When candidates run for municipal Council, they do so not only because they have a passion for helping their communities, but they also often have ideas and goals for the community.
From my experience, the most successful municipalities are those where Council and staff work as a team to achieve identified goals. That’s why it’s imperative to undertake a strategic planning process early in a new Council term. The process serves important learning and teamwork objectives for both Council members and staff and really starts to get the team pulling in the same direction.
Many great articles have been written by various municipal scholars and organizations on strategic planning, so I’m not going to start reinventing the wheel here, but there is merit in taking a look at a few great examples that will remind us all of what Municipal Strategic Planning is, the value of Strategic Planning for communities and how a municipality goes about undertaking a strategic planning process.
What is Strategic Planning?
#1 – Source: MMAH Municipal Councillors Guide
Strategic planning is a process by which an organization defines its strategy or direction, and makes decisions about allocating its resources – both financial and staff resources needed to pursue this strategy. Through the strategic planning process, a municipal council can develop strategies, goals, objectives and action plans to achieve the future it desires. Once a strategic plan is adopted, a municipality may wish to measure its success over time and review the plan periodically to ensure that it still aligns with current issues, challenges and realities.
Why is it important for Municipalities?
#2 – Source: Bill Winegard, Municipal Strategic Planning Associates
Undertaking a strategic planning process at the beginning of each Council term is critically important to successful municipal governance by:
- identifying where consensus lies among members of Council
- establishing priorities for the term and indicators of success
- enunciating at a meaningful level the commitment of the Council and Corporation to the community and the results that the community should expect
- aligning the efforts of staff with the direction of Council
- motivating Council members, staff, and other partners to work purposefully, and to monitor and take pride in their accomplishments
- sketching out a council term action plan sequence that keeps the most important things top of mind
- balancing a promising vision with feasible resources
How Do We Undertake a Strategic Planning Process?
#3 – Source: AMCTO – Continually Improving Municipalities to Achieve Strategic Success
A strategic plan is not static, but should be a guiding document which sets out the vision and priorities of the municipality. In this way, it establishes a framework that the municipality’s operations can align with. Strategic success is often seen as being able to achieve the initiatives in the plan.
However, equally important but often overlooked, is the need to ensure service delivery yields value for money for taxpayers. This can be accomplished by linking daily operations with the strategic goals of the organization and developing mechanisms to ensure a continual improvement of organizational performance.
#4 – Source: ICMA Blog Post on Strategic Planning, by Sara McGuffin, Town Manager, Amherst, Virginia
Through this (strategic planning) process, small communities can remember what makes them unique, focus their efforts on what unites them, and move toward a better future, and do so in a way that pulls the community closer, rather than drives it apart.
Strategic planning that involves the community, incorporates the unique vision and goals of the community, is agreed to by the elected body, and tied firmly to our budgets, will keep residents, staff, and elected representatives focused on the business, as well as the vision, of government and how to make the community a better place.
Are there any Tools to help Small Municipalities with Strategic Planning?
#5 – Source: ICMA Strategic Planning in Small Communities – A Manager’s Manual, by Sara McGuffin, Town manager, Amherst, Virginia
The Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators (CAMA) recently circulated this tool from the International City/County Managers Association (ICMA).
This resource will help local government leaders remember what they know and find additional tools to do their budgeting and strategic planning better. You can also download the introduction to the manual by Sara McGuffin here.
When developed with the insights of Council, staff and the public, a strategic plan represents a shared view of the municipality’s future, encourages public commitment and supports the ability for the municipality to move towards achieving the identified, mutual goals.
By, Susan Shannon, AMCT