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Community and Economic Development

Community and Economic Development


Things to Consider when Starting a Strategic Plan

Benefits and Challenges A strategic plan can serve as a critical tool for the future success of a community and organization. Here are some things to consider.

  • Gets everybody on the same page, following a precise, singular purpose that is clearly presented in writing.
  • Can contribute to morale because all key players can carve out a unique niche that they can actively contribute to.
  • Strategic plans are generally medium-to long-term oriented – with usually a three to five year implementation plan. Anything longer than this may become too broad or not timely.
  • It is an opportunity to revisit and update the mission and vision statements.
  • Encourages the development of innovative ideas, products, and services.
  • The business plan must be both creative and practical.
  • A financial plan should be included to insure that the resources are available to carry out the plan.
  • Provides accurate and timely data to understand external factors and internal capabilities.
  • A factual examination of own strengths and weaknesses as compared with competitors.
  • Opens up new opportunities.
  • Wards of current and future competitive influences.


  • The timing needs to be right – not done at a time of critical stress; if done during this time the plan may be out of focus; not considering positive access. It's harder to convince leaders to follow during economic hardships.
  • There may be risks involved in the goals of a strategic plan, so the leaders must justify why the risk is vital to the future and possibly remedial alternative actions.
  • Time consuming.
  • Financial resources and support may not be adequate to implement the plan.
  • Data collected may not be current or may be biased.
  • The planning process may reveal differences in opinions that may not be solved during the process.
  • May use preconceived opinions as a basis for decisions.
  • There is a risk that valuable time and resources are spent pursuing a course of action that ends up a failure.
  • Spending too much time on the process can cause to miss valuable opportunities and overlook vital issues that need to be addressed immediately.
  • It can have heavy costs due to the time spent by key people and ads to financial risks to the process of changing to meet the new goals.

Steps for Conducting a Strategic Plan The strategic planning process is not easy. So you should become familiar with each step when preparing to conduct a strategic plan.

Step 1: Establish a Planning Committee
Create a planning committee that represents the diverse interests in your community.

Step 2: Define a Mission Statement
Create a sense of mission for your community organization.

Step 3: Conduct a Needs Assessment
Assessments can help your organization collect information from which to make better decisions about future directions. The assessment becomes a catalyst for an open discussion of how efforts could be focused. Assessments can be based on one or a combination of the following:

  1. The analysis of secondary data from sources such as the US Census
  2. Input through focus groups, key informant interviews or survey questionnaires
  3. Review of journals or assessments related to your project
  4. Comparison of other organizations
  5. Demographic and geographic analysis

Step 4: Evaluate Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT Analysis)

The SWOT analysis allows you to objectively summarize your organization's internal strengths and weaknesses as well as the opportunities and threats that lie in the external environment, all representing forces that may greatly impact your organization. A systematic identification of these 4 attributes becomes critical to building future goals and objectives that are realistic within the parameters of your local and regional resources.

Step 5: Establish Goals
Creating goals for your community needs to be based on realistic and robust assessments of your local opinions and an evaluation of community assets. Community assessments provide the data and the rationale for setting priorities for your efforts. Develop goals to establish the direction you want to take. Goals express your aspirations for the future.

Step 6: Identify Objectives and Strategies (Action Steps)

For each goal, there should be objectives (the details behind the goal), strategies (the action steps), and the resources you will need to fulfill the objective and a place to document whether those resources exist. Also, this step should include a GANTT chart (timetable) to help you document responsibilities and deadlines.

Step 7: Prepare a Written Report
The report should include all the information that is needed to strategically take action. Keep in mind your audience - who the report is written for and how the information will be used. Therefore, the report should focus on the identified goals, objectives and strategies (action steps) that will make the mission of the organization come to reality.

University of Illinois Extension has the following on-line program:

Online Strategic Planning helps communities document their assets and set goals to meet the economic challenges facing rural places in the 21st Century

The Community Tool Box an on-line resource with information on essential skills for building healthy communities. It offers more than 7,000 pages of practical guidance in creating change and improvement. Learning modules include: community assessments, strategic planning, volunteerism, leadership development, community intervention, program evaluation and much more.

Community and Leadership a website dedicated to community and economic development with various modules such as: diversity and inclusion, economic viability, leadership development, organizational development, planning and public policy