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The agency has a strategic plan that focuses staff, the community, and the media on the priorities the agency will pursue as it moves toward excellence. It has opened its doors and invited the community to join it in working toward increasing safety for the community’s children, in increasing the stability of the community’s families, and in strengthening the community itself. For the agency to succeed in fulfilling its mission, it must have broad community support. Garnering that necessary support takes time and begins with the agency taking the first step. That first step was to invite the community into its planning process and to use the community’s beliefs and values to shape the final strategic plan.

It is critical to see that the community’s support is tentative at this point. It is based on the fact that the agency has involved the community in the development of its strategic plan. The community can see its input throughout the plan. People believe they have been heard.

Were the agency to go back to business-as-usual at this point and simply shelf the plan, community support would be quickly withdrawn. In that event, further support would be very difficult to amass again, even at this tentative level, anytime soon. If, instead, the agency implements the plan and shares the results of its efforts with the public on an ongoing basis, community support will continue to grow. This growing support is, in turn, reinforced by the agency’s increasing ability and willingness to be explicitly responsive and accountable to the public.

Strategic achievements and successes should also be regularly celebrated with staff. The agency must “chase success” and recognize the staff that are responsible for that success. Over time, success is contagious. Staff attach increased meaning to their work because it is now connected to a vision they have participated in creating, a vision that is also supported by the community.

Achievements and successes should, likewise, be regularly shared with the community in a planful manner. The same measures of success that are celebrated with the staff become measures of accountability to the public. In short, the accountability of the agency increases and it is perceived as being more responsive to the community. The agency has stated publicly, “This is what we are going to do,” and is doing it. The public knows that the commitment is being kept because it is receiving regular feedback chronicling the agency’s progress.

The agency’s mission and goals are explicitly stated and the public has agreed with their contents. The agency has provided the leadership to initiate this dialogue and the public values this open, pro-active approach. Its confidence in the agency continues to grow.

As a result of the agency’s success, other community organizations may be pressured to follow its lead, if they have not already done so. The public values openness. If one organization opens its doors, community expectations are that others should be doing the same. If this occurs and other agencies respond, the vision that was created through the agency’s strategic planning process should be used for it is the community’s vision, not just the agency’s. It may be modified through future planning processes but that only gives emphasis to the reality that it is the community’s vision, not any single agency’s.

If the planning process can be extended to other community agencies and organizations, the resulting mission statements and the associated strategic plans of the individual organizations can be laid side-by-side. This enables the identification of gaps in services, duplication of effort, and needs related to better coordination of services. The community issues identified through these activities can be shared with elected officials and other key stakeholders. Again, this openness and collaboration with the community builds strong public value for the work being done and will lead to increased authorization for needed programs and services. Putting the “cards on the table” in this way will also likely result in increased operating resources to do the needed work.

As you consider strategic planning for your agency, it will help to explicitly highlight the key factors that support successful plan implementation and increase community support for the agency:

·       The community is heavily involved in the planning.

·       The right people are in the guiding group.

·       The plan is followed and modified as necessary.

·       Successes and barriers are communicated internally and externally on a regular basis.

·       All decisions are held next to the vision and mission statements to measure consistency. If a decision is consistent, go forward. If it is not, go back and get it right.

It will also help to explicitly highlight the key factors that undermine successful plan implementation and community support for the agency:

·       The agency only invites people it feels will agree with it to the scanning process and only superficially involves the public.

·       A small group of agency leaders develop the plan in a vacuum.

·       The plan is abandoned and staff are permitted to go back to business-as-usual.

·       Successes and barriers are not communicated internally or externally.

·       Decisions are reactionary and made without a clear vision and well-defined mission.

The following vision and mission statements were developed jointly by Ohio’s 88 county child protection agencies in 1994, with updates and revisions during the 1996, 1998, and 2000 strategic planning cycles.

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