Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Real Value of Strategic Planning in City Hall

In the public sector, the strategic planning process operates very differently from the model proposed in Kaplan and Beinhocker's piece The Real Value of Strategic Planning.  Ultimately, while the mayor is the head of the administration and is responsible for both proposing a vision (in the state of the city address when he introduces his budget, through public engagement, etc.), the mayor's strategy needs to be analyzed and approved by a sometimes adversarial City Council.  This system of checks and balances results in a slow-moving organization, but Council’s role is to make sure strategic decisions are given a thorough public process since ultimately the strategy of the City is the collective strategy of the taxpayers.

I work in capital budgeting, so a good portion of my work is related to long term planning.  The City cannot afford to pay for all of the desired street repaving, building repair, and park reconstruction in one-go.  In addition, the concept of intergenerational equity means that we are tasked with making sure we spend money today on projects that will last for years or even decades, since future generations will be paying debt service on purchases today.

We actually just restructured our Capital Budget process, including making changes to our "Capital Program Facilitation Committee", which is made of primarily of department directors, as well as representatives of the City Controller's Office and City Council.  This group helps the Budget Office and senior administration members make decisions about not only next year's budget, but a rough five-year plan of what sort of priorities will be focused on in succeeding years.

One aspect of the process described by Kaplan and Beinhocker that I really like and would be interested in integrating into our structure is the introduction of a template that standardizes some questions and asks departments to put themselves in the larger context of the City as a whole.  While we have historically not required heavy analysis from departments on this front, it is a useful opportunity for self-introspection on the part of departments and a good baseline for Budget office and administration representatives. 

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