Strategic Plans

Before you get too far into your strategic planning process, consider the following tips.

Key Partners to Involve in Strategic Planning

The strategic planning phase provides CCDF Administrators with the opportunity to cultivate new, and nourish existing, strategic relationships and partnerships. These partnerships build legitimacy and committed leadership for strategic planning efforts.

Successful planning and systems building requires commitment from leaders at multiple levels. In particular, it will be useful to do the following:

  • Identify leaders who have the skills, influence, or agency representation that will inform strategic planning efforts.
  • Use the CCDF Plan as a base for identifying key partners. Based on the scope of the state’s early childhood system, identify additional partners and stakeholders.
  • Take into account partners outside traditional early childhood domains, including those who challenge conventional views or who have experienced negative interactions with the system as a way to build a stronger strategic plan and one with broad ownership. At this stage, it is also important to foster buy-in for strategic planning efforts among stakeholders and key decisionmakers.
  • Consider councils and organizations within your early childhood system. Assess their influence and authority. Determine how to engage them appropriately in the planning process.
  • Deepen your understanding of the current state landscape of early childhood education (ECE). Look at both services and system administration in order to define the scope of the strategic planning effort. Identify the authorities or agencies that receive funding and administer the programs and services. Seek to understand how they currently interact or collaborate. Assess the current political and budgetary climate in the state as it relates to moving a systems building agenda forward.
  • Identify a project manager to guide and be accountable for the process of developing and delivering a final strategic plan.
  • Pull together a diverse, appropriate group of people to make up your planning team to support the project manager. Diversity, inclusion, and equity lead to a better strategy. Bring together a small core team of staff, partners, and stakeholders —between 6 and 12 leaders and managers—who represent the rich tapestry of early childhood every area of early childhood. Consider the role of existing advisory and oversight bodies and how they will be included. Identify and include experts from outside traditional early childhood domains who may add value to this process. Engage unusual voices-the people and groups you seldom engage in order to hear diverse perspective. Encourage open conversation between staff, partners, and stakeholders to better understand their perceptions of the future.
  • Allow time for big picture, strategic thinking. People  try to squeeze strategic planning discussions in between other efforts, such as overcoming challenges. To create a strategic plan, you and your partners and team need time to think big. Do whatever it takes to make that time for big-picture thinking, including gathering your partners and team offsite and allowing enough time for planning. It can be slow work engaging others and creating a process everyone can trust. Nevertheless, it's worth the effort if the conversation encourages a greater sensitivity to strategic design, which can drive innovation.
  • Get full commitment from key people in your organization. Ensure that you have support for strategic planning from your organizational leadership. In addition, if your team does not buy in to the planning process and the resulting strategic plan, this will reduce your likelihood of developing or implementing a successful plan.
  • Consider the use of a trained facilitator who has no stake in the plan's outcome. An impartial third party can concentrate on building and delivering a trustworthy process and can ask the tough questions that others may fear to ask. This may require additional financial support. In addition. determine if current staff have the capacity and time to engage in drafting the plan. 
  • Allow for open and free discussion regardless of each person’s position within the organization or partnership. This tip applies to everyone, including the CCDF Administrator. Do not lead the planning sessions. Encourage active participation, but do not let any one person dominate the session ( this is when an outside facilitator can be essential for supporting the process and associated outcomes).
  • Clearly articulate next steps after every planning session. Before closing the strategic planning session, explain what comes next and who is responsible for what. When you walk out of the room, everyone must fully understand what they are responsible for and the associated deadlines.
  • Determine a timeline for key tasks, plan development, and implementation.
  • Determine a process for internal and external stakeholder engagement.
  • Identify the types of engagement planned for various internal and external stakeholder groups (for example, working groups and focus groups) to acquire feedback on the planning process.
  • Determine other means for collecting input from the broader stakeholder population and building interest and support for the planning work (for example, surveys, social media).
  • Consider the process for incorporating stakeholder feedback into the planning process and proposal development.
  • Think about execution before you start. It does not matter how good the plan is if not executed. Implementation is the phase that turns strategies and plans into actions in order to accomplish objectives and goals. The critical actions move a strategic plan from a document that sits on the shelf to actions that drive success.
  • Make your plan actionable. To have any chance at implementation, the plan must clearly articulate goals, action steps, responsibilities, accountabilities, and specific deadlines. All stakeholders must understand the plan and their individual roles.
  • Test assumptions. Identify your key assumptions and then step back and think about whether they are consistent with your current situation. Are there data to support or disprove your assumptions? Are your assumptions relevant? Are they based on logic?
  • Identify and test assumptions about state-based policies or regulations that might be posing constraints to systems-building efforts.
  • Identify and test assumptions of disparate agency policies and procedures that must be reconciled to ensure program consistency and streamlined service delivery across the system.
  • Make your plan a living document. Good strategic plans are fluid and organic, not rigid and unbending. They allow you to adapt to emerging opportunities and challenges. Don't be afraid to change your plan as necessary.
  • Make strategy a habit, not just a retreat. Review the strategic plan for performance achievement no less than quarterly and as often as monthly or weekly. Focus on accountability for results, and have clear and compelling consequences for missed deadlines.
  • Make a plan for sustaining your work. Create an ongoing process for decisionmaking regarding what, why, and how to sustain work. This way policy, initiatives, and programs connected with your strategic plan are continuously improved, adapted, or discontinued to achieve intended outcomes and goals. Sustainability should be part of the strategic plan.