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Practical Planning Models

There is no one strategic planning model that fits all communities. Rather, communities typically select an approach and modify it as they go along, developing their own planning process. The following models offer a few alternatives from which a community might begin to develop its own strategic planning process.

Moving from Vision to Action
Moving from Vision to Action is a nine-step planning process for community and institutional change. The process is both data-driven and vision-driven. It is designed for a lead group to bring together diverse community representatives and leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors to analyze their community, craft a vision for the future, implement strategies to achieve that vision, and evaluate their progress. This process has been used by a variety of groups, including educators, boards of directors of community-based organizations, and volunteers involved in community-development efforts in rural and urban areas.

Figure 1 depicts the nine-step Vision to Action process.

Figure 1
Moving from Vision to Action

Moving from Vision to Action: A nine step process for community change.


Note that these steps are laid out in this guide in a rational, linear fashion. However, communities and their economies, institutions, and people are dynamic and changing entities. The planning process should be seen as flexible: you should go back and forth between steps as needed. The process should also be seen as cyclical. To bring about change that is long-term, equitable, and sustainable, it is necessary to go through the process, measure the results, and then use those results to determine how the work can be improved and what work remains to be done.

Figure 2 summarizes each of the nine steps, their purpose, and the key questions they answer.

Figure 2

Moving from Vision to Action: A Summary
Step Purpose Key Questions
1. Analyze the current situation Understand the current situation and determine assets and challenges to address. Where are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? What assets should we build on? What challenges must we overcome?
2. Define a common vision Develop consensus on a vision for the community's future. At its ideal, what would our community be like?
3. Set goals to reach vision Define goals that will move the community toward the ideal future. To bring about our vision, what specific outcomes must we achieve?
4. Analyze forces affecting goals Determine the forces working for and against the goals. What forces will affect our efforts to achieve these goals, and how do we address them?
5. Develop strategies to achieve goals Determine what actions will achieve the goals and what measures will indicate their achievement. What is the most effective approach to reach those outcomes? What are the measures of success?
6. Engage stakeholders Ensure that those critical to success are involved. Have we engaged the people and organizations that need to be involved?
7. Plan for sustainability and funding Ensure long-term sustainability of the process and strategies. How will we administer, maintain, and pay for our workshort term and long term?
8. Implement strategies Develop work plans and define responsibilities and timelines. Implement work plans. Who will do what, when? How do we ensure accountability to our group and the community?
9. Evaluate progress Design an approach to measure and evaluate progress. Provide data for return to step 1, analyzing the new current situation. Are our strategies moving us effectively and efficiently toward our goals? How much progress have we made so far? What else needs to be done?

Source: Moving from Vision to Action: A Guide for Planning Community Change, © June 2002 MDC, Inc.

MDC, Inc., a private nonprofit focusing on expanding opportunity, reducing poverty, and building inclusive communities, created Moving from Vision to Action to meet the needs of the economically distressed communities with which it works. This process has since been tested and refined in communities across the United States, from Appalachia to Texas border communities, including 24 sites that participated in the Rural Community College Initiative (RCCI) demonstration funded by the Ford Foundation and designed and managed by MDC.

Asset-Based Community Development
Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) is a community-capacity-building process developed by John Kretzmann and John McKnight of Northwestern University in Chicago. ABCD embraces an asset orientation to community change and works toward whole community mobilization.

The ABCD emphasis on the assets of people, neighborhoods, and communities is distinctly different from the many community-development strategies that focus on the deficits of communities. Rather than continuing the traditional focus on the needs of individuals and communities, ABCD offers a new mindset that identifies the skills, talents, and capacities of individuals, associations, and organizations, and mobilizes these positive energies to improve communities. ABCD, with its capacity-oriented emphasis, is simply "seeing the glass as half full."

These elements do not presume to add up to a complete blueprint for community development. Rather, they are intended to identify some of the major challenges facing community builders, and to point toward the beginning of a path or process that would mobilize an entire community's assets around a vision and a plan. Such a path would cover the following elements/steps:

  1. Mapping completely (household by household, block by block) the capacities and assets of individuals, citizens' associations, and local institutions.
  2. Building relationships among local assets for mutually beneficial problem solving within the community.
  3. Mobilizing the community's assets fully for economic development and information-sharing purposes.
  4. Convening as broadly representative a group as possible for the purposes of building a community vision and plan.
  5. Leveraging activities, investments, and resources from outside the community to support asset-based, locally defined development.

Although Kretzmann and McKnight's original research and work focused on community problem solving in urban neighborhoods, subsequent work has shown how the ABCD approach has been effectively used in rural areas. More information is available at the Asset-Based Community Development Institute Web site. This site offers information about ABCD publications, training opportunities, asset-mapping tools, and a variety of other resources.

A full description of the ABCD approach can be found in Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community's Assets, published by the Northwestern University Institute for Policy Research in 1993.