Great communities don’t just happen – they’re the result of a series of conscious decisions to become better places to live, work and play. Planning is a process that defines local aspirations, challenges and strategies so that a community may envision a better future and act to make that vision a reality. Public planning, like private planning is intended to continually improve the quality of life. Plans differ widely in scope – they may be community-wide or targeted to a specific area, neighborhood or corridor; short-term or long-range; focused on specific facilities or comprehensive; and goal oriented or strategic. All of these processes include the following key steps:

Define the scope and objectives of the plan

Assemble the project management team. Determine the time horizon for the plan and the boundaries of the planning area. Establish the purpose of the plan and the indicators that you will use to determine whether the project is a success.  Identify all available funding and human resources and determine whether they are they sufficient to accomplish the plan’s objectives.

Engage the community

Design the process to get constructive information, opinions and recommendations from participants. Determine which tools are best suited to get the most valuable types of input needed at each point in the planning process? Let participants know how their input will be used and how they can remain involved after the project is completed?

Provide clear policy direction

Guide community decision-makers to help them face difficult decisions about development, resource allocation, community change and preservation. Policies help public and private sector interests understand local government intentions, which leads to more consistent and predictable action. This enables developers, residents, businesses and other stakeholders to make better decisions and leads to more effective and defensible action by elected and appointed officials.

Schedule context sensitive solutions

Establish clear priorities for actions that implement the Plan to facilitate resource allocation. This is the most dynamic component of the plan, which should be coordinated with the budgeting process so communities can address changing priorities in the context of broader community goals and available resources.  The plan implementation program should identify specific tasks, time frames for accomplishing those tasks, budgetary implications and responsibilities for action.

Identify stakeholders

Identify groups and individuals who will be affected by the plan and its implementation. Determine the most effective ways to reach these stakeholders and involve them in the planning process.

Establish a shared vision and goals for the future

Identify the common elements of stakeholders’ desires for the future of their community. Rank the relative importance of goals and reconcile conflicting goals where possible through qualifying policy language. Not all goals are equal and the plan can be an effective tool to support public action if it clearly describes how to reconcile competing goals and objectives.

Identify the issues

Define the challenges facing the community today and tomorrow so that local governments and stakeholders understand the problems that must be solved for the community to achieve its vision and goals. These issues should clearly identify environmental, socio-economic, fiscal, public service, infrastructure, housing, land use, and other challenges in ways that guide and support local action.