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  • Ian McCormack

Driving the Grader

We continue to see how well municipalities that we work with are focusing on delivering programs and services to a scattered population in an uncertain time. It’s safe to say that no municipal administrator in Canada has ever had to deal with a pandemic like COVID. Barely a day or two goes by that someone on the news doesn’t say “we’ve never seen anything like this” in relation to how the current situation is affecting families, business, and government.


In this context, I’m thrilled that Municipal World is publishing my first book in the months to come. It’s a book that illustrates a series of governance truths that I’ve experienced over the years, either from municipalities with which we’ve worked, or from colleagues I’ve learned from as we travel the roads of adventure. Each chapter in the first part of the book speaks to a governance concept that most local government managers and elected officials will find familiar. The concepts range from ‘No Strategy Survives First Contact with Reality’ to ‘Politics is the Art of Conflict Management’ and ‘It’s Never About What It’s About’. Each of these are fleshed out in terms of the relevant story and then the principles of good governance are extracted and explored.

The second part of the book is about local government leadership as I see it practiced – or not – in real world situations. I spend some time identifying some principles of good governance, focusing on each of them, and then pondering whether there is a hierarchy to the principles, and whether that hierarchy is contextual depending on the broader environment.


I’m really excited this book is coming out, the intent is that it provides good governance advice through lived experience that is relatable to various levels of local government and interested community members alike. I’ve experienced firsthand who is driving the grader in many municipalities, as I’ve seen elected officials literally want to climb into heavy equipment and do the work that they have hired others to do. Blurring or ignoring that line between governance, management, and service delivery is dangerous for everyone, and sometimes we don’t even know it’s happening until the line has been crossed and it’s too late to hunt down that escaped horse.


I believe that almost every elected official and administrator gets into local government work because they want to make their communities the best they can be. Sometimes that goes awry, and that could be because of a lack of understanding, or it could be due to some more negative reason. Strategic Steps sometimes gets called in to work with communities in which something has gone wrong, to diagnose and provide a path to recovery. It is many of those experiences that have led to the writing of this book.

If you’re interested in some of what Strategic Steps does, including some of these governance and management reviews, check out our services here!


As always, I’m interested in your thoughts about this topic, and in particular whether you see governance changing as we emerge from and adapt to COVID in our lives. You can find me at ian@strategicsteps.ca or on Twitter @strategic_steps.


Look after yourselves.

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