To Avoid Shelf-Sitting: Lessons Learned In Implementing a Community Strategic Plan

Originally published in the Kenosha News

By Community Development Educator, Amy Greil

You may recall just one year ago my writing about a Kenosha Creative Economy Strategic Planning process.

The plan reflects nearly two years of work, coordinating phases, partners, funding and lots of community outreach efforts. Recently, an event was hosted to report the progress of the plan’s implementation.

It has me thinking quite a bit about the messy, unpredictable — but ultimately helpful — forces that come into play with the implementation of strategic plans. Some readers can surely relate to some of the lessons learned from similar processes. There is value in shedding light on what has been learned that may be challenges and inevitabilities of any/all community plans’ implementation processes.

1. Evaluation: With any community process, lots of voices are involved. Organizational leaders, community advocates and volunteers all come together to move the plan into implementation. This means a lot of effects and “ripples” that are often unseen, untracked, undocumented that make evaluation of the plan’s full impact difficult to assess.

2. Accountability: Who “owns” a community plan? When things are not progressing — which actually has not occurred to a great degree with our creative economy plan — how does one hold accountable individuals who are all working as (unpaid) volunteers and are naturally stretched thin? A community process does not always lend to a high degree of accountability for this reason by all parties that are essentially working as equals.

3. Change and churn: Changing the status-quo is painful, just as changing the way “things have always been done” does not come easy. There have been some collective “groans” of implementing new ideas amidst entrenched processes. That requires patience and understanding — and pressing on. Meanwhile, people get busy and take on new life challenges all the time. So even as the planning committee intentionally wrote individuals/organizations into the plan as “champions” to enable greater accountability, this act alone cannot prevent an inevitable change or “churn” of leadership. Fortunately, as people exit roles that allow them to continue implementing the plan, new faces come to the fold. Succession planning is the new normal, and it is inspiring to see new generations of leaders get involved.

4. Moving slower to move faster: Aspirational plans are fantastic, but cannot anticipate all the detours that will be required while fully implementing the recommendations. We have seen many essential “sidesteps” needing to be addressed before the stated objectives can be tackled. This demonstrates that taking time to build a solid foundation of system change will mean that lasting change can be sustained. Otherwise it is just superficial change, a house of cards, subject to being undone as the winds of change blow through.

5. Sustaining commitment: In our case, the most valuable lesson learned is the Kenosha County institutions and volunteers remain committed to growing the creative economy— committed to realizing the visions and insights of our unique community process. Even as “unfunded mandates” abound in the plan, there is significant, visible progress being made in all four objectives. It is highly satisfying to see that this plan has done no “shelf sitting” and is alive and well. We extend our heartfelt gratitude for the commitment displayed by the range of partners in this implementation phase.

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