Government Strategic Planning - dummies

By Erica Olsen

Because government entities operate as monopolies in most cases, have elected boards that change every four to six years, and provide services that are legislated instead of based on market demand, these organizations must recognize how those factors affect their planning. Following are some ways to accommodate some factors that affect government strategic planning.


Leaders must win internal and external support for strategic planning. Often the agency that initiates a plan deliberately seeks community leaders outside its own organization to head the planning. This strategy helps demonstrate that the planning is intended to benefit the whole community. Cross-agency cooperation requires leadership and dedication to get the plan completed and executed.

Governing board

Your governing board is a broadly representative steering committee of between 10 and 15 members, which you put together to oversee the planning. In government planning, a few initiators may identify a larger group of community leaders to form a temporary steering committee. This committee brings more authority and resources to the planning table. Additionally, you can form cross-agency or departmental task forces around key priorities or goals to help facilitate the implementation. Both the steering committee and the task forces help cut across agency and departmental lines.

Power and politics

Power and political conflict can be volatile enough to derail planning from its course. Here are a few examples:

  • A regional cultural tourism plan can run up against agencies with competing interests.

  • Culture-war based political agendas can erupt in public planning.

  • Public-sector initiatives too closely associated with one mayor or county commission can be dismantled by their successors.

  • Even an uncontroversial issue like arts education can evoke conflict when competitive grants for implementation are at stake.

No simple remedies exist for these conflicts except to be alert for power issues and try to sidestep the politics before getting embroiled in them. Wise planners don’t assume that all people have the same interests. Proactive planners identify potential political power bases and get buy-in at the beginning of the process by recognizing the different interests.

Values and culture

An organization’s culture tends to be more homogeneous than not. Members of an organization, although potentially diverse, have much in common arising from their voluntary association with the group. They share many values; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t join and stay as staff or volunteers.

Cities, counties, and communities, on the other hand, are more diverse than most private or nonprofit organizations. A plan for a varied community must respectfully accommodate those differences if the resulting recommendations are to be taken seriously. Use assessments that reach people in neighborhoods, job sites, and churches, which represent a community more authentically than one where consensus depends on those who speak up at a public hearing in city hall. Be genuinely inclusive.

Administrative systems

Community-wide planners may need to create the administrative systems that sustain their work. Often the absence of a dependable means of communication or a system for monitoring the development and execution of a strategic plan can derail the process. Set up good, clear administrative systems that keep everyone apprised of the process as well as the results from their hard work.

Community involvement

Successful government plans consider the community to be the constituents on whose behalf the plans are made. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Do a community-wide survey or assessment.

  • Get your various citizen groups involved in developing your plan.

  • Hold community-wide workshops.

  • Provide numerous methods for community input, such as an online forum, a discussion board, a primary point of contact, or a hotline.

After all, people undertake government plans to fulfill a community need.

Central control of implementation

Central control of a government entity plan’s implementation can be quite difficult. Assuring action on the policy and program plans that characterize most government and community-based organizations can hit roadblocks if execution isn’t centralized. You can achieve centralized control by appointing one or two people within the organization to monitor the execution of the plan. Everyone in the organization needs to know who’s acting in an oversight capacity to move the plan along. With central control, implementation is more consistent and smooth because problems can be addressed and solved more quickly.