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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How is strategic planning conducted?
A: First, the strategic planning process is a creative process that requires flexibility. It is not a linear or static process, but a dynamic one. Participants can, and probably will, go back and forth between the steps rather than proceed through them linearally.
Second, it is an iterative process, like "peeling the layers of an onion." Frequently, strategic planning will involve a set of parallel, concurrent processes or steps.

Third, it is cyclical. Optimally, strategic planning will be institutionalized in the community so that the vision and goals are revisited after a year or two and the community can determine what strategies should be modified.

Q: How long does it take for a community to go through the strategic planning process?
It generally takes a community between six and nine months to go from step one (deciding on your planning process) through the beginning of the implementation phase. Some communities may take a few months longer.

Q: Who should be involved?
A: Strategic planning works best if it is inclusive. The process may be initiated by a small group of community members; however, it is important to include representation from a wide range of community interests (financial, economic, social, political, and environmental) and organizations (government, education, justice, business, social services, and communications and media).

Broad-based community participation adds legitimacy to strategic planning and helps increase the larger community's acceptance of the plan. An inclusive process that reflects your community's cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity and that includes participants of different ages engages a range of knowledge and skills vital to effective plan development and implementation. It also results in more informed citizens who value the plan and are better prepared to implement it.

Q: Should there be a written strategic plan?
A: Yes. The written plan should be internally congruent and easy to read. Key elements might include an overall context, the community vision, goals, objectives and strategies, a list of community participants, and lead organization information. Effective communication of the plan to key partners, funding sources, and the community at large will help make the plan an actively used tool.

Q: What are the characteristics of a successful strategic planning process?
A: A successful planning process should:

  • involve key and diverse stakeholders in the community
  • develop ownership of the future vision and the action plan, and a sense of community among stakeholders
  • produce results that support the community's expected "drivers" of change
  • develop the strategic thinking of the participants in the process
  • lead to an institutionalized strategic planning process in the community.

Q: How is strategic planning different from long-range comprehensive community planning?
A: Strategic planning offers a process for moving from the general long-range (10-to-20-year) goals and objectives of a comprehensive plan to more specific short-term initiatives and actions. Strategic planning focuses on a few priority issues and deals with the community's social and economic issues, as well as its physical development (something typically emphasized in comprehensive plans). Also, strategic planning includes an action plan with clearly defined timetables and responsibilities, while the comprehensive plan tends to provide general guidance for decision making.

Q: Where can I go for further help?
A: Universities, local consultants, community foundations, and local development districts frequently offer guidance to communities on preparing a strategic plan. See the section "Additional Resources."