Friday, March 17, 2006

Strategic Issue Briefing Papers

Today a major challenge in strategic planning is keeping the number and frequency of planning sessions to the absolute minimum without compromising the integrity and efficacy of the process. People are simply not interested in participating in a process that eats up lots of their time in meetings - even if they see strategic planning as a necessary and worthwhile activity. When people come to a planning retreat for example they want to be prepared and they want to hit the ground running. Here's an activity that can help: the development of critical issue briefing papers.

After data has been gathered and analyzed by the planning team and critical strategic issues have been identified (no more than 5), team members form issue teams around each of the critical issues. Each team is charged with developing a 3-5 page “issue brief”. The brief provides some background for each issue and summarizes creative ways other organizations are responding to similar issues. Developing an issue briefing paper is an opportunity to educate ourselves about an issue – to come to a deeper understanding of the issue, how it is a “most critical issue” for the organization and what’s at stake for the organization especially if we don’t effectively respond to the issue. Developing the issue briefing papers is a warm-up for the decision-making that will follow. It is a way to prepare ourselves for the work ahead – developing the mission, vision, goals, and strategies that are typically the focus of a planning retreat. Preparing and distributing the issues briefs in advance of the retreat saves time at the retreat and helps retreat participants to better prepare. Here is the set of questions I have developed for issues briefs:

· Background: (Why and how this is a critical strategic issue for the organization?)
· Opportunities for the organization related to this issue: (Opportunities for growth, improvement, and/or increased program impact?)
· Threats for the organization related to this issue: (Threats to the organization and/or constituents served — consequences for the organization if nothing is done in response to this issue.)
· How nonprofits and other organizations facing similar issues, opportunities and threats are responding: (What changes, strategies, and shifts in direction are organizations attempting?)
· What major choices, decisions and/or shifts in direction does this issue challenge us to consider? · What other information do we still need in order to develop effective responses to this issue?

This activity can also be an effective way to involve people beyond the planning team itself. If you’d like a guide with sample issue briefing papers, let me know at