Holistic Strategic Planning: Achieving Sustainable Results

By Plant, Thomas | Public Management, November 2008 | Go to article overview
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Holistic Strategic Planning: Achieving Sustainable Results

Plant, Thomas, Public Management

The current environment in which the public sector operates is defined by heightened fiscal caution and increased scrutiny of public organizations. Local governments are under growing pressure to become more responsive to the needs of their constituencies.

One way to respond to these challenges is to develop a strategic plan that outlines the organization's vision and strategic priorities. For such a plan to be successful, however, it must be a "living" strategic plan that encompasses all components of the planning process. If it doesn't meet this standard, the plan will simply gather dust and have no impact on the organizational decision-making process.

This article focuses on developing a holistic approach to strategic planning. It suggests that in order to get achievable, sustainable results, all components in the process have to be seen as an integrated system through a holistic strategic framework.

To shed some light on this framework, selected benchmarked localities are profiled that have implemented components of a holistic system. A review of gaps in the process and recommended solutions is provided to assist local decision makers in applying the framework in their environments.


A holistic strategic planning model views the planning process as encompassing a number of independent yet interrelated components. In this way, the strategic plan is more than just a guiding document for the organization; it is a process that can impact the organizational culture and can position the local government to be able to provide greater accountability and transparency in the decision-making process.

A holistic system is based on the assumption that all of the system elements are interrelated and interdependent. As can be seen in Figure 1, the model consists of these four key elements:


1. Developing a strategic vision and goals involving stakeholder input.

2. Aligning and prioritizing strategic initiatives with the vision.

3. Developing operational business plans that align with the strategic plan and budgeting process.

4. Measuring success and reporting the results. (1)

The first step in the development of a holistic model, carried out to achieve buy-in, is to develop a strategic vision involving all relevant stakeholders in the process. The degree of stake holder involvement will depend on whether the strategic plan is a corporate plan or community-based plan. In a corporate plan, the focus is on articulating the community's goals and objectives.

In a community plan, the focus is on defining the goals and objectives of both the community and its diverse stakeholders. Once a strategic vision has been developed, this vision should be aligned with the strategic goals and objectives that provide greater clarification of the strategic vision.

The strategic initiatives that are developed are the individual initiatives or projects that when implemented provide benchmarks that can be used to communicate the success of the plan. To guide this process, it is important that criteria be established to determine whether the initiative is a strategic or operational initiative. Further, criteria should be developed to assist prioritizing the initiatives as high, medium, or low.

One of the final elements of the holistic model is the development of an operational business plan that highlights both the key business objectives for the department's operations and the performance indicators to evaluate departmental efficiency and effectiveness. The last major element is the establishment of a measurement process that will provide quantitative evidence in order to evaluate success in achieving the strategic goals and objectives and furthering the organization's vision.


Few local governments have achieved implementation of all components of the holistic strategic plan model.

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