FEB 2 GPC STRATEGIC PLANNING SUMMARY

Victoria Council is putting together their 2015-2018 Strategic Plan this week.  Public meeting sessions are as scheduled:

  • Today 10am – 12pm
  • Tuesday, Feb 3 9:00am – 3pm
  • Thursday Feb 5, 12:00pm – 4:00pm

The Council member motion (report) from Mayor Lisa Help outlining the guidelines and objectives for this Strategic Planning process is available here. As set out in this report, the purpose of the meeting today was for Council to:

  • Begin to identify some of the really big things they’d like to accomplish in the next four years as well as some smaller, easier wins, and
  • share ideas and success stories from other places and assess which, if any can be piloted in Victoria.

What this ended up looking like, was that Council spent a good portion of time sitting in the centre of the room, writing out ideas on stickies and then spent the rest of their time standing by the sheets of paper on the wall (which listed out draft strategic objectives) attempting to organize their goals and ideas from elsewhere within the draft objectives.

Video of this meeting is available here from the City video service.

Vic GPC members writing goals (big and small) on stickies.

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Vic GPC members sticking goals and other examples on the wall.

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So What Was on The Wall?

On the wall were 11 sheets of paper, with one sheet for each of the 11 “rough” strategic objectives that Council had come up with during the incamera sessions that occurred last week and also opened up the one discussion today. These objectives include the following:

  1. Enhance and steward green space and food systems;
  2. Strive for excellence in planning and land use;
  3. Facilitate social inclusion and community wellness;
  4. Create prosperity through economic development;
  5. Complete a multi-modal and active transportation network;
  6. Engage and empower the community;
  7. Enhance Council’s governance and practices;
  8. Make Victoria more affordable;
  9. Build the financial capacity of the organization;
  10. Plan for emergencies, including climate change, short and long term;
  11. Nurture our arts, culture, and learning capital.

 Of the stickies that got added to the wall, the pink stickies are supposed to be steps for getting to the larger goals listed on the yellow stickies, and the orange stickies represent lessons from elsewhere. A number of strategic principles (including concepts like “learning from the past”) will also be integrated as “lenses” for considering and acting upon identified goals and objectives.  These principles were only briefly read out by Mayor Helps and so I did not get a chance to properly record them.

Reflection on the Meeting Today

Compared to a facilitated Strategic Priority Setting session I actually watched and videotaped in 2012 (for 2013-2015) the Council mood in the chambers today was collegial and supportive. Whereas the 2012 meeting was more competitive and disconnected with individual councillors seemingly focused on just communicating individual needs, the meeting today managed to be collaborative in the sense that it was structured group forum for individual presentation of ideas.

 Put another way, I would argue that there was no competition or discord today simply because a significant portion of the meeting was spent with the Councillors sitting in their own spaces, heads down, writing on their own pieces of paper. Solitary expression was therefore supported, and in the closing round table after the 1.5 hour meeting, many of the Councillors remarked on the level of agreement that was evidenced between themselves (e.g., many wrote down different versions of the same thing on their stickies).

Regarding the tasks in front of them tomorrow – creating activities and measures to go with the identified goals and objectives – many Councillors expressed concern with the difficult conversations that lay ahead. In particular, there was concern expressed with:

  • aligning budgets and staff resources with objectives, and
  • achieving consensus between Councillors on the best ways of accomplishing any given objective or goal.

Related to this, I found it somewhat odd and inefficient that about a dozen high level City of Victoria staff members were in attendance at the 1.5 hour meeting today but none of them, other than Corporate Administrator Rob Woodland who was responsible for the microphone, was actually engaged in the meeting. Everyone just sat listlessly on the side of the room, either staring blankly, working on laptops, or working on their phones throughout Council’s exercise to fit strategic goals within their previously identified strategic objectives.

 Reflections on Strategic Planning

During my MPA, I worked as a Teacher’s Assistant for multiple terms, and on three occasions I supported a Strategic Planning and Stakeholder Identification class. This meant that I worked with students (students and bureaucrats from across Canada) to create their own usable strategic plans. I’m not calling myself an expect by any means, but I know a few things about Strategic Planning.

So what are my thoughts on the exercise to date? I have many, but I’m also curious to see how the week plays out because I know that Mayor Helps inherited quite the situation from the past Mayor. I can say straight out though, that I’m bothered by how Victoria Council appears to have set initial priorities and objectives in a vacuum – Strategic Issues Identification is typically a product of a methodical review of the organization (e.g., City of Victoria) internal environment (e.g., staff/budget/existing plans such as the OCP) and external environment (e.g., people/forces/trends).

Perhaps there will be more involvement by staff in the day long strategic planning meeting that is occurring tomorrow from 9am – 3pm at City hall? While waiting for the meeting to start today, I heard the Director of Finance say to her colleagues that her draft financial plan, all 800 pages of it, is being printed today. This new plan of hers is a product of 2014 Council decision to adopt a new financial planning process which more closely ties finances to strategic plans. I would assume that if asked, all the staff members there in attendance today would have been happy to share some thoughts on where Council could best focus their attention, because as I overheard, apparently many staff are still trying to make changes to their budgets. I’m sure they all have many tangible things they like to see get done!

But when can the public expect to be involved? What about what the public wants? As I noted in my “live tweeting” of the meeting today, I was the only member of the public in attendance and the usual media table was packed in the corner. It makes me wonder who all might be tuning in, and what they may be expecting from the process if they are?

According to a report that was presented at the January 22, GPC meeting, public feedback on the draft strategic plan will be collected concurrently with public feedback on the draft financial plan. According to a second report on the financial plan process that was also presented at the January 22, GPC meeting, this opportunity for public feedback will occur during the first three weeks of March, 2015.  Given that the official City Financial planneeds to be adopted by April 30 2015, the opportunity for substantive public engagement seems slim.

Looking Forward

I will report my summary of the meeting tomorrow, similar to my report from today. And I also plan to do an in-depth analysis of the draft 2014-18 strategic plan with the existing 2013-15 Strategic Plan. Additionally, I would like to explore in more detail which items are left incomplete (according to the most recent quarterly update) from the previous strategic plan and which items are picked up in the new plan. Lastly, it will be interesting to see if any explicit connection is made between this new strategic plan and the City of Victoria Official Community Plan – which is suppose to be the official road map for the city through to 2032.

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