LIVING WATER SMART IN BRITISH COLUMBIA: “Nature and natural assets are now part of the mix for local government asset management. This represents a huge shift in thinking because we have always treated nature as an externality in our economic system,” stated David Allen, Asset Management BC (October 2022)
Note to Reader:
Waterbucket eNews celebrates the leadership of individuals and organizations who are guided by the Living Water Smart in British Columbia: The Series vision. The edition published on October 4, 2022, featured a conversation between Wally Wells and David Allen. They are the outgoing and incoming Executive Directors, respectively, of Asset Management BC.
Towards Sustainable Service Delivery: Elements of a framework for action by local governments
“By sharing their experience and wisdom in Embedding a Sustainable Service Delivery Culture within Local Governments, David Allen and Wally Wells provide local governments with a road map for a cultural change,” stated Kim Stephens, Waterbucket eNews Editor and Executive Director with the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia. He conducted the conversational interview.
“David Allen and Wally Wells identify four themes that constitute elements of a framework for action:
- Theme #1 – Asset management leadership starts with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)
- Theme #2 – Asset management is a process; you cannot legislate a process.
- Theme #3 – Be wary of including natural assets in Public Sector Accounting Board requirements.
- Theme #4 – Asset management is a pathway to Water Reconciliation with First Nations.”
“Wally Wells and David Allen are passionate about all four themes. But they expressed the most passion when they shared their worries about Theme #3. They view it as a ‘clear and present concern’. Their call to action is reflected in the Wally Wells headline quote for this story:
The risk with the accounting profession is that they would include natural assets in local government financial statements in a way that is neither meaningful nor helpful.”
“Because, as both caution: If you put forward a solution in the absence of an understanding of the problem, an unintended consequence may be that you then create an additional problem.”
STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Reflections on embedding a Sustainable Service Delivery Culture within local governments
Extracts from a facilitated conversation with Wally Wells and David Allen about “passing the baton” are presented next. The complete transcript is included as an appendix in Embedding a Sustainable Service Delivery Culture within Local Governments.
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.
The anecdotal evidence suggests, however, that at best 40% of local government Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) accept responsibility for Sustainable Service Delivery as a foundational element of local government. So, what about the other 60% or more?
Theme #1 – Asset management leadership starts with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)
David Allen: In 2013, when I made my first presentation about asset management at a CAO forum, I observed mostly blank stares. A decade later, a majority of CAOs still have not bought in.
Wally Wells: David Allen speaks with authority when he says to the CAO community: “I was one of you and asset management for sustainable service delivery is a core part of your job as CAO. It Is not an add-on.”
David Allen: There has been a broadening and deepening of asset management knowledge. But we still need to get all CAOs on board.
To read an article by David Allen about the 4Cs, download a copy of the Fall 2020 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter, and scroll down to page 3.
Theme #2 – Asset management is a process; you cannot legislate a process
Wally Wells: People look at asset management as a function, but it is not a function. It is a process, and the process for getting you to Sustainable Service Delivery is asset management.
David Allen: Asset management is mandated in Australia. 30 years later, they are still facing many of the same challenges that we face due to a lack of leadership and integration across local government organizations.
Wally Wells: Their experience speaks to the universal problem in embedding change. You cannot legislate a process. All they have done is mandate “the plan” which is one task in the process. That does not change the culture to follow through with effective implementation and integration.
Theme #3 – Be wary of including natural assets in Public Sector Accounting Board requirements
David Allen: Nature and natural assets are now part of the mix for local government asset management. This represents a huge shift in thinking because we have always treated nature as an externality in our economic system.
The old way of thinking comes to mind when we look at what the Public Sector Accounting Board has in mind when it talks about including natural assets in PSAB 3150.
Wally Wells: David has touched on a hot button for me. I am really, really, really nervous about the way the accounting profession will try to treat natural assets in a financial statement. Accountants do not know how to deal with the subject of natural asset management. Consider this as my call to action!
David Allen: My suggestion is practical and straightforward. Just do what the Town of Gibsons did in 2014. They included an accountant’s note in the Financial Statement that refers to natural assets. That is all you need. An auditor’s note is an appropriate form of recognition and can be accompanied by reference to a separate report specific to natural assets.
What matters most is that nature is not treated as an externality by communities and local governments. Find ways to incorporate natural asset management into the day-to-day work of local governments. Do not lose sight of the goal, strive for Sustainable Service Delivery.
To read the article by Duane Nicol that builds on the above, download a copy of the Winter 2022 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter
Theme #4 – Asset management is a pathway to Water Reconciliation with First Nations
David Allen: When I think about First Nations, so much is about building relationships. You must have their trust to really effect change related to asset management in First Nations communities. Asset Management BC is making progress in building a relationship-based foundation.
Wally Wells: None of the other asset management communities-of-practice across Canada have integrated First Nations. Some talk about it. We do it in BC. That is a win for all of us.
David Allen: The next step is to build on that foundation, so training programs for First Nations communities are responsive, meaningful and relevant, and always keeping in mind that many of their communities only have a few hundred residents.
To read an article by Wally Wells titled What’s in a WORD: The word ‘Plan’, download the Winter 2022 issue of the Asset Management BC Newsletter.
TO LEARN MORE:
To read the complete story published on October 4th, 2022, download a PDF copy of ” Living Water Smart in British Columbia: Embedding a Sustainable Service Delivery Culture within Local Governments ”.
DOWNLOAD A PDF COPY: https://waterbucket.ca/wcp/wp-content/uploads/sites/6/2022/10/PWSBC_Living-Water-Smart_Asset-Management-BC_2022.pdf