Strategic planning in tough times

Available public funds are shrinking, and needs are being re-defined

Criminal justice agencies are increasingly growing to rely on an important road map, one where dotted lines are connected to mission and value statements, meaningful goals, objectives and strategies, ultimately linked to money in the bank.

Since available public funds are shrinking, and needs are being re-defined, agencies find themselves competing with other public services in new ways. Governing authorities, while holding the purse strings, are demanding to know how the spirit of a strategic planning document satisfies current need and becomes the vehicle for future planning purposes.

Gone are the days of drafting nebulous plans, submitting them to someone, somewhere, only to have those documents reside in a file cabinet until dusted off the next year. Today, accountability for all facets of an organization are under the microscope. The strategic planning process has become the required marketing tool to get the attention of decision-makers, as well as providing the living road map for navigating forward.  

Staff should have input into such a document, have the final version available and understand their roles and responsibilities, in order to meet or exceed the agency’s mission. By knowing what part they play in the big story, staff are likely to take on a level of enthusiasm about their duties, training, and more important, express appreciation to leadership for including them in the process.

When a diverse representation of line staff is asked to participate in focus and work group activities, outcomes are even more meaningful and useful. Having names and rank attached to the final version of strategic planning documents goes a long way in encouraging espirit de corps. Because inherent check and balance systems exist within the strategic planning process, staff are less likely to sing the familiar refrain, “We've heard this before.” They may actually be pleased to discover value and tangible proof in the exercise.

Not only do modern criminal justice strategic plans contain elements required for providing ongoing basic needs and services, these documents must also include an acknowledgment of new trends, patterns, or challenges in offender management and public safety environments. New laws, related rule making, standards, certifications, and current thinking lead to difficult hurdles and new problems to solve.

Strategic planning provides a natural and effective method for recognizing the newest puzzle, steps necessary to solve the problem, how to pay for implementing solutions to the challenge, and finally, how to measure the effectiveness of newly created systems.

Referencing strategic plan goals and objectives on agency documents like policies, regulations, and training materials keeps components of the plan routinely visible by all employees and reminds them how the larger process, which may seem daunting, is truly woven into everyday work functions. The resulting alignment from the planning phase, defining an agency’s mission and value statements, to routine documents like training lesson plans, all help establish continuity.

Tackling a public safety strategic plan can seem intimidating; understanding the scope and sequence of its development helps all stakeholders benefit, and the process stands a greater chance of being a successful instrument.  

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