What is Strategic Planning in Government?
With all the state and local governments' planning, why should they consider strategic planning? Isn't it enough to have an annual budget? After all, things change when unexpected heavy rains overwhelm the city sewers or the street repairs run over budget. How does more planning help? What is strategic planning in government, anyway?
What is a Strategic Plan?
Strategic plans are a roadmap for how an organization wants to direct its resources to achieve a defined vision. The planning process for state and local governments documents what a community wants to be and how it intends to reach that goal. Strategic plans include vision and mission statements and details on communication and accountability. Strategic planning software designed specifically for state and local agencies can help streamline the process.
Envisioning what a community looks like in three or five years requires consensus. A vision statement incorporates the ideas of all residents into a shared image of the community's future. This vision becomes a long-term framework for government officials, councils, or boards to base decisions that impact the community. Through a collaborative process, the vision statement should be a well-crafted statement that reflects the attitudes of residents, stakeholders, and elected officials.
Mission statements describe how a government wants to achieve its vision. Like the vision statement, a mission statement should be developed by a collaborative process that involves residents, stakeholders, and elected officials. It is a concise statement of what actions will be taken to achieve its vision and fulfill its purpose.
Most strategic plans address five to seven priorities. The number of priorities depends on the local community. For example, the strategic plan for the city of Tacoma in Washington State lists the following priorities in its Tacoma 2025 strategic plan
- Health and Safety
- Human and Social Needs
- Economic Vibrancy and Employment
- Education and Learning
- Arts and Cultural Vitality
- Natural and Built Environment
- Government Performance
The plan then lists three objectives under each priority and methods of accountability to ensure the goals are met.
Communication is the most crucial of all the steps in writing a new strategic plan. Governments need to talk to residents, stakeholders, and potential partners to determine what is of value to the people who live and work in the area. This communication must happen before the plan is written. For example, Tacoma used the following activities to identify the critical issues in the following areas:
- Steering Committee meetings
- Interactive Booth at fairs, festivals, and city events
- Online Community forum
- Tacoma Community survey
- One-on-One interviews
- Community Visioning Workshop
After the strategic planning process was complete, the city held Vision Preview Workshops to share the strategic goals and discuss the value to the residents and others. Giving everyone access to the plan and sharing performance metrics can support the ongoing efforts. Such transparency is an essential strategy for widespread participation. It's the first step towards accountability, and government software solutions can help track and monitor key performance indicators (KPIs).
No matter how effective the planning process and communication plan are, people will want to see results. Unfortunately, progress towards long-term goals can be challenging to quantify. That's why action plans must include KPIs that can show incremental results.
Take Tacoma's priority of Economic Vibrancy and Employment, for example. One objective is to diversify the living wage base in the area by increasing the percentage of economically self-sufficient households or meeting the living wage standard. As part of the objective, the city wants to diversify its business sector.
The city needs data to demonstrate progress. It needs to know where it stands today and what percentage increases year after year. Government agencies can try to collect the data manually or look to government software solutions to help assemble the details and make them public.
Asking staff to process raw data into understandable results is time-consuming and prone to error. Deploying government software automates the process, making it more accurate. Timely and accurate data provides a level of transparency and accountability that builds trust between public organizations and the communities they serve. With the right software, state and local governments can share performance data online or in a newsletter, reinforcing the goal of transparency.
Strategic Planning Best Practices for the Public Sector
The federal government made the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) law in 1993. It was modernized in 2010 (GPRAMA) to improve the 1993 requirements. Specifically, the Modernization Act identified ways to increase public confidence in government capabilities by improving:
- Service Delivery
- Internal Management
The act also references a framework for implementing the Modernization Act. The framework provides guidance on best practices for strategic planning. Incorporating government software is a key component of modernization.
From the outset, include staff, residents, business owners, and any individual or organization that participates in the community. Without their input, governments run the risk of setting priorities that do not coincide with the people they serve. Incorporating internal staff in the process provides insight into how policies are being implemented and data is collected.
Plans are not created in a vacuum, so don't be afraid to adjust to a changing environment. Adjust the plan if infrastructure improvements were part of year three, but a bridge failed in year two. Reallocate available resources to address the short-term, but keep the long-term goals in mind, so nothing is overlooked. Government software can help track and provide insights to ensure long-term plans are on track.
Watch for Scope Creep
Don't confuse tactics with strategies and let operations sidetrack the plan. Stay with the performance indicators outlined in the plan. Don't add another measurement because you can. With long-term projects, it's easy to lose sight of the overall objectives so review strategic plans regularly to avoid scope creep. Rely on software designed for local municipalities to keep everyone focused.
Strategic planning should never be complacent, but it must be realistic. A community of less than 1,000 may not be the best choice for the county fair, even though the residents want to host it. At the same time, it may be the perfect place because of its strong ties to the county's agricultural sector.
That's where the planning process steps in. If it's a strategic goal, establish performance indicators with the help of government software to monitor progress. If it doesn't happen, use the performance measurements to show why. The data can provide accountability and transparency to ensure the community that its input is not ignored.
Ask for Help
Strategic planning in local government can seem overwhelming so don't be afraid to ask for help. Other agencies may be willing to share their knowledge and experience. Service providers may have staff that can help with the process. Whether looking at how to get community input or choosing the right software to measure performance, reach out to those with experience to help make the process move smoothly.
To learn more about integrating government software, get in touch with Velosimo today for an expert consultation.