State Strategic Planning: Suggestions from the Oregon Experience

Article excerpt

Strategic planning "is, very simply, a method for aligning an organization with its environment," according to Meising and Andersen (1991). It is a management tool that has been used in the private sector for years as a systematic process for relating the organization to changes in the environment. Strategic planning processes typically involve assessing strengths and weaknesses, identifying opportunities and threats, determining where the organization should be going, and then establishing goals, strategies, and tactics for getting there.

However, critics have questioned the value of strategic planning (for example, Mintzberg, 1994). Hamel (1996) has argued that strategic planning processes are too costly and time-consuming for today's fast-paced, competitive environment in the corporate world. Strategic planning processes produce plans, not necessarily strategies that make a difference. Fortune magazine reports that, by downplaying the planning process, some corporations, such as Nike, Amgen, and Harley-Davidson, have created "killer strategies" or strategic initiatives that led to market dominance (Hamel, 1997). Hamel (1996) suggests that the key is to shift the emphasis from "planning" to strategizing.

Even if the critics are correct about the limited effectiveness of strategic planning in the private sector, it might still be a valuable management tool in the public sector where the pace of change is slower and where inclusive processes are essential for widespread acceptance. Indeed, Bryson emphasizes the value of strategic planning in public and nonprofit organizations because it "can help facilitate communication and participation, accommodate divergent interests and values, foster wise and reasonably analytic decision making, and promote successful implementation" (1995, 5). On the other side of the issue, Miller, Rabin, and Hildreth (1987) have argued that agreement will not last long enough for planning to be done in the public sector.

In spite of such concerns, most authors have urged the public sector to adopt strategic planning as a rational and future-oriented management technique for improving government agencies (Behn, 1980; Bryson, 1988; Bryson, 1995; Meising and Andersen, 1991; Nutt and Backoff, 1992). In fact, their advice is being followed. Berry and Wechsler (1995) found that six out of the ten government agencies responding to their national survey were doing strategic planning and another one in ten said that it intended to do so in the future. They concluded that strategic planning has been "a successful public sector management innovation."

In addition to the use of strategic planning by pubic agencies, some governors have initiated processes that produced plans for the entire state. Rather than the Soviet style, ten-year plans or attempts at social engineering on a grand scale, these state strategic plans have provided a general framework for public policy development. Because other states may consider developing their own plans, this article will (1) describe the strategic planning process used in Oregon, one of the leading states, (2) indicate the parts of that process that are most valuable, and (3) offer suggestions for future plans.

How Were Oregon's Strategic Plans Developed?

The state of Oregon has developed two strategic plans over the last decade, using somewhat different processes. In this section of the article we will present the dramatic changes in context that led to the original plan issued in the late 1980s and the update in the mid-1990s.

For most of this century, Oregon's economy was heavily dependent upon extraction and manufacturing industries. Working in the forests harvesting trees, in the fields loading grain, or in the boats catching fish was the dominant way of life for many Oregonians. Many other jobs in rural Oregon were dependent upon natural-resource-based industries, and even Portland, the state's major metropolitan area, was a distribution hub for goods produced in rural portions of the state. …