Municipal Strategic Planning: From Vision, to Goals, to Implementation

By Neu, Carl H., Jr. | Nation's Cities Weekly, February 16, 1998 | Go to article overview

Municipal Strategic Planning: From Vision, to Goals, to Implementation


Neu, Carl H., Jr., Nation's Cities Weekly


Local government operations directly affect our daily existence and experiences and the quality of life we believe we have within our communities. No local government deserves, nor should its citizens tolerate, a council or governing body that isn't extraordinarily effective and competent in leading the community towards a better and more productive future.

Thomas Cronin, a recognized authority on public policy, defines leadership as, "making things happen that might not otherwise happen, and preventing things from happening that ordinarily might happen. It is a process of getting people together to achieve common goals and aspirations. Leadership is a process that helps people transform intentions into positive action, visions into reality"--a process that begins with a powerful vision, sound strategic thinking, a solid commitment to the future, and the will and skills to achieve the future in partnership with the entire community.

The municipal strategic planning process encompasses two critical elements:

I. Think and Act Strategically

A council's primary responsibility is not just to make policy or rule on agenda items at public meetings. It is to determine and achieve citizens' desires for the community's future. Municipal leaders help to shape the future of the community by identifying and meeting the challenges that must be addressed through decisive leadership and goals.

A strategic leader always envisions the future and takes a community "back to the future" from the present. This leadership adventure starts with vision, and evolves to defining the strategic issues that must be mastered to achieve the vision. The next step is the development of long-range goals that address these strategic issues and which provide decision-making and budgetary focus for the successful implementation of these goals. Living from one annual budget to another, and from one council meeting to the next, condemns your community and its future to happenstance and the type of thinking that befuddles national governance and policy.

Thinking and acting strategically relates to the four elements identified in the last sentence of the above quote from Thomas Cronin. These four elements are:

A Powerful Vision

Leaders focus on the future. The means by which they engage a community's commitment to that future is through creating a picture or vision of what they are striving to achieve. This vision captures imagination and commitment by providing a general direction for change, motivating people to take action to bring about those changes, and coordinating the actions of all sectors of the community to work toward fulfillment of the vision. Vision is a sensible and appealing picture of the future that rivets the entire community's attention and enables it to put the priorities of the future over the demands of the present as the basis for decision making and resource allocation.

Sound Strategic Thinking

Vision is not enough. Without a feasible and well thought out approach to achieving the vision, it is nothing more than a pipe dream or a hollow aspiration. Strategy and related goals provide the logic and detail that show how a vision will he accomplished over time. One of the most critical strategies that must be defined is how the vision will be communicated throughout the entire community so that it is understood and embraced.

Commitment to the Future

Commitment arises from communication and understanding. Major change is difficult to accomplish and results from strong community-based coalitions and teams committed to achieving the vision. …

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