Strategic Plan Guide for Municipalities – Why You Can’t Operate Without One

“There is a big difference between the public and private sector.” 

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“There is a big difference between the public and private sector.” 

“There is a big difference between the public and private sector.”  

This is something we hear all the time with our municipal clients. And while it is true operations and schedules vary, organizational structures and reporting lines are different—there is some overlap. Both businesses and municipalities need a plan, a vision for their futures and a strategy for getting there.   

Step 1: Envision the Future 

What do you want your municipality to look like? How do you want your school district to run? What will come to mind when people think of your municipality? These questions, though broad, are valuable. Often in the public sector, leaders are caught up in the day-to-day issues like keeping the municipality running and keeping the taxes down. But where is the organization heading? What is it going to look like in 5 or 10 years? Considering these “big picture” questions is the first step in getting leadership thinking out of the daily duties and directing your municipality into the future. This is about knocking down the proverbial walls and setting your municipality apart from others.

Step 2: Define the Mission

Next is documenting a clean and concise statement on how your municipality will operate; going forward, if initiatives do not fuel or follow the mission, they should be reconsidered. The mission should incorporate all aspects of the municipality, including the school system, which is why it should be crafted jointly—a meeting of the minds of all areas in the municipality. The mission should be direct and should avoid hyperbole (words like “best” and “number one”)— it’s not about utopia, but about setting the tone and direction in a brief statement. Once the mission is defined, it must be documented and circulated. All active municipal members (such as employees, members of governing bodies and councils, leadership) should be able to recite the mission statement and buy into it. This is your new mantra.

Step 3: Perform Your Gap Analysis

This is where the real work begins. Think back to your vision for the future and consider how it differs from your present-day municipality or school district. What are the major hurdles or obstacles in transforming the organization into that ideal? In this phase you need to document everything—the good, the bad and the ugly. Establishing the true baseline of operations is the only way to draw a custom roadmap to the future. Take a close look at the processes that govern the municipality, noting where things may be paper-heavy, manual or labor intensive. Identify the tools and systems you have, consider the ones you need, and keep in mind areas where your citizens are looking for greater transparency and information. For this step, you want to explore all your municipal departments and document the gap analysis between who you are now and who you want to become.

Step 4: Document Your Programs and Projects

Using the gap analysis you performed in Step 3, now you need to define actionable items that will start inching your municipality forward. To avoid being overwhelmed, it is important to break down all these action items into manageable “to-dos” and group accordingly into programs; these are comprised of all the single initiatives or projects citywide that help achieve the target future state. For example, one program may be “Revitalizing Downtown.” Projects in this program might be launching a holiday festival or building sidewalks and pathways. For another example, maybe “Implementing Citizen Self-Service” is a goal you have. A single project in this area might be a revamp of the municipal website or the implementation of an online application method for planning and zoning permits. These single projects have start and end dates, key tasks and success measures. Most importantly, each of these projects needs an owner to help maintain accountability, keep the municipality moving forward and keep your strategic plan in motion.


Where is your municipality headed? Do you have a strategic direction or are the days and years just passing by? Having a strategic plan is no longer something “nice to have”—it is the key to setting your municipality apart, the difference between dreaming about the future and making it happen. Many cities and towns are starting to rethink the way they do business and are challenging their day-to-day operations. Don’t fall victim to the trap of, “We’ve always done it this way.” A documented plan becomes your guide to the future, helping give your initiatives purpose and providing a means to achieving the vision. It makes it easier to say “no” to things that don’t align with the vision, which results in more meaningful and targeted use of taxpayer dollars. Without the plan, your municipality becomes a vehicle just driving along with no clear destination in sight, burning gas and logging miles. Just imagine where your city or town could be in 5 to 10 years if your target destination gives you a clear roadmap to get you there.

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