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Welcome to the Resilient Community Research Blog

Watch this space for blog posts with the latest community resiliency news and opinions from the team.

Summer 2017

Enhancing Ontario’s Rural Infrastructure Preparedness: Inter-Community Service Sharing in a Changing Climate (2016-2019)

As this project has progressed, we wanted to update those interested in this research to read about the early results, and welcome you to follow along in the coming months as we learn more about how inter-community service sharing (ICSS) and asset management processes (AMP) can be adopted by rural communities in Ontario in a changing climate. For an overview of the project, please see http://www.resilientresearch.ca/research-interests/risk-disaster-and-emergency-management/http://www.resilientresearch.ca/research-interests/enhancing-ontarios-rural-infrastructure-preparedness/ 

Inter-community service sharing (ICSS) is an intergovernmental agreement that facilitates more efficient and/or cost effective delivery of infrastructure services and manages boundary-spanning infrastructure. Although ICSS holds great potential, currently a research gap exists about how ICSS can boost preparedness in rural Ontario communities facing both climate change (CC) threats and scarce resources. An ICSS response to the threats from extreme events could include upgrading water management systems, rerouting transportation, harmonizing building codes and coordinating emergency services and response (Black, Bruce, & Egener, 2010).

Asset management processes (AMP’s) are “the process of making the best possible decisions regarding the building, operating, maintaining, renewing, replacing and disposing of infrastructure assets” (Ministry of Infrastructure, 2012, pg. 10). Effective AMP maximizes cost savings through the early identification of deterioration and taking the appropriate actions to rehabilitate or renew the asset. Good AMP results in informed decision-making that better manages risk, including the risk of infrastructure failure and the impact of factors such as CC (Ministry of Infrastructure, 2012).

In Ontario, communities are encouraged to undertake the standardized AMP process. AMPs outline the state of local infrastructure (types, age, condition, valuation/replacement cost); expected levels of service (performance measures, external trends/issues); coordinated strategies for maintenance, growth, disposal and renewal including non-infrastructural solutions (integrated planning and land use planning); procurement options, benefits and costs including revenue streams, historic and forecasted costs for the life cycle of the assets, assessment of risk (probability, consequence, vulnerability); and financing options including ICSS potential. AMP challenges include lack of familiarity, personnel training, time and finances and data gaps (Ministry of Infrastructure, 2012).

Kylie Hissa (a former graduate student of our research team) was hired as a research assistant to conduct an environmental scan of the literature on ICSS and AMP in the Fall of 2016. Kylie did amazing work in assembling and organizing (by themes) an extensive body of literature on AMP and ICSS processes from around the globe. Kylie’s central questions that guided this stage of the research were:

  1. What types of service sharing are going on in Ontario municipalities, particularly in rural/remote areas?
  2. How can inter-community service sharing (ICSS) benefit the asset management planning process in these rural/remote areas to enhance capacities for climate change resilience?

We already know that climate change (CC) will exacerbate deterioration to existing infrastructure and increase replacement costs. Improved preparedness reduces risks and increases efficiency, readiness and coping capacity. This project argues that CC prepared ICSS is one way to increase the preparedness of Ontario rural communities to expand cost-effective solutions within Ontario’s standardized Asset Management Planning (AMP) process (see https://www.ontario.ca/page/building-together-guide-municipal-asset-management-plans for more information on AMP).

Kylies’ work on the environmental scan document has identified a lot of interesting information. Below are a few of the themes she has identified, as well as a number of notable gaps in the literature that this project seeks to help clarify.

The themes that have emerged through this environmental scan are:

  • There exists a clear gap in terms of the information and data regarding rural infrastructure impacted by a changing climate both in terms of quality and quantity (Breen, 2015)
    • This is particularly relevant for rural communities because access and quality to such information informs future decisions and actions
  • There is a gap in terms of a specific rural “state of infrastructure” report/inventory compared to urban reports (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2012)
  • There is no single agreed upon definition of infrastructure and its categorization; inventories and assessments will inevitably differ in terms of what kind of infrastructure is included (Breen, 2015)
    • Summarization and comparison of existing literature and data can be challenging
  • Little research has been conducted in Canada to date on how climate change could influence various non-climatic factors (e.g. increasing wealth, demographic shifts to coastal areas, etc.) and on the interdependent infrastructure systems (Boyle, Cunningham, & Dekens, 2013)
  • Governments are struggling to catch up with infrastructure needs, yet those needs are continually growing as older infrastructure exceeds its service life and as populations grow (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2012)
    • Climate change impacts act as another pressure to replace or upgrade older systems
  • Many municipalities lack the internal capacity to assess the state of their infrastructure accurately on their own (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2012)
  • The smaller the community, the greater the challenges regarding the provision of services and maintaining infrastructure for citizens (Kitchen & Slack, 2001; Lauzon et al., 2015)
  • There is significant amount of American and European literature on inter-municipal services and service sharing (Hefetz et al., 2012; Spicer, 2013a)
  • There is a lack of research on inter-municipal service sharing within a Canadian context – especially within a rural setting (Feiock, 2007; Spicer, 2013a)
  • Although the literature states that inter-municipal service sharing is popular among smaller communities (Kitchen & Slack, 2001; Hefetz et al., 2012), the research that does exist on Canadian inter-municipal service sharing is largely within a metropolitan context (Feiock, 2007; Spicer, 2013b)
  • There is little consistency in the use of shared service arrangements across Ontario regions (IMFG, 2014)
  • There is also a lack of literature that provides empirical guidance as to whether the number of inter-local agreements reflect citizens’ perception of quality (Morton, Yu-Che, & Morse, 2008)
  • Although fiscal incentives have been cited as being a large driving factor for cooperation, it is not clear whether inter-municipal cooperation will result in efficiency gains (Bel & Warner, 2015a)


 What do we need to focus on to learn more about this topic?:

  • Further exploration of how local institutions and governance systems may promote the transition towards sustainable communities (Robinson et al., 2008)
  • Exploration on what policy makers can do to promote cooperation among more sparsely settled rural communities (Bel & Warner, 2015)
  • Understand why we see so few inter-local agreements in Canada (Spicer, 2013)
  • Connect perceptions of municipal practitioners with the reality of policy; we know why municipalities say they cooperate, but we don’t know whether their reasoning is supported by evidence (Spicer, 2014a)
  • Synthesis and broadcasting of best practises and important lessons learned by communities as they experiment with innovative new strategies for achieving sustainability such as inter-community service sharing (Douglas, 2003; Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, 2008; Robinson et al., 2008; Transportation Research Board, 2008; Gore, 2010; Brodhead, Darling, & Mullin, 2014; Canadian Climate Forum, 2015; Lintz, 2016)
  • Distinguishing the differing climate change impacts and risks by region and type of infrastructure/asset for key infrastructure/asset initiatives throughout Canada (Canadian Climate Forum, 2015)
  • Examining the benefits of partnering with neighbouring municipalities for asset management (Ministry of Infrastructure, 2012)

The project is now moving into the next stage of research that involves interviewing 10 key-informants (subject matter experts). They are being asked a series of questions that will provide input into the development of a provincial survey directed to the head of public works and the community emergency management coordinators across all Ontario communities with a population between 500 and 7500 (n=500).

We will update this blog as we the project moves along. We welcome any questions via our comments section (below) or you can email the project manager Bryce Gunson at bgunson@wlu.ca or the principal investigator Dr. Brenda Murphy at bmurphy@wlu.ca




Bel, G., & Warner, M.E. (2015a). Inter-municipal cooperation and costs: expectations and evidence. Public Administration, 93(1), 52-67.

Black, R. A., Bruce, J. P., & Egener, I.D.M. (2010) Adapting to Climate Change: A Risk-Based

Guide for Local Governments. Ottawa, National Resources Canada.

Boyle, J., Cunningham, M., & Dekens, J. (2013). Climate change adaptation and Canadian infrastructure. Retrieved from http://www.rediscoverconcrete.ca/assets/files/research/Climate-Change-Adaptation-and-Canadian-Infrastructure_Final_Nov2013.pdf

Breen, S. (2015). Uncertain foundation: infrastructure in rural Canada. Retrieved from http://rplc-capr.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Infrastructure-in-Rural-Canada-Report.pdf

Brodhead, J., Darling, J., & Mullin, S. (2014, October 1). Crisis and opportunity: time for a national infrastructure plan for Canada. Retrieved from http://canada2020.ca/crisis-opportunity-time-national-infrastructure-plan-canada/

Canadian Climate Forum. (2015). The impact of climate change on Canadian municipalities and infrastructure. Retrieved from http://www.climateforum.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/CCF-CCMunicipalities-PSD-April2015-FINAL.pdf

Canadian Council of Professional Engineers (2008). Adapting to climate change: Canada’s first national engineering vulnerability assessment of public infrastructure. Retrieved from https://pievc.ca/sites/default/files/adapting_to_climate_change_report_final.pdf

Douglas, D. (2003).  Towards more effective rural economic development in Ontario: An applied research project. Retrieved from http://www.uoguelph.ca/~djdougla/Src%20Led.pdf

Federation of Canadian Municipalities. (2012). Canadian infrastructure report card Volume 1: 2012 municipal roads and water systems. Retrieved from http://www.fcm.ca/Documents/reports/Canadian_Infrastructure_Report_Card_EN.pdf

Feiock, R.C. (2007). Rational choice and regional governance. Journal of Urban Affairs, 29(1), 47-63.

Gore, C. (2010). The limits and opportunities of networks: municipalities and Canadian climate change policy. Review of Policy Research, 27(1), 26-46.

Hefetz, A., Warner, M.E., & Vigoda-Gadot, E. (2012). Privatization and intermunicipal contracting: the US local government experience 1992-2007. Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy, 30(4), 675-692.

Kitchen, H., & Slack, E. (2001). Providing public services in remote areas. Retrieved from http://www1.worldbank.org/publicsector/decentralization/March2004Course/Kitchen.pdf

Lauzon, A., Ragetlie, N., Caldwell, W., & Douglas, D. (2015). Provincial Summaries – Ontario. In M. Breen, G. Lauzon, & M. Ryser (Eds.), State of rural Canada 2015 (pp. 39-44). Brandon: Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation.

Lintz, G. (2016). A conceptual framework for analysing inter-municipal cooperation on the environment. Regional Studies, 50(6), 956-970.

Ministry of Infrastructure. (2012) Building Together: Guide for Municipal Asset Plans. Available

Online: http://www.moi.gov.on.ca/pdf/en/Municipal%20Strategy_English_Web.pdf

Morton, L.W., Yu-Che, C., & Morse, R.S. (2008). Small town civic structure and interlocal collaboration for public services. City & Community, 7(1), 45-60.

Robinson, P., & Gore, G. (2005). Barriers to Canadian municipal response to climate change. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 14(1), 102-120.

Spicer, Z. (2013a).  Inter-local cooperation in Canada. Scale, scope and intensity. Retrieved from https://www.assocsrv.ca/cpsa-acsp/2014event/Spicer.pdf

Spicer, Z. (2015b). Regionalism, municipal organization, and interlocal cooperation in Canada. Canadian Public Policy, 41(2), 137-150.

Transportation Research Board. (2008). Potential impacts of climate change on U.S. transportation. Retrieved from http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/sr/sr290.pdf


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