Introduction to Strategic Planning

Local Housing and Homelessness Plans are long-term system focused plans which will require the use of strategic planning. This section briefly summarizes how strategic planning concepts apply to these plans and the process to create them.

Why do Strategic Planning

Strategic planning is a process to:

  1. define an organization’s vision, goals and objectives.
  2. guide actions and program activities toward the goals.
  3. set a way to monitor progress towards achieving the objectives.

The purpose of strategic planning is to align limited resources to achieve chosen goals effectively and efficiently and ensure that program activities responds to changing needs and conditions. Also, strategic planning helps an organization avoid pitfalls such as using significant resources in activities that do not address the needs of the community, making investment decisions shaped too much by immediate concerns, and divergent understandings of the major issues and appropriate responses.

Avoiding such pitfalls is important in the public sector. Roles and resource allocations are formalized and structured, political needs and stakeholder interests are large, accountability is strict, and flexibility can be limited. Strategic planning offers an opportunity to take stock of the situation, create a space for thinking and discussions that breaks across existing silos and assumptions, and clarify where to go and how best to get there.

An effective plan will:

  • Create a shared vision for the organization and articulate its values and priorities.
  • Communicate this vision to others.
  • Foster strategic thinking throughout the organization.
  • Offer new or integrated perspectives on how operational decisions should support goals.
  • Enable the organization to effectively respond to change as it occurs.
  • Help the organization to better collaborate and integrate its activities with service delivery partners and sector stakeholders.

Concepts and Components of Strategic Planning:

Concepts of strategic planning involve some version of the following five components, which are undertaken in sequence

Environmental scan:

To be effective, a plan must respond to its particular context. This requires information-gathering and analysis of that context. The planning process is an opportunity to be systematic about this, and to arrive at a shared understanding of what the issues are. It is an opportunity to step back and question the unexamined assumptions.

A needs assessment will often include a “SWOT” analysis to identify Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in regard to existing activities. The needs assessment can help distil a focused list of critical issues from the wide range of views and information.

In the public sector, the needs assessment will include stakeholder input and engagement to contribute knowledge as well as to build a foundation of support for the plan.

Vision and goals:

Establishing a vision involves developing and articulating a picture of the desired future: where one wants to get to.  In local policy-making this rarely involves revision of fundamental mission and mandates. But strategic planning should express a set of intentions that stretches beyond the focus of current program activity.

The vision and goals bridge from the understanding of the context, to the specific objectives. This may also involve establishing some principles.

Objectives:

Objectives or targets must fit the vision and goals, but are more specific and also measurable. Objectives are the element in the plan that will guide decisions on resource allocations, program activity, and relationship-building.

Each objective usually relates to a particular issue, program area, or intersection between these. Objectives are sometimes grouped under particular goals or strategic priorities.

In the public sector, reaching agreement on objectives is often more challenging than agreement on broad vision and goals. Care must be taken to ensure that action plans are practical and implementable.

Implementation steps:

The plan should identify implementation steps or actions (“measures” in Policy Statement language) that will move toward achieving the objectives. They are the means toward the ends.

Strategic planning concepts stress the importance of identifying concrete implementation steps – even while recognizing that implementation will shift as circumstances evolve.

Monitoring progress:

Measuring and monitoring progress toward the objectives is integral in strategic planning. This provides ongoing feedback on how well actual activity and resource allocations are moving things toward the chosen goals and ends, and also on changing conditions. They help signal when course adjustments may be needed.

The strategic plan should identify the indicators to be used and the process for reporting out, in ways that relate to the objectives.

The Challenge and Opportunity:

The complexity, diversity and scope of affordable housing and homelessness services are a challenge for local planning. The context that triggers housing needs and homelessness extends beyond what Service Managers can shape. They involve activities, mandates, and resources of various levels of government, public agencies, private-sector players, and service providers. Future resources are uncertain. Integrating affordable housing and homelessness in one plan may not be simple.

Complexity and uncertainty are also the reasons it is important to set overall directions with a long term plan. The strategic planning process can help set goals and directions that will help navigate changing conditions. The planning process can help build relationships and consensus.

Challenges are also opportunities.