Get ready, get set, get organized

Looking at the how and why of strategic planning.

There are a million actions a community can take and anyone you ask will give you a different opinion on which ideas are most important. It can be easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of options. A great way to keep your community on track is to establish a strategic plan by which an organization defines its strategy through allocating resources and setting priorities toward a common goal.

An organized strategic plan allows credibility for your organization by vetting ideas through public input and posting them in an accessible manner to interested parties. Strategic plans also support institutional memory and succession planning along with opening up various grant funding opportunities.

The strategic planning process can be broken down into these basic steps:

  1. Begin by gathering information to determine what you are working with and analyze that information to determine where you need to go.
  1. Once you’ve determined where you are, you can begin visioning and goal setting.
  1. Utilize a steering committee of board members, municipal representatives and community stakeholders to thoroughly vet the ideas and create buy in from the public.
  1. Hold public meetings and offer surveys to come up with projects the community supports.

These goals can then be divided by length of time for implementation. It is important to show progress with smaller projects that are often more attainable while looking down the road for the bigger fish.

After sorting your information and determining your goals, a final strategic plan can be drafted. Each strategic plan is different based on the organization’s goals. Final products can be anywhere from one brief page to an entire manifesto of laid out steps.

Once you’ve adopted your strategic plan the most important step comes in to play- implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Don’t let your efforts go to waste sitting on a shelf with the old meeting minutes and paperwork. Keep an eye on your plan and evaluate it each year to determine how well it fits and how well you follow it. Refer to it often and keep it in the forefront of your decision making processes.

Michigan State University Extension Partner Northern Lakes Economic Alliance assists communities within their four county service area on strategic planning. Sometimes the process is fairly simple and designed to get a few folks to identify and agree on priorities while other times the process can be much more in-depth and inclusive of many local stakeholder groups. No matter the process, it saves time, energy and resources to get everyone on the same page--it’s also a lot more fun!

Michigan State University Extension has had a unique relationship with the regional economic development organization Northern Lakes Economic Alliance (NLEA) for more than 20 years. Recognizing the strength of combining resources, this partnership focuses on economic development, entrepreneurship growth and community infrastructure throughout a four-county region in the northwest Lower Peninsula, specifically Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan and Emmet counties. As a result, the NLEA utilizes resources offered through MSU Extension as it provides leadership to state-wide programs sponsored by MSU Extension.”

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