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Strategic Planning: What Do You Need?

Posted on Sunday, September 27th, 2020

In reaction to the rapidly changing economic and health environment in which we are now living, many communities and organizations are rethinking their strategies and reevaluating their priorities, and seeking a new plan of action. When deciding what type of plan your community or organization needs, it is best to consider three things: the scope, the reason and the ownership. Think about these key questions:

  • Is it focused on the whole community or just the organization (i.e. external or internal)? 
  • What is the time horizon for the vision and/or implementation of the plan (3 to 5 years, 7 – 10 years, or more)?
  • Is there a specific area of interest (e.g. economic development, recruitment, communication, operations)? 
  • Who is going to implement the plan?

The answers to these questions will help you decide what type of plan you need, and what planning structure will be most useful to you. There are several types of plans common in community and economic development: strategic plans, marketing plans, workforce development plans, public relations plans, and more. 

It is important to note that the type of plan is not the same as the approach taken to develop a plan. There are many approaches to planning: SWOT-Based Traditional, Appreciative Inquiry, Strategic Doing, Design Thinking, OKR, EOS, and more. The type of plan you want will guide your decision as to which approach works best for the outcomes you are seeking. But there is a basic process in any planning effort:

Planning Process

In response to some inquiries we are getting at IDM, the team has put together descriptions of possible planning structures for strategic planning based on scope and ownership, which while similar, have very different purposes and levels of community engagement. It is essential that any coordinating organization, co-chairs, or recruited planning team members be on the same page as to why they are coming together and how they intend to utilize a plan BEFORE undertaking a planning effort. Read on to learn more about the processes involved in a community-wide strategic plan and an organizational strategic plan. We also describe a comprehensive plan as they are sometimes confused with a strategic plan.

Community-Wide Strategic Plan

A Community-Wide Strategic Plan engages multiple organizations and entities within the community to develop a shared vision and goals, and identifies strategies and actions that are implemented (and potentially funded) by a number of different community partners (e.g. the City, a Chamber of Commerce, a School District, an Economic Development Group, and other Community-based Organizations). A community-wide strategic plan is typically led by a team of 15-25 community leaders, representing a cross section of the community, working together over a several month timeline. The process includes:

  • Identifying a point organization to serve as the coordinator of the process and co-chairs of respected community leaders recruited to assist with communication, recruit planning team members, and to serve as spokesperson from the planning team.
  • Gathering input from the community to assess needs and desires – asking your community members what is working, what could be better, and what is missing that would make the community a place in which they are proud/happy to live.
  • Recruiting, convening and managing a planning team of the organizations most likely to implement the plan (community partners listed above).
  • Developing a 3 to 5 year strategic plan based on the community input that includes a shared vision and goals, with strategies and actions designed to address the community’s needs and desires which are assigned to the various partners for implementation.
  • Partnering organizations, departments and/or individuals agreeing to adopt the plan and move forward with helping to implement the plan, and meeting regularly to track progress.
  • Recruitment and utilization of an Implementation and Monitoring Committee to oversee and troubleshoot plan implementation.

Organizational Strategic Plan

An organizational strategic planning process is best to develop a plan that will be implemented (and funded) solely by the Organization, such as an economic development group, a chamber of commerce, or a City and its departments, and is led and monitored by the organization’s key staff and Board of Directors or from City Hall and the City Council. The process is still based on what stakeholders or community members see as issues and needs in the community, and is a shorter term document (3 to 5 years) with goals that are achieved (or at least started) within that time period. The process includes:

  • Gathering input from the organization’s stakeholders and/or the community to assess needs and desires – asking what is working, what could be better, and what is missing that would make the organization one of value and due support; or the community a place in which they are proud/happy to live, work or do business.
  • Convening a planning team of Board or Council members, organizational or department leaders and staff, and additional thought leaders from the organization’s membership or community. 
  • Developing a 3 to 5 year strategic plan based on the input that includes goals, strategies and actions designed to address identified needs and desires which are assigned to staff, departments or committees for implementation.
  • The Board of Directors or the City Council adopts the plan and the organization or City moves forward with the actions, meeting and reporting to the Board or Council regularly to track progress.

Comprehensive Plan

A Comprehensive Plan is a broad document that studies and inventories the current and projected conditions within the community focusing heavily on land use and city infrastructure (streets, utilities, buildings). A Comprehensive Plan is a long term document that will be implemented (and funded) by the City and its departments, and is led and monitored from City Hall and the City Council. The process includes:

  • An assessment of the current demographic conditions and projections
  • An assessment and inventory of community infrastructure (streets, sidewalks, utilities, city-owned buildings)
  • An assessment and inventory of hazards, agricultural and natural resources
  • Land use maps – current and future
  • An inventory of other community assets and facilities (education, fire protection, law enforcement, libraries and other cultural amenities, recreation, child/elder care, health, and housing)
  • Community engagement conducted often through surveys and community meetings.
  • A planning team, with much guidance and recommendations from a consultant develops broad, long term community priorities, goals and strategies for making community improvements over time, based on the full scope of assessments.

Once a Comprehensive Plan is completed, the City usually works to ensure that City Codes and Ordinances are updated to be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan (especially in terms of land use) to avoid future legal disputes over inconsistencies often encountered in new development or land use changes. In addition, other shorter term plans, such as the Five-year Street Plan, the Capital Improvement Plan, and Hazard Mitigation Plan should be developed or updated based upon goals and strategies identified in the comprehensive plan. All of these sub-plans and documents are developed through specific processes as well.