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  • Ian McCormack

Governance Reviews: The Municipal Health Check

In various blog posts over the past month, we’ve talked about the need for conscious governance, suggesting that for an organization of any sort to be aligned and headed in the right direction, there needs to be a good vision of what the future state looks like. If you look at it like a person, if your head’s not pointed in the right direction, there’s little chance your body will go where it is supposed to, and the tripping hazards are many.

Now, what if you don’t know whether your head is pointing in the right direction or not? That’s where the Governance Review comes in.

When we deal with municipal clients, we look for cascading alignment, from the vision of the community through its plans and policies, to where the rubber sometimes literally hits the road. Do the programs and services offered really reflect the will of Council and the capacity of the municipality? Does Council really know what its job is?


A formal Governance Review provides an outside perspective on how well the ‘head’ of the municipality is focused on where it ought to be going. In practical terms, that means Council has the rules it needs and that it is following those rules.


The review provides an overview of what would be expected in a well-functioning town or county, how the municipal government is actually performing now, and then examines the gap between the two – if there is one. A series of recommendations are then provided to get the government and management focused on their individual roles. Understanding governance is can be difficult because it’s an exercise in policy setting not in grader-driving.


Think of the Governance Review as a health check. The doctor knows what a well-functioning person looks and sounds like, and that same doctor can see where I might be deviating from being well-functioning. Then comes the prescription; and it could just be ‘eat better and get more exercise’, or it could be that I need a more active intervention. So it is with municipalities. They may have the rules in place, but not be following them; or in more serious cases, the rules may be absent or outdated.


The ‘rules’ for local governments primarily include bylaws and policies, but they also include history and culture. Best practice is usually not found looking inwards, it’s found looking elsewhere to identify how other communities deliver their mandated services well.


These Governance Reviews can be a superficial check in on governance-related health or they can be very in-depth, it all depends on the desires and needs of Council.

When Strategic Steps completes Governance Reviews – or a municipal health check if you like – the Council and management will understand how close they are to best practice, and how to close the gap if it exists. Our goal is always to leave the community better off than we found it.


In the basic Governance Review, we provide a roadmap to success, and in the more intensive reviews, we walk with Council and senior managers to make sure the rules are in place and updated, and that both Council and management understand their respective roles in making their community as successful as it can be.


If you’re interested in some of what Strategic Steps does, including exploring Governance Reviews and how the principles of good governance apply, check out our services here. As always, I’m interested in your thoughts about this topic. What do you see as a wise practice in the application of good governance brought to life? You can find me at ian@strategicsteps.ca or on Twitter @strategic_steps.

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