Strategic Planning Day – births, deaths and marriages?

Some practitioners are announcing the death of strategic planning while many organisations remain wedded to it and hire consultants like us to perform the role of midwife, turn up at the birth with flip chart and survey monkey data and deliver a healthy, well-worded plan. So, should the strategic plan be buried or nurtured?  My observations are that behind any useful strategic plan in the social policy/social services sector are ongoing conversations by board, staff and others that deal with:

  • clarity about the problem the organisation wants to solve or the aspirations it wants to achieve (the what)
  • clarity about the methods for service delivery or the theory of change that dictate how to act (the how)
  • clarity about finance and other resources that reveal the capacity for action (the who, when and where).

Without that clarity, strategic planning day discussions can attempt to gain some of those insights or decisions, but the plan is likely to be part fiction. If the clarity is there already it’s probably a sign that research, future-focused discussions and decision-making is alive and well in the organisation, so the strategic plan is a like mirror that reflects the image of a healthy entity.

I’m inclined to think it is better to schedule these vital discussions as a regular part of governance rather than put too many eggs into the special planning day spectacular.  The organisation’s statements about its vision, values, purpose and so on can be published progressively in web sites, annual reports and all the key communications to stakeholders.  There are not too many people who go searching for stand alone strategic plans. They are not necessarily the best ways to reach those who want to know about the organisation.  What matters are the strategy discussions that foster shared board-staff-member understanding and agreement about the core purposes and directions.  Would facilitation of such discussions be a better way for consultants to contribute? Or are they best done in-house so that capacity for strategy is home-grown?

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Community facilities: success secrets

Well-run community facilities can make a huge contribution to the wellbeing of local communities. Yet these facilities – community centres, local halls, arts centres, youth centres – are often taken for granted. Planning can be haphazard, and management arrangements are often left to chance.
Our work in evaluating and planning for community facilities suggests the success secrets are simple on paper, but harder in practice:

  1. Clear goals – owners of buzzing facilities can usually articulate why they own the venue, what they want it to achieve and how they know it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.
  2. Fit facilities – lots of older facilities were great dance halls in the 40s, or excellent sales offices for developers, but don’t work so well for today’s community activities.
  3. Responsive management – whether they’re managed by government, community or commercial interests, the best facilities have pricing, access and management that encourages full use and works towards the venue’s goals.
  4. Appropriate intervention – if facilities are meant to achieve community development then programs, partnerships or targeted pricing strategies might be needed. If they’re meant to support cultural development then owners might have to invest in developmental activities.

We’re grappling with some questions about facilities that you may be interested in too. Like:

  • Would we be better with fewer, really great facilities than with lots of run-down facilities that are under-used?
  • How much is providing facilities the role of local governments?
  • Can we ever close (or sell, or – gasp – demolish!) a community hall?
  • Are traditional volunteer facility management models doomed?
  • What are valid, measurable assessments of the contribution made by community facilities?

If you’re interested to talk more about community facilities, we love talking about them!