INFRASTRUCTURE ASSET MANAGEMENT IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Glen Brown has provided leadership at a provincial scale to transform the phrase ‘sustainable service delivery’ into an actionable vision for local government,” states Kim Stephens, Executive Director, Partnership for Water Sustainability

Note to Reader:

The phrase “asset management for sustainable service delivery” is now an accepted part of the local government vocabulary in British Columbia. The phrase was formalized with release of Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework in December 2014, and rollout in 2015.

Tranformational in its scope and vision for a desired outcome, this guidance document was the culmination of a multi-year process. It represents a personal and sustained commitment by Glen Brown, Chair of Asset Management BC to “make it happen”. Currently, he is the General Manager, Victoria Operations, for the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM). Previously, he was the Deputy Inspector of Municipalities and the Executive Director for Infrastructure and Finance in the Ministry of Community Development.

What was the genesis of the phrase “sustainable service delivery”? What was the process for mainstreaming it? Both questions are addressed below in the retrospective written by Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. He tells the story through a focus on the actions of Glen Brown as a key influencer in the world of government.

Sustainable Service Delivery: An Integrated Approach Links Land Use Planning, Watershed Health and Infrastructure Liability

“I remember the moment so well when Glen Brown coined the term ‘sustainable service delivery’ to capture what was in his mind. It was June 2010, and I was at the offices of the Regional District of Nanaimo. John Finnie and I were on a phone call with Glen. The purpose was to develop Glen’s part in the agenda for the Worth Every Penny Workshop,” recalls Kim Stephens.

“It was the week after Glen had given a presentation at the Leadership Forum organized by the Local Government Leadership Academy. His title was Financial Accountability, Infrastructure Sustainability, Service Delivery: Connecting the Dots with an Asset Management Approach. Nowhere in the presentation did Glen use the term ‘sustainable service delivery’.

“During our brainstorming, Glen made repeated reference to the presentation; and expressed his desire to adapt it for the purposes of our upcoming event. As we talked, I kept pressing Glen to elaborate on what was in his mind so that we could help him crystallize a sound-bite for use as a compelling title.

“There was an Ah-ha Moment and the penny dropped. It was apparent to Glen, John Finnie and me that Glen’s headline should be What Does ‘Sustainable Service Delivery’ Mean to You?

“In a nutshell, what happened during that conversation was that Glen Brown synthesized three ideas into a single easy to remember phrase: Sustainable Service Delivery. The rest is history, as they say.”

It’s All About the Service

“My inspiration came from Guy Felio, who is one of the original gurus of asset management nationally,” states Glen Brown. “In his own words, and in a slide (below) that I have seen him use in presentations since the mid-2000s, he said, ‘It’s all about the service’.

“Basically, well-maintained infrastructure/assets are worthless IF they do not provide a service. That is what resonated with me. Also, for any asset management approach to be successful, it must not focus on the infrastructure/asset by itself.

“That way-of-thinking applies to nature and the environment as well – as long as we fully understand and appreciate the value of natural services – particularly when we leverage natural services to provide traditional community services, as well as those that are provided to support a healthy environment (clean air, aquatic habitat, etc.).”

2010 Worth Every Penny Workshop hosted by the Regional District of Nanaimo, and held in the City of Parksville

Part of the rollout to stimulate a national dialogue on sustainable water management, the Nanaimo Region Water Pricing Workshop was described as the first of its kind in Canada. The workshop program was a unique blend of research and practice. The workshop connected the dots between three initiatives:

  • Action for Water, implemented by the Regional District of Nanaimo following approval in a referendum in November 2008.
  • Worth Every Penny: A Primer on Conservation-Oriented Water Pricing, released in May 2010.
  • Beyond the Guidebook 2010: Implementing a New Culture for Urban Watershed Protection and Restoration in British Columbia, released in June 2010.

The desired outcome for the workshop was that participating practitioners would understand why ‘conservation-oriented water pricing’ is a tool to achieve a larger end, that is: ‘sustainable service delivery’.

“Sustainable service delivery is an emerging issue in BC. Changing and/or additional demands mean the local government workload is expanding. Local governments are being challenged to maintain and/or replace existing infrastructure over time, and to ‘do more with less’,” stated Kim Stephens in a preview story published in 2020 about the workshop.

To Learn More:

For details of the program, click on Agenda for Nanaimo Region Water Pricing Workshop

Download a copy of the presentation by Glen Brown: Water for Life and Livelihoods on Vancouver Island: What Does ‘Sustainable Service Delivery’ Mean to You? Note that the presentation was delivered by Wally Walls on behalf of Glen because Glen took ill the night before the workshop.

The significance of Glen not being able to deliver his presentation in person meant that the unveiling of Sustainable Service Delivery in an outreach and professional development setting was delayed seven months until April 2011 when Glen was part of the faculty for the Comox Valley Leaning Lunch Seminar Series.

This landmark series was initiated by the Partnership for Water Sustainability, hosted by the four Comox Valley local governments, and held under the umbrella of CAVI, Convening for Action on Vancouver Island.

Comox Valley local governments embraced the vision for
‘A Regional Response to Infrastructure Liability’

“The Worth Every Penny Workshop had ripple effects. This included inspiring the four Comox Valley local governments to change direction and build the 2011 Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series around the ‘sustainable service delivery’ theme. The annual series program provided peer-based education. Everyone was learning together,” continues Kim Stephens.

“Originally planned for the fall of 2010, the third annual Comox Valley Series was delayed until the spring of 2011. As an outcome of what they learned at Worth Every Penny, the Comox Valley regional team shifted the spotlight from a ‘regional response to climate change’ to the financial challenges associated with replacement of aging municipal infrastructure. Climate change became a sub-theme.”

To Learn More:

Download a copy of Comox Valley Local Governments Showcase A Regional Response to Infrastructure Liability: Program Details for 2011 Comox Valley Learning Lunch Seminar Series.

After that, take a moment to peruse the individual agenda for each seminar in the series:

Download the Agenda for Seminar #1 on Collaboration on Comox Valley Regional Initiatives 

Download the Agenda for Seminar #2 on ‘Design with Nature’ to Achieve Rainfall Capture and Water Conservation Goals

Download the Agenda for Seminar #3 on Risk Management – Respect the Power of Nature

A Program for Peer-Based Education

“Glen Brown was part of the faculty for the 2011 Comox Valley Series. He collaborated with the Comox Valley regional team to frame Sustainable Service Delivery in easy to understand terms.

“Thanks to the early work of the newly formed Asset Management BC, a provincial initiative sponsored by Glen Brown, local governments were starting to wrap their minds around the ‘20/80 Rule’ – that is, the initial capital cost of municipal infrastructure is about 20% of the ultimate total cost, and the other 80% is an unfunded liability.

“The 20/80 Rule provided context for the 2011 Comox Valley Series. Thus, the focus of the team was very much on what would be involved in facilitating the shift to a life-cycle approach to financing of infrastructure. Under Glen Brown’s guidance, the team embraced this explanation:

Tackling the unfunded infrastructure liability involves a life-cycle way of thinking about infrastructure needs and how to pay for those needs over time. This holistic approach is described as Sustainable Service Delivery. The link between infrastructure asset management and the protection of a community’s natural resources is emerging as an important piece in Sustainable Service Delivery. 

“In 2011, Comox Valley local governments were early adopters of the vision for ‘sustainable service delivery’. So much so, they delivered the program content for a ‘Forum with the Summit’ at the 2011 State of the Island Economic Summit. This event helped brand ‘sustainable service delivery’ as the wave of the future.”

At the Town of Comox venue, Glen Brown explained Sustainable Service Delivery to a Vancouver Island audience

“The annual Comox Valley seminar series attracted delegates from up and down the east coast of Vancouver Island. Over the years, the series attracted a loyal following because of the quality of peer-based education, and the opportunity the seminars provided to share and learn from each other. Registration for the 2011 Series was capped at 45 delegates,” recalls Kim Stephens.

Glen Brown on YouTube:

Watch the following set of five videos to learn more about how Glen Brown introduced and explained the thinking and the approach behind Sustainable Service Delivery. Videos range from 1:17 minutes to 2:36 minutes in duration.

Alternatively, watch the entire 26 minute presentation by clicking on Sustainable Service Delivery: An Integrated Approach Links Land Use Planning, Watershed Health and Infrastructure Liability.

To Learn More:

Download a copy of the presentation by Glen Brown on Sustainable Service Delivery: An Integrated Approach Links Land Use Planning, Watershed Health and Infrastructure Liability. This was basically the same slideshow presentation as at the Nanaimo Region Water Pricing Workshop. Two slides were amended by replacing Asset Management with Sustainable Service Delivery in the headline.