informed analysis, recommendations, and early prototyping.

I cannot stress enough how critical each contributor was to the MIC team gaining a fulsome picture of our current state. The MIC team and UW MEDI students sincerely thank everyone for the hours they committed to helping the MIC produce thorough reports that guide future action.

Next steps

The MIC team will meet on September 30 to develop a 14-month workplan that integrates findings and recommendations from this summer’s research and development. The outcome of the day will provide a course for action that extends well beyond the conclusion of the MIC’s pilot phase.

Given that we have collected significant evidence to direct immediate action, I have recruited a co-op student that will advance recommendations forwarded by Fatima Hirsi regarding best practices in municipal procurement. I will also release an RFP in the next two weeks for bids to complete the next phase of work focused on information technology and the potential for shared service delivery.

As a work plan is formalized, the next round of co-op student recruitment and hiring will take place to effectively resource the advancement of multiple projects in the MIC. Two co-op students will be hired for each term in 2022 whose job descriptions align with the work plan developed in the last quarter of 2021.

Thank you to Aniqa, Ayaan, Christie, Fatima, and Scarlett

I cannot thank the MIC co-op team enough for their daily effort to do meaningful work that will have a lasting impact on people in Bruce County. Ayaan, Christie, and Scarlett brought their full selves to their work each day and were motivated by the value they wished to contribute to member municipalities. I looked forward to our morning rallies, team meetings, one-on-ones, and frequent check-ins as we co-constructed.

Aniqa and Fatima were wonderful colleagues that brought incredible value to our organizations. Every other week I was able to meet with them and work through scoping questions, challenges, and ideas.

The results of your work are instructive to our future, and I am deeply appreciative that you selected our municipalities as your subjects of focus for your final paper in your graduate program.

Written by Dave Shorey, former Innovation Officer at the Municipal Innovation Council.


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