I’ve led a lot of plans. Strategic plans, comprehensive plans, project plans, work plans… you name it. And I’ve seen what makes the difference between a plan of any type that makes a difference, and one that does that proverbial sit-on-the-shelf-and-gather-dust thing.
The StratSet approach to planning and decision-making for communities combines what I’ve learned from all those plans. It’s a flexible framework that has been show to work in all kinds of contexts, from massive public visioning to internal operations, and it creates a plan that has not only the content, but the supporters, to enable it to have the impact you intended.
How does this approach differ from typical planning?
People understand that economic issues drive the long-term viability of a community — and that even supposedly non-economic topics, like parks, have huge economic implications. And because economics underpin our lives, economic issues get everyone’s attention.
StratSet draws out the economics of the issues that are driving the plan in terms that everyone can understand and embrace. It frames the community’s challenges around these issues, and it develops a rational, open and collaboration-building strategy for addressing them. This gives participants a deep shared understanding of the issues that they will be working on, and gives them an immediate reason to stay at the table in the face of all the other demands on their time.
The Participants make (and own) the plan.
When professionals or a Star Chamber of insiders are allowed to make the plan decisions alone, the plan probably won’t do what it was intended to do – make the community better. Plans need more than good ideas; they need support. Broad support, committed support. The kind of support that you will only give when you have deep personal, intellectual and emotional ownership of the recommendation.
With so many competing demands and so few resources, only the recommendations that have these kinds of supporters are going to come to life. Since Stratset participants grapple with the issues and evaluate the options themselves, they understand the potential of those recommendations better than you will ever convey in a written plan. And that’s a powerful ownership that will make the difference in whether your recommendations get set in action or sit on a shelf.
Part of the reason why we try to make plans with a little group of insiders is because we’ve all been through too many useless free-for-all meetings or wild imagination sessions. No one wants to be part of that kind of public engagement – not the planners, not the residents, not elected officials. In trying to give everyone a chance, we end up hearing from only a few, and no one gets anything beneficial out of it.
StratSet draws on a method that school teachers use to enable students to work together to build a rich understanding of complex issues. Cooperative small group methods have been used for over 30 years, leveraging a mix of small working groups, shared ground rules and structured sets of activities to guide participants through the process of working together, learning together, and developing well-informed, intelligent results together.
The difference in the quality and support that these plans generate is unmistakeable. Just like water needs to run through a channel to power a turbine, channeling the hopes and ideas of people through a collaborative small group process gives us access to a powerful way to make smart and meaningful plan decisions.
Setting Your Priorities: Systematic, Transparent, Fair, Useful
Plans that don’t establish priorities don’t get anything done, but we often avoid setting priorities because we don’t want to say no. But in an age where demands far exceed money and time, we just don’t have that choice anymore.
StratSet makes the process of setting priorities clear and transparent to everyone. It does this by using participant-led, step-by-step activities to guide people through the process of evaluating the choices and impacts. And when you’re done, it shows transparently how those priorities were decided– not only for the participants, but for anyone else who wants to know in the future. People might not personally agree with everything, but when you can see exactly how the group made the decision, it’s harder to argue against it.
Show Your Success: Tools for Doing and Measuring
It’s easy for any kind of plan to create a list of Stuff to Do, but it’s a lot harder — and more important — to create an implementation strategy that tells you who is doing what – and whether it’s getting done. the StratSet implentation tracking tools make it easy for everyone in your community to understand what’s getting done, who’s doing it and how it’s going. And that’s information that you need now more than ever. Rather than wasting your planning effort, or spending hours trying to back out why some plan element never came to pass, you can track results easily and systematically, and report them out to your community.
Here’s a few examples of projects that used StratSet elements:
Where do we go from here? Vision 2020