Early Childhood Systems Building Resource Guide

Strategic planning enables leaders and key stakeholders to define, support, and commit to a shared vision and the belief that the vision can happen.

Strategic planning is “a deliberate, disciplined approach to producing fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization or collaborative is, what it does, and why.”[1] It is the systematic process of bringing key actors and constituents together to envision a desired future and develop goals, procedures, and sequential actions to realize that future.[2] The strategic planning process helps stakeholders examine existing practices; test assumptions; gather, analyze, and synthesize information to frame strategic choices; and anticipate the environment in which the organization, network, or collaborative will be working in the future. Strategic planning helps establish the direction of future work by identifying “desirable, feasible, defensible, and acceptable”[3] missions, goals, and strategies as well as establishing measurable outcomes.

Strategic planning is a primary driver of systems building because it is a tool for evaluating, aligning, and revising the discrete components that must be connected to establish a system. Strategic planning helps leaders and key stakeholders to define, support, and commit to a shared vision and the belief that the vision can happen.[4] This process, in turn, increases the likelihood that the vision can be achieved. There is growing demand for ways to “institutionalize programs and policies into durable systems.”[5] Strategic planning can be complex work,[6] but is essential to systems building, which “transforms the discrete pieces of direct services and infrastructure into a coherent early childhood system”[7] with the goal of creating “an orderly assemblage of interrelated programs and infrastructure that provide equitable, accessible, comprehensive, and quality services for young children.”[8]

Strategic planning offers opportunities for stakeholders to unify. There are multiple stakeholders involved in early childhood care and education programs and policy. So strategic planning is a vital way of establishing a common foundation to build, enhance, and sustain systems to improve services and policies for children, youth, families, and communities. Strategic planning brings together diverse interests and unifies them around a clear vision for the future. This process has increasing importance for the early childhood field, which has long been fragmented but is currently undergoing profound change.

Strategic planning offers benefits to state agencies. The process of strategic planning provides the following benefits to organizations:[11]

  • Promotion of strategic thinking, acting, and learning through strategic conversations and deliberation among key actors;
  • Enhanced organizational decisionmaking, which is important since studies have found that almost half of all strategic decisions fail due to poor organizational decisionmaking processes;[12]
  • Enhanced organizational effectiveness and resilience through better management;
  • Enhanced organizational legitimacy; and
  • Enhanced effectiveness of broader systems.

All of these organizational benefits are essential to inform thoughtful, deliberate systems building efforts. They also help sustain energy, focus, and public value on the ongoing planning and continuous improvement needed to keep systems relevant and responsive.

 

[1] Bryson, J. M. (2011). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement (4th Edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[2] Nolan, T., Goodstein, L., & Pfeiffer, W. (1993). Applied strategic planning. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

[3] Bryson, J. M. (2011). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement (4th Edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[4] Nolan, T., Goodstein, L., & Pfeiffer, W. (1993). Applied Strategic Planning. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, Inc.

[5] Kagan, S. L. & Kauerz, K. (2012). Early childhood systems: Looking deep, wide, and far. In Kagan, S.L., & Kauerz, K. (Eds.), Early Childhood Systems: Transforming early learning (p. 5). New York, NY: Teachers College Press (Columbia University).

[6] Stebbins, H. (2012). How do we get there from here? Financing the transformation from a collection of programs to an early childhood system. In Kagan, S.L., & Kauerz, K. (Eds.), Early Childhood Systems: Transforming early learning (pp. 171-182). New York, NY: Teachers College Press (Columbia University).

[7] Stebbins, H. (2012). How do we get there from here? Financing the transformation from a collection of programs to an early childhood system. In Kagan, S.L., & Kauerz, K. (Eds.), Early Childhood Systems: Transforming early learning (pp. 171-182). New York, NY: Teachers College Press (Columbia University).

[8] Kagan, S. L. & Kauerz, K. (2012). Looking forward: Four steps for early childhood system building, In Kagan, S.L., & Kauerz, K. (Eds.), Early Childhood Systems: Transforming early learning (pp. 283-302). New York, NY: Teachers College Press (Columbia University).

[9] Bryson, J. M. (2011). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: A guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement (4th Edition). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

[10] Nutt, P.C., (2002). Why decisions fail: Avoiding the blunders and traps that lead to debacles. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.