As communities grow, their needs change. Communities that fail to plan for economic development will find that their services are being stretched too thinly at some point. The knee-jerk reaction to that is to raise taxes and cut services. This is a preventable problem that communities can solve with a fluid strategic plan in which community engagement is an integral part of the process.

The lack of a strategic plan can readily create long-term problems, such as stagnating growth, increasing public health and safety concerns, and a weakening infrastructure. Failure to plan for sustainable growth makes it difficult for communities to adapt to changing conditions.

Pre-planning for a Community Strategic Plan

Citizens should be aware of all that goes into the pre-planning stage of developing a strategic plan. Typically, groups start the process by outlining a few issues that they want to include in the process. This may include a few large-scale projects, stabilizing property values, transportation, beautification or other projects.

The planning group should gather as much data as possible before starting the project. They may reach out to current and past community members and the current council, as well as gathering data, studies, surveys and statistics. They should also establish a reasonable timeline for implementing their plans.

Creating the Vision

The process of creating a vision is called visioning. This is an enjoyable part of the process in which the planning group gets to be aspirational and to dream big. Visioning can also be a lengthy process.

The definition of a community vision is whatever the community hopes it can be. Citizens from all walks of life should be involved in creating the vision. There are various ways to do this. Communities may opt to perform a SWOT analysis or use an open-ended survey of key community issues. This process also requires groups to generate a list of issues they want to include and rank them according to importance.

Facilitated visioning workshops and town hall meetings will help council members to understand which issues are important to people in the community.

Setting Goals and Objectives

Once the vision has been established, the next step is to set some goals and objectives, which will provide direction toward achieving the vision. This phase of strategic planning can be quite time-consuming, so allow for plenty of time for thoughtful discussion on approaches for resolving critical issues and agreeing on goals.

The planning group needs to emphasize the strategy to achieve goals. Set goals that are specific and not overly broad. Objectives are tools that the group can use to determine the community’s progress toward meeting established goals. Use quantifiable processes to measure progress if possible.

Goals should be detailed, realistic and attainable. They may also be somewhat challenging and involve some degree of risk.

The Process for the Strategic Plan

Before you can plan where your community is going, you have to take stock of where it is. Many communities find that it’s helpful to start by doing an environmental scan or situational analysis. Developing the strategic plan entails identifying financial and economic trends, assessing the status of current developmental projects, and considering demographic shifts and other impacts for the group to have a shared understanding of current circumstances. Other issues that groups may consider include potential technology disruptions, social issues, and legislative impacts from the state and federal governments. Some planning committees find it helpful to use a PEST analysis (Political, Economic, Social, Technological).

Strategic plans should be fluid and remain a work in progress that continues to address both the long- and short-term issues within the community.

In creating a strategic plan, it’s necessary to consider how the plan will align with other management processes like the agenda and the budget. Finally, planning groups should determine how to track progress and what audiences they will need to reach with progress and results.

Writing Up the Strategic Plan

The strategic plan should be simply written and easy to understand. The council will need to approve it, so allow for timely review and approval.

The action section of the plan will detail the intended outcome of the plan, including tasks, milestones, dates and resources, which are necessary to implement and monitor the plan.

Implementing the Plan and Reporting on Its Progress

Strategic plans should include a process for implementing the plan and periodically reporting on its progress. Reporting helps to reinforce trust in the process and makes it possible for the planning group to switch gears and adapt plans when change is needed.

The best way to inform elected officials and the community on the progress of the strategic plan is with a Transparency Portal and municipal government software for meeting management by iCompass. Meeting Manager Pro saves hours of time in meeting planning and preparing board books. The program actually reduces meeting preparation time by up to 80%.

Also, the program offers many automated features to help track tasks and keep ahead of schedules. Municipal governments of any size can use iCompass’ meeting software solutions to review agenda packets and meeting minutes, and search for other important documents. The programs help to streamline workflows and approvals before and after meetings.

Citizens and staff have access to all council meetings through video and audio recordings, which keeps them up-to-date on the progress of the strategic plan and makes all other actions by the council and committees transparent and keeps them accountable. Using the online transparency portal, citizens will gain access to municipal government information documents and other information from any electronic device. The citizen portal integrates seamlessly with the government’s official website. Citizens will appreciate being able to subscribe to receive automatic email updates as soon as they become available to the public.

Communities that identify, develop and implement long-term approaches to development will be the ones that grow in ways that are best suited to the citizens’ wishes and the community’s resources. An important part of a strategic plan is to maintain a framework that develops clear paths for the council to follow to ensure the future of the community.