April 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW1

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Adding an Educational Component to Strategic Planning

Most strategic plans are started without properly educating the participants about the subject matter. A case study involving a strategic plan for community economic development is used to show how using an educational component can benefit the entire strategic planning process.

Jerold R. Thomas
Extension Agent
Community Economic Development
Ohio State University Extension
Bucyrus, Ohio
Internet address: thomas.69@osu.edu

With strategic planning becoming a buzz word in the public sector these days, it seems as if every organization or community has now completed or is completing a strategic plan. Often this is simply the same old planning technique with a new name. A true strategic plan stresses creating a vision, focuses on the process more than a final report, and is never completed--the organization/community is always involved in the process. Still, a strategic plan has several traditional planning attributes. One of these is the analysis. This article focuses on the analysis and how it can be strengthened by adding an educational component.

To illustrate the educational component, a case study is used. Morrow County, Ohio recently completed a strategic planning process for community economic development. Rather than just presenting the typical socio-demographic data (i.e., population, income rates, employment by industrial group, etc.), the Community Economic Development Agent incorporated these statistics into three educational sessions. By doing this the Agent not only made a dry subject more palatable, but also overcame a typical problem of many planning efforts: assuming everyone starts the process with the same knowledge base and understanding of the issues. This educational approach was adapted from several sources including the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development's Take Charge Program and MDC, Inc.'s Rural Futures Program. However, the specific structure in this example was developed by the agent.

A session on economic development strategies was presented first. Participants not only learned about attracting industry, but also about business retention and expansion, small business development, and capturing local trade dollars. Statistics to show how the community was faring were interspersed throughout the presentation. The second session focused on physical infrastructure, with conversations on water, sewer, roads, bridges, and public utilities. The county engineer discussed how many of these infrastructure items were funded and what their current condition was--a definite learning experience for most participants. The final educational session focused on human infrastructure. Speakers from local school districts and job training agencies shared existing programs and their effectiveness. Graduation rates and related statistics were also provided at the appropriate time.

While this concept sounds simple, it is seldom applied. Participants in this strategic planning process proved to be much more informed during the remainder of the process. People were less likely to propose "wild" ideas, and time was saved by not having to explain things as the process moved along. The participants shared a common knowledge base and had reference materials to fall back on.

Adding an educational component to the planning process will make the entire program run more smoothly. Agents can use their creativity to develop the appropriate educational sessions for the specific projects they are working on. The added sessions will only save time and frustration later in the process.