Public Participation and Community Development: The Role of Strategic Planning

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ABSTRACT

Communities increasingly adopt decision aides like strategic planning as a way to clarify their role in local development. Many public administrators have integrated public participation into this planning process. This article examines the link between public participation and strategic planning. Sustainability requires local resources and strategies so public participation seems critical and essential. A case study approach explores links between local development activities and community strategic action plans laid several years earlier, and most importantly, determines the role of public participation in those connections. This paper attempts to answer a series of basic questions on the structure of strategic plans developed by communities. Do strategic plans facilitate community development? Does participatory strategic planning increase local development and sustainable activities in a community?

INTRODUCTION

As cities enter the 21st century, the range of their activities and responsibilities continues to expand. They no longer simply deliver public goods and services and resolve community disputes (Morgan and England 1996); but often take on economic development tasks (Peterson 1981; Clarke and Gaile 1998). Many community leaders and city administrators have attempted to clarify their roles in economic development by formulating plans, frequently using strategic planning methods for this critical new task. Strategic planning generally consists of a set of analytical techniques that helps an organization position itself advantageously in a competitive and changing environment. It provides a framework for an organization to examine its environment, establish missions and goals, identify stakeholders, analyze its strengths and weaknesses, and then develop action oriented implementation plans.

Beginning in the 1980s and continuing into the 1990s, many communities formulated local plans for economic development. As communities enter the 21st Century local strategies increasingly focus on self-development-strategies that emphasize self-sufficiency, local capacity and resources, and sustainability. In order to identify these strategies and develop local plans communities often use a variety of strategic planning techniques and methodologies. Initially employed by the private business sector as a tool for establishing market position, the strategic planning process understandably required major adjustments before it could be adopted by the public sector. Research on strategic planning programs, for instance, notes the need to add citizen involvement to the private model. A study of Oregon's program suggests that local strategic planning can help communities adjust to social and economic transformations; however, planning approaches should also use "bottom-up" methods that increase public involvement (Kissler, et al. 1998). Gilat and Blair (1997) in their examination of six different strategic planning programs in Nebraska found that while "effective strategic planning is a function of the extent of local ownership and involvement in the planning and implementation processes," (p. 9) effective citizen involvement requires continuous and high levels of local commitment (p. 34).

Public participation, where local residents constitute an integral part of the planning and implementation processes, may include the assessment of current conditions, community visioning exercises, and the formulation and the execution of local action plans. Naturally, the level of citizen participation varies among communities, planning programs, and specific development initiatives. Some communities have been successful in identifying and implementing local development and sustainable strategies and plans, others not so successful. What factors explain differences?

This paper examines action plan development and implementation-key tasks that connect public participation to strategic planning. Since sustainability requires local resources and strategies, public participation in the planning process seems critical and essential. …