Building Communities
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Frequently Asked Questions

About Building Communities

1. What makes Building Communities' planning approach different?

Our experience has shown us that the value and usefulness of a community's strategic plan is directly related to the extent to which the community itself created (or not) it.  With that in mind, of all the things we could say in response to the above question, what really makes our approach different is that we don't come with the answers—we come with five key questions we assist  communities to answer for themselves:

  • What can we do?
  • What should we do?
  • What do we want to do?
  • What are we going to do?
  • How do we go about doing it?

In other words, we don't roll into town as the "outside consultant with all the answers" and try to tell a community what its future should be based on our assessments.  Instead, our process leverages the knowledge, insights, experience and desires already within the community, along with Building Communities' observations and recommendations.  From this foundation, the community determines its own future.

Our process is comprehensive, objective, expeditious, action-oriented and community-created. More information can be found on our Economic Development Strategic Planning page.
2. What drives Building Communities?

We are driven by a number of important things, especially our confidence that we offer a more accurate and applicable strategic  plan to communities using our planning methodology than  can be found anywhere else.  And, in a fraction of the time. To us, these are not small things.  If we didn't believe we were leading a veritable revolution in the way strategic planning is done, neither you nor we would be here.  Participants in our process agree nearly unanimously that our process is more enjoyable, more intuitive, more exciting, more motivating and more productive than any other planning process in which  they have been involved.

We are also driven by a sincere desire to see communities achieve a bright and prosperous future that is sustainable.  And we love working with the people in the communities and regions we serve.  Our planning process would not work, nor would it be needed at all, without good people—folks who love the world in which they live and want to make better for their families and other community members.

We also have a desire to continue making this process better for everyone.  We love the work we do.  We love that others enjoy it, too.

Our Methodology

1. I am familiar with "economic development" but you also talk about "community development" and "business development." What are the differences?

We define these terms this way:

  • Community Development:  Development activity that primarily improves the overall quality of life in a community.
  • Business Development:  Development activity that primarily adds jobs or increases the average (mean) income in a community.
  • Economic Development: Activities that involve community development, business development or both.

Our reasons for emphasizing these distinctions help to enlarge the number of options for participating communities as they consider what strategies and initiatives are possible and most likely to succeed during plan implementation.

2. Demographics don't seem to play much of a role in Building Communities plans as they do in the strategic plans done by other planners.  Why is this?

Conducting demographic studies at the beginning of a strategic planning process has long been a tradition among planners and consultants. Accurate demographic data allow for more effective assessment of the feasibility and scope of projects included in the overall plan, and can help decision makers as they consider the unique makeup of their community.

That said, we believe that demographic studies and data offer their greatest potential benefit when introduced during the early stages of plan implementation—when specific projects are being vetted within the strategies a community has chosen to implement—rather than as broad-scope research at the outset of a planning effort.

The answers to the questions in the Key Success Factor Analysis in the first session of Plan Week provides the community with ample data from which to select viable strategies.

Placing demographic research later in the planning process enables communities to first select their strategies  and then  determine what demographic information is needed, and when, based upon their strategic direction and emerging projects.
3. What is economic development strategic planning?

Economic development strategic planning is a process that proactive communities use to create specific plans that define how they intend to advance their economy and preserve and enhance their quality of life. Good plans comprehensively consider all of the options, use an objective methodology, consider the desires of the citizenry and include locally crafted, specific action steps.

4. What is Plan Week?

Plan Week is the term we use—originally coined by a plan director involved in our planning process—to refer to the series of planning sessions that constitute the bulk of the data gathering for our strategic plans.

5. Does Plan Week take a week?

Usually not. When we first rolled out this approach, we assumed people would prefer to meet in the evenings—two to three hours a night. What we found is that people generally prefer to take one day off from work and then finish up by noon the next day.  Consequently, most Plan Weeks are a day-and-a-half and last a total of  14 hours. However, you can schedule it any way you want.

The 25 Strategies

1. Why are there only 25 strategies?  It seems that there should be a whole lot more.

In the general sense, a strategy is a very specific thing—"We plan to do x to accomplish y."  Because of this, the 25 community and economic development strategies we present in our methodology are often thought of in too-specific terms.  "Certainly there are more than 25 things any given community can do," one might say.  Well, yes, if we're speaking about development projects. Simply put, our 25 strategies should be viewed as strategic categories in which related projects may be grouped, rather than as projects themselves.

For example, how many different "value-added agriculture" projects could a community pursue?  The answer will certainly depend on various, and perhaps a great many, factors.   However, based on our experience, the 25 community and economic development strategies we present encompass the vast majority of strategic projects that communities might undertake.  We are always open to adding additional strategies to the list but we have not yet found it necessary to do so.

2. How many strategies should a community select?

This depends upon the desire and the capacity of the community. Communities with strong local capacity (human, financial and technical), combined with strong ambition to build and implement an aggressive plan, may select 15 strategies or more. Generally, however, communities select between five and 10 strategies.

Regional Sustainability Planning

1. Is your regional sustainability planning work related to "Agenda 21"?

No. Our planning methodology is not related to, patterned after or associated in any way with Agenda 21.  Our process is bottom-up—the community drives all of the decision making.   In fact, we believe that good local planning is the best way to ensure that your community is not imposed upon by outsiders and their agenda, which may be contrary to yours.

2. What is the relationship between economic development strategic planning and sustainability planning?

Traditional economic development planning strongly focuses on advancing the built environment (land, buildings, and related infrastructure), while assuming the natural and human environments to be in place to effectively support such plans and initiatives.

Sustainability planning is broader.  With sustainability planning, the ultimate goal is a community that is advanced economically, while also benefiting the natural and human environments. 

3. How do you help HUD Sustainability Planning Regions?

As we attend conferences and visit with project directors in sustainability planning regions across the nation, we find that "the devil is in the details." The program allows for such a broad array of planning activities that many of the original grant applications were more shaped by what could be funded versus what was needed.

We believe  that regional sustainability planning should be grounded locally, and  provide a sound basis for overall, long-term regional advancement. For more on how we can help "unstick" HUD regions, see our Kick-starting HUD sustainability Planning Regions page..

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