Strategic Planning Process, Step One- Input

Posted on February 10, 2020

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Today’s Morning Buzz is by Josh Edwards, so be kind or not– either way, connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter!!!

What I’m Listening To: Willie Nelson

What I’m Reading: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

What I’m Watching: Disney Plus reliving my childhood

I will be jumping into the 3rd post in my Foundations of Local Government Strategic Planning series for ELGL, but first its shameless plug time:  

ELGL20 is around the corner, May 13-15, 2020.  Kylie Bayer, Kirsten Wyatt and the entire Planning Committee have done an incredible job setting up quite possibly the best local government conference ever.  Wait, are you questioning my enthusiasm?  How dare you, I have facts to back it up.  If you get to Portland early, you can choose from two pre-conference summits on either Placemaking or Innovation.  I am working with an incredible team to pull of the second Innovation Summit and we will be offering training that will develop actionable skills you can bring back to your community.  But wait, there is more behind door number 2.  ELGL will be creating public value through actionable and experiential learnings, a skills lab with practical tools, as well as a variety of sessions along Equity, Happiness, and Efficiency.

Process, Step One:

We are going to break this into multiple posts because it is so important. First we will tackle what kind of input you need to get started.  Remember, this is super high level, details are for another time my friend (i.e. Strategic Planning Virtual Hangout)

Alright, enough small talk, let’s go!

If your supervisor came to you tomorrow and asked, “Hey, can you create a strategic plan for our department? Oh and we need it in 3 months.” What would you do?

Your initial instinct is to start sprinting and putting pen to paper on goals, strategies and initiatives.  But slow down and watch some pears grow.  Or as someone more beautifully said:

“A man watches his pear tree day after day, impatient for the ripening of the fruit.  Let him attempt to force the process, and he may spoil both fruit and tree.  But let him patiently wait, and the ripe pear at length falls into his lap.”

– Abraham Lincoln

First, work on answering these questions:

1) Why do you exist?
2) Who are your customers?
3) What service or deliverable are you providing?

Think you can do that?  Well here comes the hard part:  

1) How well are you providing your services to your customers?
2) Are you meeting your purpose/mission for your community?

If you are doing this right, you should have trouble answering these questions on your own as a department and an organization.  You need to make sure you are incorporating resident’s voices.

So it is time to get out and ask your residents what they think.  If you have an annual resident survey or a customer survey this is a great place to start.  Dig into your quantitative and qualitative data to begin to build out a response to these questions.  This is just the start, you need to zero in on what is working and what’s not.  This means in person conversations or even focus groups.  Depending on your work you can be creative.  

When I was at the City of Durham, Ben Kittelson designed a number of community conversations to provide input into the budget process.  Thanks to the help of our Qualitative Data guru, Erin Parish, we were able to organize the conversations around themes that were feeding into our strategic plan update.  We got reams of data that were themed and then informed the direction of the strategic plan development.

After hearing more conversational data inputs, do not stop there.  Organize both internal and external stakeholders for a rapid brainstorming to get even closer to what should be in your plan with a SWOT.


I am all about keeping this simple.  Organize your group into four teams.  Introduce them to what a SWOT is.  Put white paper up on the wall and have them rotate through identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that you face in achieving your mission.  Pay attention to the below, as the biggest problem people have is remembering what is internal versus external:

Internal Strengths: Resources or capabilities Insert Department/Organization has that can be used for accomplishing its purpose and objectives

Internal Weaknesses: Deficiencies in resources or capabilities that hinder Insert Department/Organizationability to be successful

External Opportunities: Factors or situations that exist beyond Insert Department/Organization that may have a favorable effect on it

External Threats/Challenges: Factors or situations that exist beyond Insert Department/Organization that can negatively affect it

Internal, identifies strengths and weaknesses you control within your department or organization.  External, identifies things outside your control that impact your ability to achieve your mission.  In planning for the future, think about doing research to inform what opportunities or threats you might be facing in the future.

So how does this help you build a plan?  Below is the most recent SWOT I helped with:

If you do not see clear initiatives in your plan that address the identified weaknesses and leverages opportunities to improve, you have flat out missed it.  Next time, I will talk about how you take the above inputs and begin putting pen to paper outlining goals, strategies, and initiatives.

All views and opinions expressed in this post are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views and opinions of his employer.


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