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Process Model - Adaptive Planning

Where are we now? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? What are our aspirations? What are our problems? What are the likely future scenarios arising from different courses of action? These are the questions at the core of planning strategically.

This phase of the model embodies a practical, commonsense approach to determining and documenting the framework of both what you wish to achieve in the long term and the broad directions you will take to get there. It requires a strong emphasis on ‘process’, because gaining participation, ownership and support are crucial to any MSP. 
Strategic planning is often made out to be more complex than it really is. In essence, strategic planning asks and attempts to answer some basic questions:

  • Where are we now? This involves undertaking an analysis of the present situation and stakeholders, plus the relevant history. It may also include using tools such as SWOT analysis to provoke discussion of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats;
  • Where do we want to be? This involves: developing a vision of a preferred future; articulating the purpose of the MSP; agreeing on core principles; developing goals (desired end-results or eventual impact of action) and objectives (the specific shorter-term results necessary to achieve goals);
  • How do we get there? Developing action plans that articulate what needs to be done, by whom, by when, and with what resources;
  • How do we know what has been achieved? Agreeing on suitable performance indicators — ways of measuring and evaluating the extent to which objectives have been achieved. Also, agreeing on a monitoring system to support evaluation and management;
  • How do we adapt? Thinking about how the MSP can cyclically improve, reassess and adapt.

1 - Build stakeholders understanding and trust of each other’s values, motivations, concerns and interests

Any MSP will contain people and groups with a diversity of aspirations. If you are going to work together on what is effectively a series of joint projects aimed at achieving a shared vision, then understanding and accepting what drives people and what colors and informs their judgments and their thinking (i.e. ‘where they are coming from’) are crucial. Shared understanding and trust of each other’s values, motivations, concerns and interests also renders the tough decisions that have to be made far less threatening.

  • Values are often expressed in terms of behavior. What is important to you/others? What principles guide you/others? What are the underlying values that guide/color your/others’ thinking, reasoning and action?
  • Draw out, gain understanding and acknowledge the aspirations and interests of the stakeholders in your region. Share this understanding.
  • How do we intend to operate as a Learning Organisation? What principles will guide our MSP?
  • What do we have to do to ensure continued motivation?


2 - Full analysis

In order to gain a complete shared picture with the different stakeholders, it is good to have a re-look at the initial analysis done concerning the context, issues, stakeholders & institutions of the specific MSP situation. Moreover the varied assumptions should be made explicit as far as possible and deeper understanding around each others values more accepted.


3 - Generate visions for the future

In simple terms, a vision is a shared practical picture of the desired future. Having well-developed and widely-shared long-term visions is critical for providing a common focus and ensuring that you are ‘pulling and pushing in the same direction’. 

Very often planning begins by focusing on problems and how to overcome them (typical of the logical framework approach).  While it is certainly a useful part of the planning process to identify problems, problem based planning can become negative and miss new opportunities.  Also people tend to function from the basis of how they would like things to be in their lives in the future on not just on problems.

As your initiative gains momentum it is often important to keep re-focusing on your MSP vision - it isn’t something you ‘do’ and then forget about. Moreover, take the time to set a clear vision but maintain enough flexibility to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. It is equally important to keep the vision fluid. Don’t have the words printed in a full color brochure or etched in stone in the corner of the building. Visions are always evolving; they are an expression of our hearts’ desire. As we work toward our vision, we learn more about ourselves (individually and as an organisation) and other possibilities become clearer.

An example from "Common vision", Fieldwork Ameland 2008:From the views and opinion of the different actors and interest groups the team proposes the following vision of the future:
"The desired change of Natura 2000 is to conserve and develop the Ameland and the Wadden Sea area as a single ecological zone for present and future generations through effective communication and participatory approaches of all concerned entities to maintain sustainable natural environment for maximum, mutual benefits of people with minimum social and environmental costs. This change requires the development of a multi stakeholder process that faces the challenge of building bridges between people and interests, between words and action and between political ambitions and cultural desires."
(Ameland is a Wadden Sea Island where nature conservation and sustainable socioeconomic activities support prosperity of the Island and the Wadden sea region) 

It is also important to think of the secondary layer - ‘the visions of how to achieve the visions’. Again, keep listening for new and alternative ways that can be fed into the next elements of the ‘planning strategically’ phase.

  • Find creative ways to glean what people would like to see happen; don’t limit yourselves to the realms of today’s practicalities. Often being daring (also called ‘blue sky mining’) picks up possibilities you would otherwise have missed.
  • What vision do you have for this region 10, 20, 50,100 years down the track? What are the outcomes you would like to see in place?
  • With all these individual visions you need to collectively determine a shared and common vision. There may be several visions relating to different aspects of your MSP focus: e.g. ‘social’, ‘enterprise’, ‘participation’.
  • Don’t use jargon. Your vision statement needs to state clearly what you want to achieve. All participants and contributors need to be able to refer easily to it, to understand it and to be re-enthused or inspired to either maintain or begin involvement in the initiative.
  • Putting pictures to the vision often makes it more tangible and attainable and helps in maintaining focus and enthusiasm.
  • Combine the visioning exercise with the development of strategies and design a strategy matrix.


4 - Identify issues (problems) and opportunities

Taking the time to identify key issues and opportunities enables critical thinking about both the obstacles you will have to negotiate and the opportunities you can grab. Understanding and working with these will allow you to work smarter and will assist the attainment of your vision.

The more diverse ‘the heads’ you have contributing and analysing the better the range and quality of the analysis. Ensure that you have the broad range of interests and expertise represented when canvassing for issues and opportunities. For consultation to be more than a “token”, and for consultation to become participation, the public needs the opportunity to make informed contributions. They need access to relevant information and the time to consider it.

  • Look at the broad spectrum, including trends, issues, institutional ways, people, consumers, moods, resources, markets, workplaces, livelihoods, lifestyles, historical developments, conservation, power and authority.
  • What are the key issues that your region has to deal with?
  • What are the key threats to realising your vision? How can you manage these? What could happen if you ignore them?
  • What opportunities will greatly assist you in realising your vision? What are some of the opportunities and links you should develop or enhance?
  • Gather data to justify, support and confirm perceptions, as well as to identify contradictions. Link back to data collected and analysed whilst examining the regional and wider context in the ‘setting up’ component.
  • Road-test your perceptions with the wider industry and community.


5 - Examine future scenarios and feasible options 

Ensuring your decisions are well informed by both the earlier information-gathering and analysis as well as by the voice of contributors, will pay dividends in terms of both the quality of your decisions and the confidence you can have in them. You will also be in a better position to clearly and rationally discuss your initiative.
Be aware that frustrations of not actually committing your ISC to a decision often result in losing people: they have other demands and other things to do with their time, and many can only tolerate ‘planning’ for so long. Unless they see demonstrated merit and action in pursuing the initiative, they will drift away or leave abruptly. Consultation, participation and negotiation do not necessarily bring unanimity. Responsibility for decision-making means just that, making decisions.

  • In dealing with tough decisions, remember to reflect back and use the work you have done in seeking out and analysing information, and consider the values you are operating with.
  • A well-developed understanding of the options available, decisions made and the justification for these should lead to a reduction in the interference of both small ‘p’ and big ‘P’ politics.
  • You will need to understand the principles of conflict resolution to ensure there is equity in the decision-making process.
  • Remember also to consider the ‘consequences of inaction’. Whilst big decisions are not always easy to make, they may be assisted if you consider the consequences of inaction.
  • Making decisions and gaining ‘runs on the board’ are significant motivators. Often a ‘best-bet decision’ based on information, analysis and collective experience is better than putting off a decision until you have ‘all the data’.
  • Try to examine issues from different perspectives:
    • Given our environmental objectives, what economic and community benefits may be gained? What might have to be the trade-offs?
    • Given our community objectives, what economic and environmental benefits may be gained? What might have to be the trade-offs?


6 - Make decisions and agree on key strategies

In order to make decisions and agree on key strategies, the decision making matrix could be of help. Still, here as well it should be considered that different stakeholders could “pull their rank” as one says, whenever decision making processes start. Power differences play especially at this moment a crucial role in the process. Transparency and making certain factors explicit can contribute to a more equal process around the choice of key strategies. 

Here again, it is necessary to regular check if the strategies are the key ones or not considering the changes in the external environment or internally with the different stakeholders.


7 - Set objectives and identify actions, timeframes and responsibilities

Once decisions have been made about key strategies and directions the next step is to establish clear objectives, actions and responsibilities.  This is a detailed level of planning that can often be done with a smaller group and then shared more widely for feedback.
As far as possible it is important to establish objectives that can be assessed and tracked over time. 
For each objective, identify the actions that need to be carried out and who can take responsibility for them. Moreover identify also when and under what kind of conditions or which risks these actions should be taken.


8 - Document and communicate planning outcomes

Often a MSP will lead to some form of formalised strategy that captures and records the outcomes of the strategic planning phase. A strategy is often thought of as a ‘document’, and in this sense evokes a very static image. The MSP Process Model encourages you to think of a strategy as a living, constantly evolving framework to guide action and investment at the regional scale. Having a clear, concise, easy-to-read document of what you want to achieve and how in broad terms you are going to go about this is a significant milestone for your MSP. 
This clear strategy enables you to get on with the next stages of ‘implementing and managing’, which is what most people have been working towards. It also enables you to communicate intentions to all the stakeholders and organisations with which you wish to work.

The way how to communicate is very important; depending on the effectiveness of certain forms. Sometimes it is better to use theatre, songs, storys instead of reports for example. Or the mobile phone & internet is used more and more to communicate important decisions.

  • Ensure that the strategy articulates: the underlying values and motivations which inform the vision; the vision; the issues and opportunities (detailing how analysis of information has supported them); and decisions made about the directions or strategies to be undertaken to reach the vision, including how you will keep people informed and manage feedback.
  • You may need to have a series of documents varying in detail and format targeted at the range of individuals, organisations, investors etc you need and want to inform.
  • Consider different ways of communicating the strategy: Perhaps a short public forum where people can hear and discuss it, A series of detailed conferences where people can dissect the technical information which informed the strategy and decisions; and / or; Piggy-backing on other stakeholders events: e.g. local government council meetings, commerce and industry conferences, agricultural shows; and/or; Newsletters; and/or; Articles in community and business sections of newspapers; and/or Radio and television; and/or Internet.
  • Remember to always work within the bounds of ‘keeping ourselves and others informed’: i.e. constantly telling the story.
  • In short: write it, print it, distribute it, talk about it, incorporate feedback, finalise it … then use it. Later you will need to review it and ensure it is still on target.