The City of Waterloo approved our Strategic Plan for 2019 to 2022 in late June (https://www.waterloo.ca/en/government/strategic-plan.aspx). It is intended to be an aspirational plan, which not only lays out the priorities of the city, but is the guiding document for staff and Council when we are creating and approving budgets and business plans for each department. In addition to creating an updated Vision Statement, Mission Statement and Guiding Principles; Council has approved six Strategic Pillars and nineteen Strategic Objectives for our term.
I thought it would be interesting to share with you how the plan was formulated, because I thought it was a fascinating process and really provides an insight into the inputs that were analyzed as well as what your City of Waterloo Council believes and how we work together.
The first steps in the strategic plan preparation included public engagement, management and staff review and a summary of local community research. Over 11,000 members of the public contributed to the discussion through surveys, interviews, workshops and more. The City of Waterloo Citizen Satisfaction Survey, Wellbeing Waterloo Region Survey and TravelWise Commuting Report were some of the key research documents utilized. In addition, our Advisory Committees (Arts & Culture, Sustainability, Economic Development, etc) were also engaged in discussions on priorities for the City.
After reviewing the inputs, the plan began to take shape. At this point in time Council engaged in some extremely interesting conversations to narrow the focus of the plan. If you are really interested in seeing how the Strategic Plan was finalized I would highly recommend watching the Council Strategic Planning Workshop and/or Council Meeting Reviewing the Draft Strategic Plan (linked below), for the topics that may interest you the most I have provided some time stamps for each video in my further commentary:
Strategic Planning Workshop – Part 1 (SPW1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qItS6G8x7Ns
Strategic Planning Workshop – Part 2 (SPW2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIB9giCvgEI
Draft Strategic Plan Discussion (DSP) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZho8aFEmLQ
Strategic Goals (SPW1 60:00 – End)
- Equity, inclusion and a sense of belonging
- Sustainability and the environment
- Safe, sustainable transportation
- Healthy community and resilient neighbourhoods
- Infrastructure renewal
- Economic growth & development
Council’s initial task was to narrow down ten pillars to five (ultimately brought back up to six). Council voted privately and the first five pillars listed above emerged as clear priorities with 7 of the 8 of us voting for the first four pillars and 5 of the 8 of us voting for the fifth. On a personal note, I voted for the first four pillars in addition to a pillar around engagement and communication that ultimately did not receive enough support. Engagement was a key element of my campaign and I will continue to pledge to improve on this topic over the course of my term. It is likely very prudent of us to have Infrastructure Renewal emerge as a pillar, given that this will be a key focus of Council this term. I am fully supportive of where we ended up landing on in this conversation.
Strategic Objectives – Overall (SPW2 0:00 – 30:00)
After narrowing down the pillars of the organization we were tasked with selecting strategic objectives that we identified as priorities for this term of Council. Council was tasked with voting (again privately) on 11 of 22 objectives within the five pillars that emerged. Interestingly, two items were unanimously voted on; Strive for safe, well planned and well integrated transportation networks that serve all modes of transportation and enhance connectivity and mobility throughout the city, as well as support efforts to increase the number of residents using public transit and active transportation. Based on this voting process Council then began our toughest work around which objectives were most important within each pillar and adding in new objectives that must be priorities in this term.
Strategic Objectives by Pillar
Equity, inclusion and a sense of belonging (SPW2 44:00 – 55:00; DSP 6:00 – 48:00)
- Implement strategies and tactics that strengthen the engagement of diverse and marginalized populations, and all ages, and support an enhanced sense of belonging within the community.
- Incorporate best practices to maximize inclusion within all city business, operations and service delivery.
- Address the needs of an aging population through responsive development, programming and communication strategies.
- Focus on the economic disparity in our community by ensuring our work considers the impacts of this gap.
- Respond to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action for municipalities.
The discussions around this pillar were amongst the longest and most thoughtful. We know from the Waterloo Region Wellbeing Survey that about 1/3rd of visible minorities experience discrimination frequently, which is a number that has more than doubled since 2013. We also know that similar percentages experience discrimination due to age or gender. Lastly, we know that above average wellbeing on this topic leads to a stronger sense of belonging. These discussions led to the verbiage around the pillar as well as the specific objectives. I framed the objectives as tackling this subject within the community, within our corporate policies, specific to an aging population, with respect to income inequality and with our Indigenous community. These are difficult conversations for a municipality to have and easy to ignore or dismiss. I am deeply proud of our Council for engaging in them and look forward to the work we will do on this pillar.
Sustainability and the environment (SPW2 30:00 – 35:00; DSP 60:00 – 1:17:00)
- Apply a sustainability lens on all services and projects.
- Enable bold local actions to address the climate change crisis.
Our initial workshop made clear that sustainability was important to this Council. These conversations confirmed that we must apply a sustainability lens to everything that we do and this ultimately emerged as a standalone objective. Initial conversations talked about defining measurable goals, but ultimately this was decided to be best left for individual business plans. After the workshop the draft plan proposed merging sustainability with infrastructure renewal. Although I understood the logic, I personally felt as though not having Infrastructure Renewal as a standalone pillar did a disservice to the important work we need to do on that topic, as well as having the potential to dilute the effectiveness of the pillar vis-à-vis the very important climate issues we need to address. Council debated and ultimately agreed, which then led to further discussions around the importance of addressing climate change as a crisis. Thoughtful debate ensued, but Council felt it necessary to call out the situation for what it is in order to ensure that the severity of the topic is noted.
Safe, sustainable transportation (SPW2 35:00 – 44:00; DSP 48:00 – 60:00)
- Adopt Vision Zero practices and tactics to enable safe travel by all modes of transportation.
- To facilitate a modal shift, enable increased use of active transportation and public transit.
This discussion delved into a host of conversations around traffic calming, snow clearance, active transportation, transit and more. Vision Zero was introduced as a concept that we should be exploring and was voted on by 6 of 7 Councillors. The draft strategic plan proposed removing references to Vision Zero due to it potentially being too tactical, however Council felt that this was too important to not include. This is a significant shift for the City and I am fully supportive of it. Vision Zero philosophy speaks to getting away from the most efficient method of moving cars to having the safest design for all road users. Some of the tactics that are discussed are within our jurisdiction, while others are Regional in focus. Some of the tactics we could adopt are increasing pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, increasing the frequency of pedestrian islands, improving crosswalks, speed limit reductions, photo radar, signage, lane markings, bollards and many more. I am very eager to see where this discussion takes us in our designing of streets and neighbourhoods on a go forward basis.
Healthy community and resilient neighbourhoods (SPW2 55:00 – 1:10:00; DSP 1:17:00 – 1:28:00)
- Increase the amount of affordable housing in the city.
- Create and maintain safe, accessible and vibrant public spaces that promote opportunities for diverse use.
- Support the arts and culture community to enhance Waterloo’s quality of place.
This discussion made it clear that increasing the amount of affordable housing in the city is a primary objective for this Council as it was unanimously voted on as an objective. As part of this discussion I advocated for a method of targeting repeat bylaw offenders for infractions related to public safety and community standards. The discussion was lively, however only two of us felt that it was a priority. The remainder of these conversations were more about verbiage; actually creating spaces not just encouraging them, speaking to the vibrancy of the community, diverse usage instead of simply referencing the neighbourhood park, healthy communities instead of strong, etc.
Infrastructure renewal (SPW2 1:10:00 – 1:19:00)
- Optimize usage and efficiency of existing facilities and assets.
- Dedicate appropriate resources to plan, renew and maintain existing infrastructure.
- Develop engagement strategies that effectively communicate and balance community priorities with operational and financial realities.
- Address the infrastructure deficit.
Much of this discussion took place as part of the draft strategic plan conversation around sustainability, where we identified the importance of this remaining as a strategic pillar as opposed to having it rolled up within sustainability. There was near unanimity on the importance of each of the above objectives. I advocated for the third objective as I believe it is vitally important that we do an effective job that communicates why we are facing the infrastructure deficit that we have and what the options are for us to move forward. When the draft plan came forward in May this objective was removed and ultimately put back in on Council’s request. Also during the discussion in May we added in the verbiage around framing this conversation as a deficit to underscore the importance of renewal.
Economic growth and development (SPW2 1:19:00 – 1:24:00; DSP 1:28:00 – 1:47:00)
- Actively attract and nurture innovation among businesses to fuel a diverse economy.
- Align economic development and job growth with community development objectives that address economic disparity.
- Celebrate the connection with education partners to fully leverage growth opportunities.
The conversation around Economic Growth as a pillar evolved from our workshop task around other objectives that may not fall within the initial five, but are still priorities for the community. The decision was ultimately made to add a sixth pillar to recognize the importance of economic growth to our community. There was an acknowledgment from Council that although we are doing very well on this topic, we need continuous support to ensure that it doesn’t fall behind. My biggest concern was around ensuring that economic growth as an objective has a tie in to the vast economic disparity that we already see in our community. As I noted we have 11% of our households in Waterloo making more than $200,000 per year, while 9% make less than $20,000. If economic growth does not also address this disparity it is not necessarily an appropriate pillar in my opinion. I was very happy to see this debated and ultimately added to objective two. There was also an interesting conversation among Council around jobs for all and how we move towards a diverse economy, leading to this being reflected in the objectives as well.
Vision Statement (SPW1 24:00 – 40:00; SPW2 1:24:00 – 1:37:00; DSP 1:53:00 – End)
Waterloo is an equitable community that leads the world in learning, discovery and caring.
The initial discussions started from a point of Waterloo being a community to live, learn and create or live learn and grow. Council agreed that create was better than grow, but a lively discussion occurred about the need for the statement to be more aspirational and unique. There was a lot of discussion around the type of language used as well as whether we should be referencing entrepreneurship, education, environment, discovery, diversity, resilience, sustainability, innovation, etc. Ultimately after the more complete discussions around the full plan it was clear that equity needed to be a part of the statement. Overall I am pleased with the statement and feel as though it gives us an aspirational vision for our community.
Guiding Principles (SPW1 47:00 – 53:00; SPW2 1:37:00 – 1:52:00; DSP 1:51:00 – 1:53:00)
Equity and Inclusion, Sustainability, Fiscal Responsibility, Healthy and Safe Workplace, Effective Engagement, Personal Leadership and Service Excellence
It was clear from our discussions that in order to have a broader impact with respect to Sustainability as well as Equity and Inclusion, these needed to not only be Strategic Pillars, but also added in as Guiding Principles for the organization. Council felt as though this was the best way to ensure that these themes were embedded to everything we do at the city. The remaining principles were unchanged from previous Council’s term except to add safety to our healthy workplaces principle as well as to change from communication to engagement.
Mission Statement (SPW1 40:00 – 47:00; DSP 1:47:00 – 1:51:00)
The Corporation of the City of Waterloo is committed to supporting sustainable growth, equity, and an inclusive, vibrant community through the delivery of service excellence. We are supported in this effort through a team of volunteers, staff and elected officials that share a commitment to fiscal responsibility, healthy and safe workplace, effective engagement, and personal leadership.
The mission statement is derived from a discussion of the guiding principles for the community. Once the guiding principles were determined, the mission statement formed from there.
I have said repeatedly that this task has been my favourite and most challenging in my short time as an elected official. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience for me and I am extremely proud of the courage of my colleagues on Council as well as the hard work of staff and our consultants to bring this plan to fruition. The hard work begins next as staff will use this guiding document to create business plans and ultimately our three-year budget. Council will undoubtedly have tough decisions to make in this process as well and I can’t wait to engage in those discussions in the coming months.
If you have any questions about our strategic plan, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me for further discussion.