Learning the Lessons - Straegic Approach

Sustainability | Strategic Approach | Participation | Partnership | Alignment | Capacity Building | Affordability | Transferability

‘Creating a planned approach to local development, focused on agreed challenges and opportunities and identifying responsibilities for making things happen.

This was the central focus of the Project – to apply a more strategic approach to planning sustainable development at a local level. Dùthchas was breaking new ground here. We didn’t know if it could be achieved within our current system, or whether it would require special arrangements to be put in place. We were not sure if local communities would wish to engage with this more complex approach. We didn’t know how the many agencies would react to working with this pilot in their midst. We didn’t know if the different players could be brought around the same table to negotiate and agree what would, by definition, require compromises and new approaches from everyone.

Strategic planning is, by definition, about integration, long-term thinking and a disciplined approach to decision making. It is also about careful fact finding, involvement of differing interests and issues and agreement of priorities. None of this can be done effectively in a piecemeal or cursory way. It is not a rapid, nor a simple process to do well. For those who are not used to working with this approach it can seem at times academic, tedious and time-consuming. It can also be frustratingly slow to deliver the tangible outcomes. Dùthchas was trying to develop an approach which would meet the quality requirements of professional bodies, whilst at the same time being engaging, meaningful and do-able to local volunteers. A tall order?

In the event, we learnt many lessons about how to deliver a strategic planning process effectively at community level. We also learnt what local communities and agencies will and will not tolerate. We experienced the huge pressure to deliver in the short term and the prevalence of the traditional focus on project base approaches to development.

However, with hindsight, those involved have come to realise the special gains from approaching development in this way. It is significant that all three Pilot Areas value and wish to continue the ‘strategic approach’ and to implement its outputs. We saw clearly how this approach produced a different order of outputs from the more usual community appraisal, as in our Initial Review. People were able to build on all their myriad likes, dislikes and ideas and to shape these through a simple framework into major new platforms for development. They were able to work together for the good of all and to work out their priorities as a whole community, so that scarce time and energy was invested in the most important priorities.

The Pilot Area evaluation workshops revealed the main benefits of a strategic approach as:

  • Long term
  • Identifying linkages
  • Adding value
  • Enabling different interests to work together
  • Creating synergy
  • Developing a common vision and objectives
  • Agreement on priorities; open and shared by the community and agencies
  • Tackling the most important things first
  • Addressing of problems and barriers at an early stage
  • Avoiding wasting resources on inappropriate developments
  • Providing a powerful tool for working with agencies and achieving funding

Sustainability | Strategic Approach | Participation | Partnership | Alignment | Capacity Building | Affordability | Transferability