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The “secret sauce” to municipal innovation in Bruce County

Updated: Dec 17, 2021

The MIC is advancing multiple priorities in 2021: attainable housing, youth engagement, digital transformation, and sustainable development—all in partnership with post-secondary institutions

I have lived the experience many college and university students from Bruce County are living. Born and raised in Southampton, I needed to leave the region to pursue post-secondary education.

And I'm not alone. Due to limited access to college and degree programs in the area, nearly every student needs to leave Bruce County to complete their studies. Many rural communities face similar outflows of youth. That can be understood as a barrier to growth, and in many ways it is. But we also have an opportunity to be active partners in young people’s learning journeys as they explore careers.

With the pandemic’s impact on co-op programs, post-secondary institutions are actively recruiting new employers to create meaningful experiential opportunities for their students. There is a natural and complementary fit where communities can create new opportunities for young people to work in the region and institutions can have active and committed partners that share an interest in researching issues that affect people in Bruce County.

This is a key ingredient to our “secret sauce” for success. The Municipal Innovation Council's (MIC) work with post-secondary institutions expands access to skilled labour, creates new career pathways in Bruce County, and injects new thinking into our communities that will help us thrive in the 21st century.

Having studied and worked in post-secondary education for nearly two decades, I am keenly aware of how much student, faculty, and staff talent can be integrated into the MIC’s work. Colleges and universities are always seeking out new avenues for their students to lead applied research.

With lean municipal budgets and staff stretched thin, I have prioritized the MIC’s engagement of post-secondary institutions. Let's take a look at some of these projects.

University of Waterloo students research solutions to local housing challenges

The University of Waterloo's School of Planning has been instrumental in advancing the Saugeen Shores’ work on attainable housing. Dr. Mark Seasons and Dr. John Lewis warmly agreed in the fall of 2020 to partner students in two studio planning courses with Saugeen Shores as a means of advancing the work done by the Attainable Housing Task Force that Vice Deputy Mayor Mike Myatt and Jay Pausner (Supervisor, Development Services) which they led in the second half of 2020.

Jay and I drafted multiple mock RFPs that were used by the two instructors in their undergraduate and graduate studio courses to solicit student interest and create a simulated client-consultant relationship. Seven groups have chosen Saugeen Shores as their community of focus and will spend the next three months completing comprehensive environmental scans, viability studies, and developing evaluation and monitoring systems.

This is a clear example of a mutually beneficial relationship between rural communities seeking support on big issues and post-secondary institutions looking for meaningful experiential learning opportunities.

The benefits are also clear; the findings from each group will provide valuable information not just to Saugeen Shores but to the entire MIC membership. I am looking forward to inviting members to hear each group’s findings in the early spring.

Laurier supports local STEAM Faire mentorships

Wilfrid Laurier University has been a tremendous support to local students. The Bruce-Grey Catholic School Board has launched a mentor-mentee program with local youth and working professionals in industries that align with student career interests.

Each mentor-mentee pair is developing an exhibit for a STEAM Faire that will take place this spring. Professional career educators at Laurier’s Centre for Experiential Learning have supported this program through a workshop to help all participating high school students prepare to meaningfully engage with their mentor.

Laurier is also providing professional support through follow-up sessions to coach participating students on how to make the most of this unique opportunity, reflect on the competencies they have developed, and explore how to communicate transferable skills. Laurier’s Stacey Campbell, Emma Scholtz, Frances Humphries, and Jan Basso have been wonderful partners and friends to this program.

Regional economic development research projects

The University of Waterloo’s Master in Economic Development and Innovation program features an applied research term where students can either propose their own research focus or select from a list of research studies that have been developed.

In partnership with Dr. Heather Hall and Dr. Jeffrey Wilson, the MIC has shaped five possible research projects for the summer 2021 term that we are hopeful students will select. Community and economic development staff from across Bruce County together form a potent Community of Practice (CoP…something I will focus on in my next post), and collectively generated high-impact research topics that were further refined by our faculty partners.

Research topics include:

  • COVID-19 and the impacts on local business

  • rehabilitation of vacant buildings in downtown centres and attracting business

  • mapping tourism assets in the county

  • best practices in municipal procurement

  • innovation mapping in agriculture and energy

If selected, each research project will inform economic recovery and development work in our communities.

eSports brings connection across the region

Phillip Craig, the Nuclear Innovation Institute’s Director of NII Explore, is tireless in his efforts to provide immersive learning experiences in the region that are normally only available in larger urban centres.

Phillip and I have been actively investigating ways for youth to connect while studying remotely and without extracurriculars in school. Phillip’s vision for a regional eSports league is one way that could provide a safe space for young people from across the region to connect in ways that are meaningful to them.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Department of Athletics and Recreation has been a wonderful partner with this project. Sarah Broderick (Manager, Recreation and Wellness) and KP Anand (Associate Director, Business Operations) have led the research and development of an eSports league for Laurier students.

Their willingness to share their materials with Phillip and I have provided us with the necessary evidence to advance this project. Their coaching has been incredibly valuable and will have a direct and positive impact on youth in the region who are seeking out opportunities to meet and compete in a welcoming space. To make it all the better, Laurier has offered entry into their March Break eSports league for local high school students AND their young gamers program for kids aged 5-11. More details to come!

The future of post-secondary partnerships with the MIC

Rural communities like Bruce County can learn from the successes of places like the Waterloo Region and create a pipeline of young talent through co-op positions. Whether in the public or private sector, we can and should commit to expanding co-op opportunities in the region. To model the way, the MIC will be hiring three co-op students from partnered universities this summer to focus on IT business analysis, organizational development, and municipal service mapping in member communities. I am eager to support anyone that is considering hiring a co-op student.

All these examples are a sampling of the work that post-secondary institutions have done in and with our communities. More examples exist including conversations with the MIC and Laurier about an off-campus support hub, the Lazaridis Institute for Tech Management supporting local businesses, and Laurier’s biology department supporting research into select freshwater fish populations.

At our core, we share similar values; community development and the desire to explore (and realize) possible futures otherwise not thought possible.

Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo operate in the epicentre of Canada’s tech industry, are located less than two hours away from the MIC’s office in Saugeen Shores, and welcome many of Bruce County’s youth who leave the region to complete their studies.

I commit to expanding our relationship with post-secondary institutions that are near our region and encourage us all to think about ways to create feedback loops for our young people who may want to migrate back to Bruce County but struggle to find the pathways that make that possible.


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

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