Friday, September 23, 2011
Oh, Planning Does Work!
As any consultant knows, there's a point when you can just hope for the best--you've worked with the client, you've facilitated community conversations, and you've written the report. And then...it's like waiting for the other shoe to drop. Has the organization really embraced the process? Are there the skills and the drive to move a plan forward? And the bottom line...did your work make a difference?
This past week or two I've had two experiences that reinforced my belief in the importance of planning, but they also helped cement my understanding that sometimes it takes a while for the results of the process, much less the plan itself, to be fully known.
Almost two years ago, my colleague Anne Ackerson and I led the strategic planning process for a volunteer committee of a small town in Massachusetts as they worked to save a historic building for use as a heritage center. Focus groups, space planning, conversations with other stakeholders, benchmarking, committee meetings, budget development--the whole process. No word for a while, as sometimes happens with clients as we and they head off to the next steps. But this week an email that read, "there have been many twists and turns to get us here but it finally is a happening thing! Your study proved very valuable to us as we went before numerous committees, radio, TV and finally a special town meeting to appeal for the last chunk of funding." That's what a good plan does--it helps convince others to join in, to help accomplish the goals.
Yesterday I went to a meeting with a client that had had a number of staff changes throughout a long interpretive planning process (mostly completed some time ago) and met with senior staff, three of four of whom were new (although not necessarily new to the organization). To my surprise and delight, these four women embraced the knowledge gained in evaluations along the way; over a long lunch we had a lively conversation about the meaning of community engagement and community anchor; discussed the real needs of the organization to accomplish the interpretive goals; and overall, made a substantive commitment to work together as a team to lead the way. Tremendously gratifying.
What made the difference? It's hard to say. In the first case, it was a long-standing committee that remained united and committed to the project. In the second, it took some staff changes to make that commitment happen. But, like almost all of my work, it's about the people involved--and the need to be ready, to have a plan in place when the time is right. Planning is best done when you're not under the gun but when your organization takes the time to slow down and think collaboratively with your community. "Too busy!" you say? Find the people; find the time.
Planning by J'Roo on Flickr