Jonathan Morgan is a School of Government faculty member.
Communities and regions increasingly use strategic planning to chart their course for economic development. Strategic planning is a process that involves assessing a community’s assets and opportunities and building consensus around a set of concrete goals and strategies for achieving desired outcomes. Although strategic planning is widely used in economic development, it is not always used effectively. The process often loses steam once the strategic plan document is completed, and the strategic plan itself often fails to produce tangible results. A community hires a consultant to facilitate the process, spends considerable time and resources convening stakeholder meetings, conducting analysis, and preparing a final planning document, only to see nothing really get done. The strategic plan document ends up on a shelf collecting dust. So, where does the process of strategic planning for economic development tend to get bogged down and why?
Many efforts at strategic planning break down at the stage of implementation because of poorly conceived goals, lack of commitment from key individuals and organizations, and the loss of momentum that can occur when too much time passes with no visible outcomes. Indeed, the longer-term perspective that traditional strategic planning takes can cause substantial actions to be put off too far into the future. One criticism of traditional strategic planning (which originated within the context of military planning) is that it is too rigid and hierarchical to enable communities to adapt to a rapidly changing global economy. From this perspective, conditions “on the ground” in economic development are fluid and require a nimble, action-oriented process for making strategic decisions in a timely manner.
A new approach to getting quicker results in economic development, called “strategic doing”, places greater emphasis on creating flexible, innovating networks to advance economic development on a regional basis. Ed Morrison and his colleagues at the Purdue Center for Regional Development promote the concept of strategic doing as a way to think about and do economic development in open networks that span geographic and political boundaries. According to Morrison:
While inflexible approaches to strategic planning are becoming obsolete, we still need practical strategies. We need to find fast ways to link and leverage our assets in order to achieve transformational outcomes.
I am curious to learn about the extent to which communities and regions in North Carolina are utilizing strategic doing and how well it may be working.
 Ed Morrison, Strategic Doing: The Art and Practice of Strategic Action in Open Networks. Purdue Center for Regional Development, February 2010 (http://www.pcrd.purdue.edu/What_We_Do/SD/wp.pdf).