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Back to School


It’s back to school for everyone. The kids are headed back to the classroom for the next 200 days, and for those of us in the municipal world, we’re at the start of a new season.

As elected officials and administrators get back into the swing of things, we see some provinces headed toward elections, some about halfway through their terms, and others just beginning the second full cycle of everything.


Councils have budgets ahead of them, part of which means identifying priorities for 2024 and putting their stamp on the community. With scarce resources, it’s important that councils identify how to best put those resources to work for the long-term benefit of everyone.


Updating strategic plans will lead to updates of corporate plans as administrators determine how best to meet council’s priorities while still delivering the core services that people rely on. Looking back at last year helps identify what worked and what might not have worked. This learning can’t be punitive. Sure, some things may not have worked, but if there is a desire for change, not every tree will bear fruit this year. There’s learning either way, whether through success or failure. Taking that new knowledge and turning the gaze forward makes it more likely that future plans will come to fruition.


Another way to go ‘back to school’ in the local government world is to keep up with professional development and training. It’s conference season across the country, with municipal associations and municipal administrators’ associations holding their annual fall gatherings in many provinces and territories. These are great times to get people together, build teams, and learn from one another.


When it comes to learning from others, I frequently use the term ‘wise’ practice. To me, a wise practice is a ‘best’ practice from somewhere else that’s been adapted to local circumstances. What works well in the capital city may not work exactly the same way in a smaller town or village, but the kernel of the concept might still be adaptable. I need to credit my friend Dr. Kim Speers from UVic for this concept. I find it really useful, and it tends to bring about generative thinking when it comes to problem-solving.

As local governments start another annual cycle, there’s much work to be done, but certainly don’t forget to celebrate all the work that’s come before. We tend to focus forward for obvious reasons, but it’s also important to remember all the work that got the municipality to where it is right now. Stop for a moment and acknowledge the effort that has been put in by people working hard to serve their communities. A kind word or an acknowledgment from council will go a long way to keeping a virtuous cycle in the culture of the organization.


As you embark on another school year, what are the highest priorities and how are you going to make sure they get done? How will you track progress, celebrate success, and learn from what isn’t working?



As always, you can reach me at ian@strategicsteps.ca.

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