We always hear that the communities comprehensive of general plan is “strategic”, yet frequently fail to see the recommendations or goals followed through to implementation. A strategic plan will provide answers to the WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN AND HOW questions that arise after the comprehensive or general plan process. It is by answering these simple questions that a community or citizen group is accountable for their appropriate portions of the recommendations or goals. While these questions are simple in nature, their answer are never easy to get documented.
Before diving into a few suggestions for effective strategic planning, it is important to outline what should be outlined in the five “W”’s. Outlined below are brief explanations of the information that should be answered in each category:
Who – Within this questions it is the goal to identify the parties, groups or individuals whom will be responsible for the strategic goals and recommendations?
What – This question will identify, prioritize and rank the recommendations or gals to be included within the strategic plan
When – Providing a timeframe will ensure the responsible party is held accountable for their actions and dedicated scope
Where – To be considered under the “where” of the questions is to think through timing, logical progressions and necessary orders in which the recommendations must be completed
How – Providing the community with a roadmap for how to achieve the strategic recommendations or goals is the answer to this question
By completing a strategic planning exercise your community or group will be provided with a detailed map to reach the desired goals or visions for the community. It is important to remember that during the strategic planning process, the ultimate goal is to assist the responsible parties in achieving the common visions and goals for the community. While this may seem a daunting task for communities with a myriad of recommendations, outlined below are several examples of how to effectively create a strategic plan:
Build upon momentum of smaller projects to complete big project – Apathy and pessimism is a plight that is prevalent within many municipalities and community groups across the country. Everyone has heard the phrase “We will never be able to complete that”. A quick lesson is to prioritize the recommendations or goals and focus on the smaller or easier goals in the beginning. As the low hanging fruit, they can often be easy to complete, at minimal cost, yet provide a large impact to the overall civic pride or moral of the community. Build upon this momentum and continue onto larger and more complex projects. Do not let the community recess into a downturn and continue to engage the residents with TALES OF SUCCESS.
Timing is critical – There is no quicker way to hinder a communities progress than to have a community witness poor planning or phasing. This is often witnessed on municipal based projects where poor planning is illustrated. Take for example a community that installs a beautiful streetscape, only to have it torn out and replaced with “patchwork” concrete a year later due to the necessity of regular infrastructure replacement programs. This lack of planning will provide the community with a sense that tax-payer dollars and hard earned income is not being well spent.
A plan that does not have timeframes is not accountable – To ensure that the all tasks are completed in their respective timeframes, it is important that each action item be represented with a hard date for completion. By placing this date for completion, the responsible parties will be required to adequately manage time in order to achieve their goals. This specific task will also highlight potential areas where individual or groups are not providing enough support, highlighting a weak link in the implementation process.
Prioritize, rank and repeat – Often times a community is required to complete a comprehensive or general plan due to a state legislative action requiring them to be updated on a regular basis. If this is the case in your community, look at the goals and vision statement for the plan. There will be many statements, vague in nature and all of them will not provide adequate prioritization. In an effective strategic plan this is quickly remedied. The ranking and prioritizing process is doubly critical to a community with limited resources, such as most in the US, as it will provide a defined list of priorities and recommendation as set forth by the community input from your comprehensive or general plan. This specific task is a moving target and will always be updated as visions are completed and removed from the list.
Determent the most applicable people – ensuring that the correct people are working in each task or goal will ensure that each is completed quickly and efficiently. By providing a detailed list of roles and responsibilities for each action item or goal, including person or party name, it will clearly delineate whom is responsible. By being specific in this task, the community and residents can hold each person responsible for his/her actions.
As an ultimate goal to a strategic plan, the community should be provided with a plan that will be well worn, dog eared, torn and highlighted. This represents a plan that has been properly used as a reference manual for community catalyst changes. While the below goals of a strategic plan may be familiar to some, it is important to outline them and explain the importance of each. Typical goals of a strategic plan include:
Action oriented - a strategic plan should always remain action oriented, focusing on change
Implementable – While many communities have dreams and desires, it is important to keep all items within the strategic plan implementable
Bound within a reasonable timeframe – Providing a starting plan with goals for the short, mid and long term future for a community is necessary. However, it is important to note that long term goals should remain vague as the short term goals may change or cause the longer term goals to adapt.
Tied to the community – While the community helped create the original goals from the comprehensive or general plan, it is important to keep in mind that the community goals change over time. Review the strategic plan with the community and be willing to adapt the recommendations to meet the communities changing goals
The community is the client – Whether it is funded through tax payer dollars or it is completed by volunteer hours and donations, it is important to remember that the community is always the client for the recommendations. All work should be completed to provide qualitative and quantitative improvements for residents and visitors.
A strategic plan is a critical step in a transforming community, answering the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE AND HOW a community will be shaped for future generations. This planning process is often overlooked by many municipalities as unnecessary, yet we challenge readers to research communities that are ahead of the curve and taking charge of their own future, and you will find they all completed this vital step. While the strategic planning process is community led, it is important to set the right groundwork for the first plan. If you community is currently undergoing this process, or interested in starting, Downtown Redevelopment Services, LLC is always happy to provide suggestions or guidance to a community.