Where We Started
Perth County and its member municipalities faced a unique challenging: building five integrate but independent strategic plans that knew about each other, that were informed by each other, that found opportunities to collaborate with each other, but that reflected and were shaped by the wants and aspirations of each individual municipality.
What They Needed
Perth County and its four member municipalities are located in south-western Ontario, and deliver services to a population of more than 38,000. In 2012, they jointly collaborated for the first time in developing a set of strategic plans, primarily focused on economic development. By 2017, they were ready to build a new set of plans. These were to be more comprehensive and forward-looking, framing a long-term vision and strategic priorities for the term of the incoming Council.
A requirement from the outset was extensive engagement with the community. The County and its municipalities are a mix of rural and urban. Many residents have deep roots in the community; there is also significant growth newcomers, bringing different ideas, opportunities and expectations. There was a strong desire to understand perceptions about growth, change and evolution of the County and its municipalities, and to understand the aspirations and values of the community.
This was set against the backdrop of significants shifts in municipal politics and government relationships. The new Ontario government had sent strong signals about efficiency, streamlining and rationalization of municipal government. This included imposing a new ward structure on the City of Toronto during municipal elections, and launching a regional governance review. Many observers and stakeholders anticipated the imposition of requirements for further municipal amalgamation, in follow-up to the 1990s amalgamation push that resulted in the formation of Perth County’s four member municipalities.
What We Did
The design of our work for Perth County and the member municipalities emphasized three core priorities:
- An explicit focus on services. Broad themes around service delivery and the perceived effectiveness of service were highlighted as part of the engagement expectations. The regionalization review and emphasis by the province on modernizing and improving service efficiency added further reinforcement. We built a service inventory for each municipality that provided a comprehensive, objective and consistent definition of current services. The service inventories provided a basis for collecting feedback from engagement participants. They also formed a basis of defining improvement opportunities and future priorities for each municipality.
- Exploring the implication of different future paths. There were a number of uncertainties and choices facing the County and its municipalities, that could lead in several different directions. Our engagement approach was designed to use scenario planning to explore multiple potential futures that might emerge. These scenarios painted compelling and realistic pictures of a variety of potential futures. They created a rich picture of what was possible to ground the engagement process.
- A comprehensive engagement approach. The desire to ensure broad participation from the community—including residents, businesses and service groups—was heard loud and clear. We also wanted to hear not just from councillors and senior management, but also from front-line staff. A progressive series of engagement exercises and workshops were designed to work through a detailed exploration of the municipalities, how they are perceived, and the values, desires and future aspirations that should shape the municipalities and be reflected in the strategic plans.
This was a complex project, with a large number of moving parts. Engagement was extensive throughout. There were a number of details to manage, reflecting both the specifics of each municipality and collaborative opportunities across all of them. Five separate plans needed to be produced that reflected each municipality, and also identified where the municipalities could work together collectively.
We worked through a progressive series of workshops and consultations to build understanding, explore uncertainties, understand community input, aspirations and concerns, and ultimately develop meaningful and relevant strategic plans.
Unique scenarios were developed for each of the five municipalities, for use in their engagement workshops and surveys. While the scenarios shared broad themes, the specifics for each municipality were tailored, reflecting their unique circumstances. For each set of scenarios, written materials were supplemented with presentations and videos that could be used in different engagement interactions.
A series of engagement workshops were conducted in each municipality, and online survey and engagement resources were provided that allowed participants that were unable to participate in person to also contribute in a meaningful manner. In addition to exploring the scenarios, the engagement process examined perceptions about the municipality, identification of concerns, desires and opportunities for the future. They also collected perspectives about the importance, value and experience in receiving municipal services.
Strategic plans were produced for each municipality. Each plan was unique, defining the circumstances, priorities and strategic focus of that municipality. The plans were aware of each other, informed by each other, and built in opportunities for collaboration that was possible and desired. Corporate implementation plans were developed for each municipality to prioritiize the work of moving forward on the strategic plan. Templates and training were provided to support department planning, performance measurement and progress reporting.
The result was the development of clear strategic direction individually and collectively, emphasizing an approach to regionalization that sought efficiencies and collaboration, while still retaining the unique qualities and identity of each municipality.
You can view Perth County’s new strategic plan here.