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Executing on Round 2 of Municipal Modernization Program Reviews in Ontario: Should You Approach Them as a Marathon or a Sprint?


Across Canada, provincial governments offer a variety of application-based funding programs to fund service improvement initiatives for municipalities. In 2019, Ontario’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing launched the Audit and Accountability Fund (AAF) and the Municipal Modernization Program (MMP) to help large, small and rural municipalities improve their services by funding reviews and new projects. Little did the Ministry know that this would roll out during one of the most challenging times for municipalities in delivering services, with the pandemic impacting pretty much everything they did. In May 2020, we described how municipalities embarking on Service Delivery Reviews (SDRs) could pivot as the pandemic took hold. Many did, as we saw municipalities across the province access these funds to undertake SDRs to improve the use of technology, identify how to work and collaborate more closely with neighbouring municipalities through shared services, and find budget efficiencies throughout their budgets.

Themes from Round 1 of Service Delivery Reviews

Municipalities have largely completed the first round (“Intake 1”) of these projects, and the Municipal Affairs and Housing subsequently announced a second round of the MMP to continue to support small and rural municipalities in finding tactical, realistic ways to improve service delivery.[1] With the applications for this second round having just closed on March 15th, we want to provide an overview of the themes we saw across SDRs, an overview of the areas of focus for the second round, and for those municipalities that are successful in their second round applications, provide some advice on how to execute with the funds made available for this investment.

The first rounds of both the AAF and MMP contained broad eligibility criteria, allowing municipalities to focus on reviews with the “purpose of finding savings and efficiencies”. Some municipalities focused on line-by-line budget reviews. Others undertook SDRs that looked at costs, processes, people, technology, and the outcomes they were achieving. Services reviewed spanned everything from Fire Services to Parks and Recreation to Fleet Management, and everything else in between. While each service in each municipality had its own unique opportunities, we saw some common themes:

  • Data is hard to come by – and when you do have it, tracking and reporting are inconsistent. Despite best efforts and a desire by staff to collect and report on performance, the reality in many municipalities is that as staff wear multiple hats with competing responsibilities and limited technology infrastructure, data collection and reporting is difficult to initiate and sustain. The result is metrics that adhere to funding requirements but few key performance indicators that tell decision makers whether the service is doing what they, their citizens, and stakeholders need it to.
  • Processes tend to be manual as the rule, rather than the exception. For similar reasons, staff are often stuck doing processes or collecting data manually, putting pressures on time, decision making, and their ability to improve services the way they want to.
  • Technology has been implemented in many cases, but it’s been stymied by piecemeal approaches. Technology has often been implemented application by application, and in some cases department by department, without a portfolio view of technology. Incomplete use of incompatible platforms can result, setting process improvement efforts back and often acting as a barrier to further ones.

Executing on Round 2: Fit For Purpose, Whether a Marathon or Sprints

The second round of MMP funding for small and rural municipalities maintains a focus on delivering modern, efficient, and financially sustainable services; as noted, Expression of Interest applications were due March 15, 2021, with three types of projects suggested:

  • a line-by-line review of the municipality’s entire budget;
  • a review of service delivery and modernization opportunities; and
  • a review of administrative processes to reduce costs.

While this sounds like a fairly wide scope, municipalities were encouraged to submit proposals for projects specifically focused on:

  • digital modernization;
  • service integration;
  • streamlined development approvals; and
  • shared service/alternative delivery models.

As they start executing and getting into the nuts and bolts of these areas, municipalities’ efforts here will need to be “fit for purpose”, whether that purpose is going to be a marathon or a sprint. Digital modernization and service integration are akin to starting a marathon – these are not be taken lightly, and will take a long time to complete. But the training and development to do them can be broken into discrete chunks – like a person beginning with a 5K here, then doing a 10K there, municipalities can slowly build up capabilities to tackle the larger effort. This can involve identifying stakeholders, setting up some preliminary governance or working groups, requirements gathering, and then moving into the nitty gritty. Over time, this can help municipalities address technology challenges and take on growth by allowing them to dig deeply but deliberately. These efforts – particularly when they are vendor agnostic – are rarely wasted, as they document what organizations need to understand and do at each stage, and avoid rushing to procure technology solutions too quickly This helps them decide whether the 10k run is fit for purpose – i.e., good enough – or whether they need to push further. It can also help identify key performance indicators that will allow leadership to track the efficiency and effectiveness of the service.

Streamlined development approvals and shared service/alternative delivery models, while no small undertaking themselves, can be more sprint-like. Improving discrete processes or sub-processes – items as simple as aligning on timelines, establishing communication protocols, and other aspects that will improve the predictability of the process – can be done in short bursts of activity with focused attention. Shared service and alternative delivery model reviews similarly benefit from focusing on a few select services, or often, aspects of them as municipalities identify where collaboration can take place, whether formally or informally, and then gather steam from there.

A Final Thought

COVID-19 has made citizens more engaged than ever in their communities, and acutely aware of the services that municipalities provide, and how they are provided. Whether services can be accessed easily in person or online has gone from being important to being of paramount importance for certain residents. It will be important to make sure that reviews of these issues get the focus and the process right.


Optimus SBR’s Municipal Practice

Optimus SBR is an implementation-focused firm that specializes in turning policy into action. Our Municipal Practice, part of our broader Industries and Government Practice, has conducted a range of engagements for municipalities covering frontline and back-office services, transportation and transit, social services, public works, emergency services, public health, long-term care, community and economic development, and numerous others.

If you found this helpful, give us a call, or send us a note.

Brad Ferguson, SVP, Industries and Government Practice

David Lynch, Principal

Jesse Burns, Manager



[1] This matches a similar “Intake 2” round through the AAF for Ontario’s large municipalities.

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