By Noelle Salerno

The process of developing an economic development vision and strategy is as important as the end product. During our extensive experience as strategists, we have seen that community engagement can make the difference in whether a strategy succeeds or sits on a shelf. It is critical to developing consensus and driving implementation success. Here are a few tips on how to engage your community during a strategic planning process.

Reach out to the entire community. While focus groups and interviews are important for taking a deeper dive into important topics, an online survey is the best way to reach the community at large. Create a project website with a link to the survey. Distribute flyers about the project and survey in public places, such as libraries, schools, or even slipped into utility bills. It is important to educate the community about the strategic planning process and ensure all voices feel heard.

Build confidence and enthusiasm for the strategy. After conducting public input, keep a line of communication open through press releases, newsletters, and social media. Share examples of how you incorporated the community’s feedback. Keep the public posted on implementation progress.

Get stakeholders involved in implementation. By identifying stakeholders outside of the EDO that can play a role in implementing the strategy they helped create, they become well educated about the strategy, aware of their individual roles in implementation, and prepared to take action. This allows a community to hit the ground running when it comes time to implement, leading to greater chances of success.

We had the pleasure of engaging the community of Decatur, TX when crafting their Economic Development Strategy in 2014. The consulting team gathered input by conducting interviews and focus groups, meeting with the project’s 18-member Steering Committee, and conducting a survey of 148 Decatur residents. Decatur now has a detailed 5-year roadmap that will move the economy forward. Residents are rallying around this initiative, reinvigorated about Decatur’s future and ready to take action.