AFFORDABLE AND SUSTAINABLE RE-INVESTMENT IN MUNICIPAL INFRASTRUCTURE IS ESSENTIAL: “Too often, thinking stops after the capital investment is made. Yet everyone needs to be thinking in terms of life-cycle costs,” stated Glen Brown, Chair of Asset Management BC
Note to Reader:
Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart vision. The edition published on November 8, 2022 is the story behind the story of Glen Brown’s source of inspiration that led him to coin the term Sustainable Service Delivery in 2010. At the time, Glen Brown was an Executive Director in the BC provincial government.
Affordable and sustainable re-investment in municipal infrastructure is essential
In British Columbia, local government elections were held on October 15th and the extent and nature of the turnover made headlines. Returning incumbents and rookie elected representatives were sworn into a 4-year term of office as of November 7th. They will be dealing with competing demands and priorities. And many will be on accelerating “learning curves”.
As the new folks learn the ropes of the Community Charter (or Local Government Act in the case of regional district electoral areas) and grow into their new responsibilities, we hope they will come to appreciate the insights that flow from our “stories behind the stories”. These are shared by those leading changes in thinking and implementing. Everyone learns from stories.
Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery
In this edition, we feature Glen Brown, the visionary and thought leader who coined the term “sustainable service delivery” a mere 12 years ago. This way of viewing the local government sphere of responsibility changes everything about how local governments do business in an era of rapid change.
Section 7 of the Community Charter defines the roles and responsibilities of local government in terms of “care of infrastructure and services”. In other words, Sustainable Service Delivery. This is a foundational element of local government. It goes to the heart of affordable and sustainable re-investment in municipal infrastructure assets to meet a level-of-service desired by the community.
Eligibility for senior government capital grants is the financial incentive to influence behaviour in a good way. Local governments must show how they are progressing along the Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery continuum.
“Sustainable Service Delivery” explained
“The core document for asset management for BC local governments is Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery: A BC Framework. The title is deliberate and important because the ‘function’ and responsibility of Municipal Councils and Regional Boards is Sustainable Service Delivery. The process to support decision making is Asset Management,” explains Glen Brown, founding Chair of Asset Management BC.
“The Framework provides the basis for the entire asset management process for our local governments to follow. Funding agencies, as part of funding applications, request communities to identify where they are within the asset management process using the framework.”
EDITOR’S PERSPECTIVE / CONTEXT FOR BUSY READER
“The two driving forces in BC’s asset management landscape are Glen Brown and Wally Wells. The persistence and passion of these two mavens has helped ensure communities across the province – and even the country – are working to ensure sustainable service delivery for current and future generations. It is a legacy that we all benefit from,” wrote Jan Enns in a post that celebrates last week’s Asset Management BC conference.
“From my perspective, Glen Brown and Wally Wells are the heart and soul of Asset Management BC. Without their inspiration, commitment and hard work, an idea whose time had come would not have been translated into reality,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Partnership Executive Director.
“At the Asset Management BC Conference held in November 2022, it was my pleasure to present ‘certificates of recognition’ that honour both gentlemen as Lifetime Members of the Partnership for Water Sustainability.”
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT > Kim Stephens, Wally Wells and Glen Brown
What Do You Wonder About Glen Brown?
“Formerly an Executive Director in the provincial government, Glen Brown is General Manager of Victoria Operations with the Union of BC Municipalities. He is member of both Asset Management BC and the Partnership and, along with Wally Wells, he is a bridge between the two entities,” continued Kim Stephens.
“Glen Brown is a Past-Chair of the Partnership’s predecessor Water Sustainability Committee. He led the Partnership when it morphed from a water roundtable into a legal entity in 2010. During that period, Glen served on the National Asset Management Working Group. And that is when he met Guy Felio and had his Aha Moment: It is all about the service.“
Reflections on Sharing a Mission:
“The collaborative nature of the working relationship between Asset Management BC and the Partnership, combined with our shared commitment to Asset Management for Sustainable Service Delivery, transcends our memorandum of understanding. We share a mission and represent complementary audiences and perspectives within local government.”
“In the local government setting, the Partnership sphere of influence is the interface between watershed systems and municipal infrastructure – that is, how water is used and how water runs off the land. Our experience is that when one gets the water part right, then other pieces of the land use puzzle are more likely to fall into place,” concluded Kim Stephens.
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Coining of the term ‘Sustainable Service Delivery’ in 2010 (as told by Kim Stephens)
I remember the moment so well when Glen Brown first used 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 (RDN). John Finnie and I were on a phone call with Glen. The purpose was to develop Glen’s part in the agenda for the Nanaimo Region Water Pricing Workshop in September 2010.
In 2010, Glen was an Executive Director in the provincial government and Deputy Inspector of Municipalities; and John Finnie was General Manager, Regional and Community Utilities with the RDN.
Our conversation took place the week after Glen had given a presentation at the Leadership Forum organized by the Local Government Leadership Academy. His title was a long one: Financial Accountability, Infrastructure Sustainability, Service Delivery: Connecting the Dots with an Asset Management Approach. Nowhere in that presentation did Glen use the specific term “sustainable service delivery”.
At that time, and thanks to the early work of the then newly formed Asset Management BC, chaired by Glen Brown, local governments were just 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 unfunded. The 80% is described as a liability, deficit or gap.
An easy-to-remember phrase
During our brainstorming, Glen made repeated reference to his Leadership Forum presentation; and expressed his desire to adapt it for the purposes of our upcoming event. As we talked, John Finnie and 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. Glen, John and I had a collective epiphany when we realized that Glen’s headline should be What Does ‘Sustainable Service Delivery’ Mean to You? That became the title for his workshop presentation.
In a nutshell, what happened during that conversation was that Glen Brown synthesized three ideas – financial accountability, infrastructure sustainability, service delivery – into a single easy to remember phrase: Sustainable Service Delivery. The rest is history, as they say.
It is all about the service
A decade later, I asked Glen about his recollections of why and how Sustainable Service Delivery clicked in his mind. He answered as follows:
“My inspiration came from Guy Felio, who is one of the original gurus of asset management nationally. In his own words, and in a slide that I have seen him use in presentations since the mid-2000s, Guy Felio said, ‘It is all about the service’.”
“Basically, well-maintained municipal 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 – that is, clean air, aquatic habitat, etc.,” concluded Glen Brown.