Long term planning is hard work. You never know what is around the next corner. Case in point with Coronavirus and the impacts that it will have on the way council residents will work, rest and play in the immediate, medium and long term.
The long term plan is the way a council outlines its expenditure across a range of projects that will not only keep the districts and cities functioning well but will also help them grow and flourish into the future.
Balancing all those different needs with the requirements under legislation and the strategic goals of the council makes long term planning a time consuming and delicate job.
As you move into the next planning cycle, what are some things you can do to make the process easier?
Phase 1 – Set Up and Prioritisation
When you’re setting up the structure it’s important to make sure that it maps to the activity structure in the plan. That way you can quickly and easily see which programmes and projects contribute to each activity.
A good way to do this is to have a portfolio level folder for each strategic objective or activity. You can then have the programmes and projects that contribute to that objective or activity in that folder. This will make data aggregation and visualisation much easier.
It’s also worth making sure that supporting processes are set up and documented in that folder. It’s time consuming and frustrating to get deep into planning only to find out that you’re QAing on the hoof when you could have had the process agreed and documented up front.
Getting a document numbering structure in place and/or creating links to your document management system is also good practice.
Prioritising the long list of programmes and projects is often a case of who screams the loudest or who has the most political points to score. Avoiding this takes diplomacy and tact – plus the magic weapon of data.
Using a prioritisation matrix, where you score projects and programmes based on pre-agreed metrics is a great way to reduce, if not completely remove, the problem of loudest voice and political influence. Any decisions on what programmes and projects to include are solely made based on where each lies on the matrix.
Phase 2 – Scenario Planning
Put simply, scenario planning is working out what projects and programmes are going to give you the biggest bang for your buck.
It’s one of, if not the biggest and most time consuming parts of long term planning. Trying to get the right balance across the plan within the agreed budget takes skill and time.
In most instances it’s best to set up an entire project to manage this part of the long term planning process.
Using spreadsheets can work but they get big and very quickly become bulky and unwieldy. This is especially true where you are trying to combine hundreds of different spreadsheets in multiple ways to build different scenarios.
Each scenario you build will need to take into account the different streams in your organisation. Some typical streams are:
- Development contributions
- Asset management
Some of the biggest pain points when running scenarios is the time it takes to complete them. It can take upwards of 3 to 6 months to build different scenarios for approval using spreadsheets.
When people want to get access to the latest data they need to phone the team and make a request. Then wait for the answer (which can take weeks to provide).
Version control is also a huge problem! Running that many spreadsheets means that things can quickly get out of control and people many not be working with the latest data.
Having a scenario planning tool that allows you to quickly and easily change certain metrics and see the impact of those changes in real time makes this job a lot easier.
A dedicated planning tool means anyone with access can extract the most up to date data at any time, cutting down unnecessary delays and reducing frustration.
Another huge benefit is consistent reporting across the programme. This also speeds up the decision making process.
Phase 3 – Internal Review
Scenarios that meet the threshold are presented to the long term planning committee for discussion and, when finalised, approval.
This is another process that can take a long time to happen, so make sure you incorporate some contingency in case of overruns or requests to rework scenarios.
It’s not uncommon to have to rework the various scenarios multiple times at this stage. Again, this is where a dedicated scenario planning tool really comes into its own.
Make sure the rationale documents that explain the scenarios are as clear and unambiguous as possible. Also make the options as diverse as you can so that there are real choices available.
Phase 4 – Public Consultation
This is always an interesting exercise. Getting feedback from a diverse community takes diverse methods. Some options that are used are:
- Open days
- Letterbox drops
One not to ignore is social media. Most of the community will be on Facebook or other channels such as Instagram and Twitter so posting the consultation information there will increase reach particularly in specific demographics.
Once the consultation period is over the feedback is collated and presented to the planning team via the elected representatives.
Long Term Planning In Action with Hamilton City Council
Psoda worked closely with Hamilton City Council to develop our scenario planning tool to exactly meet council planning requirements.
In Hamilton City Council’s case we have reduced the scenario planning process by 50%. A process that was taking upwards of 3 months a turn is now taking weeks.
This means that the long term planning team can not only get the elected members the information they need to make the decisions much more quickly, they can also run many more scenarios to get the best results for their communities.
You can find out more in our case study.
In conclusion, building the long term plan is time consuming and complicated. You can make it a bit easier by following the steps outlined above as a guide. If you want to find out how Psoda can help you make your long term planning process easier get in touch. We’d love to help.