Your Integrated Community Sustainability Plan (ICSP) is finished and you’re taking care of these important next steps: embedding it into decision making; implementing some immediate actions; and establishing systems to track performance. That’s it right? Well, not quite…
Before you know it, it’s also time to start thinking about actions for 2014! Whether you’ve been action planning and implementing actions already, or you’re thinking about your first round of developing actions towards your ICSP, now’s the time to start planning for next year! The action planning process is the way in which the vision and goals from the ICSP are used to identify and prioritize the tasks and projects to be undertaken to help the community move towards its vision. Planning the process in the spring to carry out early in the autumn will help to ensure your process isn’t rushed and gives the maximum opportunity for people to get engaged.
Below are a few tips we can offer from our experience designing, facilitating and managing action planning processes in Whistler and other communities around BC.
Dovetail Action Planning into Strategic Planning and Budgeting
The reason for planning the action process early on is that it should dovetail smoothly into existing strategic planning and budgeting processes, meaning that actions that are recommended can be incorporated into the municipal strategic planning process. To accomplish this, there should be lead time to: determine how the process should be integrated into the others; design the process; solicit the necessary buy-in and approvals; recruit participants; and coordinate the meetings. All of this usually takes more time than expected.
Feeding the recommended actions that come out of the process into strategic planning and budgeting is essential for obvious reasons, including: the need for resources to be allocated to accomplish the actions and the value offered to organizational decision-making from knowledgeable and passionate members of the community. Decisions that are made on behalf of the community can only be strengthened by being informed by community members. Read more about public engagement below.
It is important to note that the action planning process should not only dovetail into municipal strategic planning and budgeting processes, but effort should also be taken to merge with the planning processes of key partner organizations too, thereby increasing the likelihood that actions recommended to them will be accepted.
Engage the Public and Partners
There are many ways community engagement can be incorporated into your annual action planning process. The model you choose will depend on your objectives, public expectations for engagement and of course, your budget. Creating teams comprised of local experts and partner organizations is always a good place to start – and most communities with ICSPs already have advisory committees made up on these people who were involved in ICSP development.
Depending on your timeframe and budget, you might choose one expanded advisory team or you could create a number of teams each focused on one of your ICSP areas (e.g., economy, transportation, infrastructure, etc.). The former is less resource intensive, while the latter offers many benefits that extend well beyond the action process itself. Whichever option you choose, the team(s) will be essential to providing the broad knowledge base and perspective to make well action recommendations on behalf of community interests.
The importance of team composition can’t be emphasized enough. Local experts should be used as much as possible since they have knowledge of both the community context and the subject (e.g., transportation) they can bring to the table, and they are likely to volunteer their time, provided it is used efficiently.
Partner organizations are the businesses, non-profits, chambers of commerce, tourism associations and so on that will likely be responsible for implementing the actions that result from the process. Having partners at the table for the conversations is much more efficient and will result in a greater likelihood that recommended actions will be accepted by them for implementation. There are items to consider for effective partners engagement, such as involving them in process design and facilitating follow-up and ongoing meetings for multiple partners to discuss shared actions and associated implementation.
Finally, broader public engagement can also be incorporated into the process by way of a call for action ideas that will then be considered by the advisory team(s). There are many ways to do this as a fun community-wide brainstorming process. In-person events, social media tools, online surveys, postcards and photo contests are just some of the approaches we’ve used.
Process Design and Facilitation
Once you have determined how your action planning process is going to merge into other planning processes and you have determined the critical components of your public engagement approach, you can then begin the detailed design of your process: determining who to get involved; meeting objectives, agenda, methodology and resource requirements; how to get input from the public; information gathering and synthesis; and so on. For the actual action planning meeting, skilled facilitation is important, which will help to ensure objectives are achieved, time is used efficiently, people are kept on track and ultimately participants will return for another round the following year.
By Shannon Gordon
These are just a few of the key action planning elements to consider as you look ahead to being ready to keep your ICSP moving forward in 2014. So start thinking about your process soon…
And if you would like assistance designing, facilitating and/or managing your community’s next action planning process to move your community closer to its vision of the future, please be in touch. Shannon Gordon: sgordon[at]whistlercentre.ca or 604-906-0310