In this two-part series, we guide you through seven practical steps to create a strategic plan that your community will love.
Importance of strategic planning to our communities
Healthy regional communities require constant attention and nurturing. Communities will continuously change and are shaped by the directions that we set – or fail to set. Some directions are set with knowledge about their impacts, whilst not setting a direction leads to unanticipated outcomes – good or bad.
To overcome these challenges, a well-informed strategic plan is a useful tool that any community can use to allow for change in a measured way. Strategic planning will help you see where you want to go and help you make decisions on how to get there.
From an initial vision of the future, plans identify things that are preventing change, opportunities to move forward towards and what actions are needed to make the vision a reality. A strategic plan is the first step in the process for communities to identify their future and put in place the stepping stones to get there.
The role of a strategic plan in land use planning
The recent change in the planning legislation to require local councils in NSW to create a local strategic planning statement (or LSPS for short) is a great example of strategic planning at work.
The NSW Government is asking communities to think about how they will look in 20 years time and how they can get there. This moves away from a reactionary approach to planning with a view to reducing ad hoc development decisions. We applaud this move towards proactively seeking to understand long-term community needs and establishing this within the planning system.
Seven steps to create a strategic plan
So, what is involved in preparing a strategic plan like the LSPS? In our experience, there are seven main steps:
- Assess the community
- Establish a solid process
- Involve all kinds of people
- Develop a vision
- Rank the community’s priorities
- Set your goals and actions
- Implement your plan
Here, we share the first four steps so that you can create a strategic plan which your community will love.
1. Assess the community
The first step in the process of developing any strategic plan is to take a good look at your area. You will need to know things like – Who lives there? What types of jobs are available? Where do people live? What are the recent trends relating to these types of questions?
Essentially, you need to develop a current and relevant community profile that describes its housing, people, economy, and environment. A profile is not just what your community looks like now, but what it will like in the future – which is where understanding trends is important. Some questions to consider are:
- How will the area grow and what type of trends are affecting your community?
- What types of problems will it face and what are some broad options to resolve these?
- Who are the people that are arriving and leaving the community?
- What businesses are doing well and not so well?
Don’t forget to also read up on any legislative requirements which may impact on the scope or content of your plan.
2. Establish a solid process
Once you have an initial understanding of your community, it’s time to design a solid process to deliver the document. What will be the process that will guide the creation of the plan?
This includes considering who needs to be involved (see next step for some more details), what type of engagement methods you will use and when you will do so. How long will the engagement process run? What results do you want from each engagement activity? Again, it is important to check if there are any legislative requirements which apply to your plan – your consultation will need to deliver the right information to enable these.
Establishing a solid process up front will help you obtain what you need to inform the contents of the plan. But remember, always be flexible about the process too – there are always unexpected needs, and it is better to build in flexibility than resist these necessary changes when they occur.
3. Involve all kinds of people
With a picture of the community now and in the future from step 1, and a process for delivery from step 2, now is the time to think through how to involve this diverse range of people throughout your community in the process. Any plan will always have greater support and effectiveness if a variety people are involved from the start. These same people are the ones that can identify, as well as provide answers to, the future directions of your community – so remember, you are coming to them with questions, not answers at this early stage.
To must a robust strategic plan, you need to hear from people who have different points of view – even if you do not agree with them. This will help you make decisions with more complete information and better equipped to respond to your community’s needs.
For example, you should encourage schools or a local youth centre to participate, establish a community reference group, involve industry groups and organisations such as charity groups, and be open to a range of methods to involve everyday people.
Also think about which local organisations may be able to carry out actions stemming from the plan. These are great people to involve as understand issues and can often help to implement change.
4. Develop a vision
A vision is how you want your community to be in the future. For local strategic planning statements, this vision is over a 20-year time frame. This may be a substantially different picture to the current situation. Other strategic plans will have different time frames ranging from 3-10 years.
You will need to think about how your economy, environment and people will interact over this period. Where will the new residents live? What will be different from today?
The most important aspect of identifying a vision is not only the end result, but how do you get there. If the path to the end result is not realistic, you may need look again at what is possible.
Involving as many people as possible from step 3 is important – this should be a vision that represents the views and aspiration of as many people as possible.
Once your vision is set, you will need to follow the remaining steps to create your plan. Stay tuned for next month’s article about the final three steps in creating a strategic plan your community will love!
Locale Consulting is currently assisting a number of councils in developing a LSPS or strategic plan for specific local needs. We are really enjoying seeing how passionate our regional communities are about their future. In regional areas- where we live – we are excited to see the vision the communities have for their future.
If you need assistance with creating a vision for a strategic plan like an LSPS or engaging with your community about its future, please get in touch with our planning and strategy team.