By Russ Blackburn, City Manager and Kate Parmelee, Strategic Initiatives Director, City of Port St. Lucie
Does your city or county have a strategic plan? If so – how do you use it? Is it seen as a task list, separate from your day to day work, or is it interwoven into the fabric of your organization?
Peter Senge once famously observed that “the world is made of circles and we think in straight lines.” He challenged our profession to think of opportunities in terms of interrelationships and identifying and developing the right systems to move our organizations forward.
Robust strategic Planning – both citywide and at the department level – requires thinking about the interrelationships of the mandates and goals across our organizations. In Port St. Lucie, we have applied systems thinking to our strategic planning process inspired by various ideas, culminating in a simple four step process:
- Analyze. We kickoff our citywide strategic planning process with first analyzing where we are and where we are going. This includes:
- Analyzing current project priorities.
- Identifying trends and projections.
- Reviewing annual data from the Citizen Survey™, conducted by the National Research Center, Inc., which provides statistically valid feedback from a random sample of residents, as well as, more than 3,000 residents via an online opt-in version. We identify gaps and areas we fall below benchmarks in comparison to other cities.
- Hosting a Citizen Summit to gather qualitative data and resident driven solutions to issues. Residents provide feedback at interactive booths representing one of the City’s seven strategic goals. Participants receive “PSL bucks” to “spend” at the various booths to tell us where they would like us to invest more tax payer dollars and provide us with comments. The Council and staff receive a summary report of the feedback.
- Design (Define, Ideate, Select)
- The City Council and staff generate solutions to the issues identified through the analysis phase at their annual strategic planning session.
- Solutions are prioritized as projects and staff designs a project charter plan.
- Staff prioritizes Council Strategic Plan priorities in their department Strategic Business Plans along with other priority projects identified through their own analysis of department needs and the results of the citizen survey relevant to their department.
- City Council and Department Strategic Plan priorities are a key factor considered in the annual budgeting and capital improvement planning process.
- Priority projects receive funding and the work is carried out.
- Staff works to ensure alignment throughout the system.
- Projects are developed and evaluated through a Project Charter process.
- The City Council receives quarterly updates on the progress of the Strategic Plan. The Council provides feedback and projects and timelines are continually refined. Performance measures tied to the strategic plan and department strategic plans are evaluated on an annual basis.
The cycle repeats itself, every year, as we constantly refine and improve as an organization working towards our City’s strategic plan goal of a high performing organization.
Here’s an example of our four-step process in action utilizing the issue of an infrastructure backlog of needed roads and sidewalks. Local governments within the County were considering proposing a Half-Cent Sales Tax on the ballot to generate desperately needed funds.
- Analyze: To better understand the needs of residents, the City Council included a list of potential projects that could be funded by the initiative and asked for residents to prioritize the list via the Citizen Survey and Citizen Summit. Survey data further indicated residents needs for sidewalks and roadway improvements.
- Design (Define, Ideate, Select): The project list, ballot language and public education campaign were designed around resident feedback. The Strategic Plan prioritized a public education campaign.
- Implement: After designing the sales tax initiative based on the feedback obtained from the citizen survey and summit, 118,958 votes were cast on the sales tax ballot question, and 56 percent voted in favor to approve. Of the 31 precincts in the City of Port St. Lucie, 30 approved the sales tax. The one precinct where it lost, it only came up short by 11 votes. This was a successful reversal of the results in Port St. Lucie when it was previously attempted and no precincts in the city approved it. Projects were prioritized in the Council Strategic Plan and Department Strategic Business Plans.
- Evaluate: The successful passage of the Sales Tax will generate $88 million over the next ten years for needed infrastructure projects that were prioritized by residents. Resident satisfaction, progress on the miles of sidewalk and condition of roadways will be tracked, evaluated and reported annually.
What are the benefits of this system? Through the development of this system, you ensure the policy direction of the City Council and the feedback of residents are synchronized throughout the work of the organization. With the complexity and fast pace of our local governments, we encourage you to think about the systems you can develop to drive your organization forward. As Senge stated, “Systems thinking is a discipline for seeing wholes. It is a framework of seeing interrelationships rather than things, for seeing ‘patterns of change’ rather than static ‘snapshots.’”
What system can you create that can help your organization systemize change and produce greater results?