The City of Thunder Bay, Ontario, located on the northwest shore of Lake Superior, is busy spreading the word to staff, council, and its close to 109,000 citizens about how asset management planning is improving city services. To amplify its Asset Management Plan: Phase One and accompanying Future-Ready Roadmap, the city used a grant from the Federation of Canadian Municipality’s Municipal Asset Management Program (MAMP) to develop a communication plan, related resources and public engagement strategies to inform and engage staff and the public. This work in turn underscored the need to find better ways to retain knowledge and expertise when staff change positions, retire or leave. 

“MAMP funding has helped us make asset management a high strategic priority across all departments. Council, staff and even the public are more aware of the benefits of asset management planning. We’re making proactive decisions that reduce the risk of downstream issues and using centralized asset registers to help retain organizational memory.”
~ Amy Coomes, Project Manager, City of Thunder Bay

From 2018 to 2022, 17 municipal staff from the city participated in nine training activities funded by MAMP, including six awareness building activities and three technical skill development activities.


  • Centralized asset registers for better knowledge retention
  • Widespread sharing of asset management experiences and insights
  • More public awareness of the value of asset management and stronger engagement with the community

The challenge

Thunder Bay wanted to address gaps in internal asset management knowledge and practice, as inefficiencies and redundancies were arising from differing perspectives on lifecycle strategies and inconsistent use of condition assessments. The city also sought to raise public awareness so citizens would be better able to provide informed input into financial and asset management planning; an initial goal was to obtain citizen input on levels of service. 

The approach

To identify the necessary communication resources, Thunder Bay drew on its project manager, who oversees asset management activities across the organization, and a steering committee comprised of directors and managers from each area of the city that manages assets, such as engineering, operations and development. It also tapped into four collaboration groups (Linear [piping, roads], Facilities, Fleet, and Machinery and Equipment) where cross-departmental staff who manage similar assets meet to share approaches, insights and future plans. The resources developed to increase staff and public awareness and engagement include: 

  • An internal website for staff and council that highlights asset management as an organization-wide priority, strengthening staff and council capacity and expertise and supporting councillors as they respond to constituents. 
  • Videos, infographics and social media content for the public on what asset management is, why their input matters and how to get involved. Many of these resources appear on the Get Involved Thunder Bay webpage, along with surveys soliciting public input into planning priorities. 
  • Tailored training sessions or “tailgate talks” for front-line staff, designed to show them how their work fits into the city’s larger asset management picture, and why a standardized approach benefits everyone.
  • To build a shared understanding of asset management concepts and terminology, staff—especially new staff or those in new positions—took training such as the MAMP-funded Professional Certificate in Asset Management Planning through NAMS Canada and the Canadian Network of Asset Managers’ online AM 101 course. Through Asset Management Ontario, staff are also strengthening their connections with their fellow northern Ontario municipalities of Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie, Dryden and Kenora, opening avenues for ongoing conversations about shared challenges and solutions.


As the communication resources were developed, Thunder Bay recognized that more structured processes were needed to share staff expertise and retain this knowledge when staff retire or otherwise move on. To that end, the city created centralized asset registers detailing processes, decisions and assumptions, along with pictures and examples, to consolidate information that might previously have only been stored in someone’s head or in dusty file cabinets. An offshoot of this work was the realization that sometimes the old ways are not necessarily the best ways, and this is making it easier to update and refine current processes. 

The collaboration groups play an important role in identifying gaps and developing standardized approaches. For instance, departments started sharing condition assessment matrices when it became apparent that some areas had detailed matrices while others had none.

Council members are more aware of the long-term, proactive nature of asset management and its connection to financial planning and community resilience. They better understand how small improvements now can prevent future catastrophes and are asking for updates at every meeting and considering the infrastructure deficit when making decisions.

Finally, the exponential growth in baseline knowledge is beginning to fuel its own momentum as people see the potential and become excited about building on it. There has been a welcome shift away from the perception that asset management is the purview of one person, or a few key people. Rather, there is a recognition that everyone has a contribution to make, that everyone carries responsibility for the outcomes and that everyone reaps the rewards.

A large four-way roundabout with The Sleeping Giant in the background.
A new roundabout is helping traffic flow in Thunder Bay, as The Sleeping Giant rests in the background. Source: The City of Thunder Bay

Lessons learned

  • Facilitate avenues for cross-departmental discussion to identify and address knowledge gaps and share and retain knowledge. The collaboration groups have been instrumental in this regard.
  • Set realistic and timely goals. Thunder Bay learned that a tendency to underestimate the time needed to accomplish a task could lead to problems. For instance, production delays sometimes arose when it took more time than expected to get agreement on key messages for communication resources.
  • Adjust plans as needed. As Thunder Bay developed its roadmap, it became evident that current levels of service needed to be determined before inviting public comment, rather than vice-versa, and this adjustment was made.

Next steps

Thunder Bay is anticipating its new organization-wide asset management architecture that is being considered under the city’s digital strategy. The new system is expected to greatly improve its ability to store and share knowledge and standardize processes. 


Amy Coomes
Project Manager
City of Thunder Bay, Ontario

Related resources


This resource was developed by the Municipal Asset Management Program(MAMP). 

MAMP is designed to help Canadian municipalities strengthen their infrastructure investment decisions based on reliable data and sound asset management practices. This eight-year, $110-million program is funded by the Government of Canada and delivered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It is being implemented in partnership with municipal, provincial and territorial associations and other key stakeholders.

Want to explore all GMF-funded projects? Check out the Projects Database for a complete overview of funded projects and get inspired by municipalities of all sizes, across Canada. 

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