Online Strategic Planning:
Another New Tool in the COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT TOOLBOX

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Why Strategic Planning?
Strategic Planning in 7 (Not-so-Easy) Steps
What is the Best Way to Use Online Strategic Planning?
For More Information

Why Strategic Planning?

Everyone can agree that planning is key to realizing community goals that matter most to your stakeholders. Online Strategic Planning has been added to the Community Development Toolbox to help communities document their assets and set goals to meet the economic challenges facing rural places in the 21st Century.

Strategic Planning is borrowed from corporate culture which prescribed the setting of long term goals and objectives, the outline of a course(s) of action and an allocation of resources (Chandler, A.D., 1962 ). For community development, strategic planning becomes equally important to allow the community to formulate a vision, identify a mission and set goals to determine their future. A clear and practical strategy will ensure that your organization grows to meet its vision and does not lie on the shelf and collect dust. The COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT TOOLBOX' Strategic Planning provides the framework to help your community organization build a simple and powerful plan for your future. To access, login at http://www.communitydevelopment.uiuc.edu/cdo/, enter the information for the login (there will be no charge and under no circumstances will your name be forward or used for commercial purposes, the information is used solely for our own evaluation).

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Strategic Planning in 7 (Not-so-Easy) Steps

The strategic planning process is not easy. This online version is comprised of 7 steps beginning with creating your planning committee to writing the final report. This process takes time, but does not have take forever. Using online tools, you are in charge of how your organization works through the process and how much time you allocate to each step. Each step includes interactive worksheets. Using the same login each time you access the site will make certain that you retrieve the information you have previously entered. Your login name also serves as a means to store all of your information.

Step 1: Establish a Planning Committee
Create a planning committee that represents the diverse interests in your community. Use the worksheets to focus on stakeholder interests and skills and to record potential committee members.

Step 2: Define a Mission Statement
Create a sense of mission for your community organization. The 4 worksheets in this section help your committee to define the parameters of your mission - your purpose, values, the stakeholders you serve and the way you intend to conduct your business. There is also a worksheet to help you brainstorm these concepts.

Step 3: Summarize the Results of Your Needs Assessment
Creating strategies for your community organization need to be based on realistic and robust assessments of local attitudes and an evaluation of community assets. Community assessments provide the data and the rationale for setting priorities for your community development efforts. The worksheets in this section provide a framework for you to summarize the most important findings of your needs assessment. If you have not completed an assessment in the past year, then use the links provided to help you organize an appropriate assessment.

Step 4: Evaluate Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT)
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 economy. The SWOT analysis allows you to objectively summarize your community'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. These worksheets provide space for the committee to brainstorm and more objectively articulate your community's position in the regional economy.

Step 5: Establish Goals
Develop goals to establish the direction you want to take for your community development initiatives. Goals express your aspirations for the future of your community. Goals must be tied to outcomes rather than activities. The worksheets in this section allow you to organize goals and determine the timeframe for each. To maintain your focus choose only a few goals, the ones you chose should reflect your most desirable outcomes.

Step 6: Identify Objectives and Strategies
These next set of worksheets help to document the means of accomplishing the goals stated previously. For each goal, there is a worksheet to document objectives (the details behind the goal), strategies (the action steps), the resources you will need to fulfill the objective and a place to document whether those resources exist locally. Also, this step includes a GANTT chart (timetable) to help you document responsibilities and deadlines.

Step 7: Prepare a Written Report
This final step, often the most difficult, is made easier using the online model. At this point all worksheets are reproduced and ready for editing in your final report. Select view to print the worksheets as they were entered, or select edit to fine-tune the report. It is possible to highlight the text, copy and insert it into word processing software for creating a more complete report.


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What is the Best Way to Use Online Strategic Planning?

Each of the members of the strategic planning committee need to have a good understanding of the planning process. The first step should be to have committee members become familiar with this process by reviewing the 7 steps independently or as a group. Committee members can go online and explore the various aspects of the process. Once everyone is familiar with strategic planning, find a facilitator to help the committee stay focused. If possible, the facilitator should be impartial and objective of the group process - the referee, yet represent the stakeholders interest. A committee member would not make a good facilitator because as a stakeholder it would be difficult to be dispassionate. A member of the University of Illinois Extension Community and Economic Development team is able to serve as facilitator for your committee.

For each work session, the facilitator could set up a computer and projector in the room, go online to access the program and project the worksheets for the committee. If connection speed or access in general is poor, the facilitator can print the worksheets and make copies available for each member of the working committee. The committee can work on the worksheets in small groups and when completed and consensus is reached, the facilitator can input the information online. There are two benefits of inputting your materials online: 1) The information is stored and remembered and committee members can go online at any time to review the materials; and 2) The write-up of the final report is minimized because the program creates report-ready worksheets.

The number of working sessions you will need depends on how much of the strategic planning work you have already completed. You will need one session to create a committee, another to brainstorm and build a mission statement, a session to create a strategy for conducting a community assessment (if you have completed an assessment recently then combine this session with the SWOT analysis session), finally, you will need one relatively long retreat (half to a full day) to document goals, objectives, strategies and accountability.

Strategic Planning may not be easy, but important for your organization to identify and pursue the opportunities for your community. Good Luck!

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For More Information

To learn more about strategic planning or connect to a University of Illinois Extension Educator contact:

Tel: 217/244-0433
E-mail:lced@aces.uiuc.edu

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To access other tools in the COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT TOOLBOX go to:

http://www.communitydevelopment.uiuc.edu/toolbox