So you’ve got a problem. Or your community has a problem, and despite yourself you’ve found yourself on a committee to do something about it. What do you do? Gather the usual suspects, pour some weak coffee and bring in a dozen donuts for a brainstorming session.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?
It could be community planning. It could be strategic planning…but it sounds more like high school on a Friday night. We can commit to leaving behind the false implementation dichotomy between Planning and Action, and turn our Flywheel instead. We can commit to knowing ourselves, and turn data into actionable information. But when it comes to Doing Something we seem either to become overwhelmed by too many choices (the laundry list of action times) or flail about for whatever the meme of the day happens to be.
Ed Morrison at the Purdue Center for Regional Development has refined a development approach over the last 20 years that he calls “Strategic Doing“. Strategic Doing emphasises forming collaborations quickly, moving toward measurable outcomes and making adjustments along the way. “In today’s world, collaboration is essential to meet the complex challenges we face.”
Strategic planning offers a useful framework for systematic analysis, but was developed after World War II for top-down, hierarchical organizations. Command and control doesn’t work for communities. Local economies are open networks, embedded in other global open networks. Open networks favor a more dynamic and agile approach—a strategy that is clear, focused, disciplined, adaptive and iterative.
The idea of Strategic Doing is a fairly simple framework that takes practice to master. Morrison describes the process in his book chapter (2012) “Strategic Doing for Community Development”:
- Defining Opportunities with Strategic Doing: What could we do? Invite members of a new network to start the process of mapping the assets within their network. Opportunities emerge when we connect our assets. Complete these discussions by asking a lot of “What if…?” questions.
- Converting Opportunities to Strategic Outcomes: What should we do? Convert opportunities into a small number of strategic outcomes. As practitioners guide discussions within their community to define these outcomes, move to deeper levels of detail.
- Developing Clear Project and Action Plans: What will we do? In moving a strategy to action, focus on next steps. End each meeting with a discussion of your next steps.
- Committing to a Learning Loop: When will we get back together? Make commitments to connect and learn. Start slowly to build momentum, focus on linking strategic outcomes to small steps. Most important, everyone leaving a gathering should have a clear idea of next steps.
Purdue is offering training in Strategic Doing at workshops across the country last month and into April. This process is not a magic bullet, and may not necessarily fit your community or organization. However, it is an interesting idea that bridges the Planning and the Doing.