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March 01, 2021

Asset management and policy planning – how do we bridge the gap?

For years, planners have been working to support their municipalities as they adapt to our changing climate.  We craft policies targeted towards mitigating our impacts, adapting to the inevitable, and increasing our resilience. We engage with the public and stakeholders and help shape the future of our communities. Sometimes our engagement includes conversations that touch on our municipal assets - the hard and green infrastructure that serves our communities, as well as the social assets and community buildings that are critical for resilience.

But how often are we engaging our internal colleagues about the impacts of policy decisions on the day-to-day management of these assets? This was a question I recently found myself asking as the sole planner participating in a multi-day virtual asset management workshop.
When I consider policy initiatives that I’ve been part of over the past several years, often, plans were shared internally with colleagues in other departments for commentary after consultation with other groups had already occurred. Revisions at that stage were often minimal, however impacts to asset management had the potential to be significant. For example, what is the operational impact to policies that support the development of new small-scale parks throughout a city?
As a program funded for municipal employees, workshop participants brought forward numerous municipal perspectives related to asset management and highlighted challenges with maintaining the levels of service (LOS), which residents have come to expect, in the face of changing conditions. For instance, the frequency that sidewalks are cleared following a heavy snow event, which may occur more frequently despite increasing temperatures. The workshop presented an opportunity for participants to discuss these considerations across municipal departments, and in doing so, it highlighted the important role of collaboration in the work that we do.

As planners drafting policies which shape the built structure of our communities, we are also impacting the decision-making related to the provision of these services. How can we assess whether new policies have introduced challenges or new risks to LOS? How can we better integrate consideration for asset management, more generally, to achieve the long term goals of our municipalities? I suspect the answers might be different for every municipality, so perhaps we begin by asking ourselves some questions:
  • How are we currently engaging our internal stakeholders - Are we only asking them to provide input at the latter stages of the development of a policy document? Are there opportunities to invite their perspectives earlier on?
  • How can we facilitate ongoing conversations with our colleagues on the operational side of asset management?
  • Are municipal policies related to the use of natural/green assets aligned with operational practices?
  • Are there conversations that planners can facilitate to enable better understanding of municipal investments in natural assets to adapt and be more resilient to climate change - Internally? With the public? As a planner, what resources do I need to facilitate these conversations?
  • How do we look beyond our organization to gain broader perspectives related to the intersection between asset management and long range planning? 

In considering these questions myself, I’ve identified gaps in both my knowledge base and assumptions when it comes to interdepartmental consultation, and a number of steps I can take to improve:
  • Ask asset management professionals how they’d like to be engaged, and when;
  • Identify the existing gaps between policies that impact asset management and the operationalization of those policies, and invite multiple perspectives into the conversations about how to address the gaps;
  • Continue to seek out training resources that provide opportunities for continuous learning and  invite perspectives from various geographies and disciplines; and,
  • When planning for public engagement events, include opportunities to talk to people about their expectations for the future of municipal operations when we envision the future for our cities.

I recommend that you try digging into these questions, as well. See if there are areas where we can reduce the silos that many of us still encounter between internal departments. Let’s work towards bridging the gap between long-range planning and day-to-day municipal operations to create more resilient communities.


The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Monica Belliveau

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