Waste of time, or words to shape a city? 2 takes on London's Strategic Plan

City councillors and Londoners are being asked to weigh in on the city's next Strategic Plan.

Coming up with meaningful focus statements isn't easy, but staffers say it shapes their work

City staff says the Strategic Plan sets the direction for the future, and guides the city’s multi-year budget. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Is it an important document with the power to guide the city's priorities for the next four years, or a pointless make-work project doomed to be ignored, then forgotten? 

The "it" in this question is London's Strategic Plan for 2019-2023. The process of establishing it got underway in earnest at Monday's Strategic Priorities and Planning Committee meeting.

The plan, updated every four years in lockstep with the city's budget process, is intended to set the "vision, mission, and values" of the city for the next four years. 

At the meeting, council broke into groups and brain-stormed wording ideas in what was the first step in a multi-stage process that wraps up in April. 

They came up with phrases like "engaged public servants" and "a resilient community."

Londoners will get a chance to weigh in before council whittles down the wording into statements and priorities.

In case you've not committed them to memory, these are the guiding statements that wound up in the 2015-19 Strategic Plan

  • Vision:  A leader in commerce, culture, and innovation — our region's connection to the world.
  • Mission: At your service — a respected and inspired public service partner, building a better city for all.
  • Values: Individual responsibility, collective accountability, collaboration innovation.

This year, council have come up with the following statements. 

Vision 

  1. Our region's capital, advancing commerce and connecting people through culture, entertainment, and sport as the heart of Southwestern Ontario.
  2. A bold leader in fostering an innovative, prosperous, and liveable city connected to the world.
  3. A diverse community of neighbours building for a prosperous future.
  4. A city of unlimited potential where enterprise is valued and dreams are realized.
  5. A resilient community where all are welcomed and valued, building for a prosperous future.

Mission

  1. A responsive and modern public service partner that fosters change to build a better London for all.
  2. Engaged and responsible public servants building a better city for all.
  3. Delivering opportunity with respect, compassion, and accountability.
  4. Serving in partnership with respect, equity, and inclusion to build a better city for all.
  5. To help Londoners prosper and grow in an inclusive and connected community.

Values

  1. Good governance, driven by community, acting with compassion, moving forward through innovation.
  2. To be considered: (energetic collaboration, clear and lateral thinking, calculated risk taking, strong ROI and SOI, value for money, rapid advancement, technological innovation, economic vitality, individual sustainability, municipal self-sufficiency, personal productivity).
  3. Results focused. Collective accountability. Serving a diverse community.
  4. Initiative. Integrity. Compassion. Inclusivity. Accountability.

Theses statements are intended as a "starting point" and the wording will eventually will evolve into something more refined (more on that process below). 

But can this kind of wording really help guide staff and council in a way that enhances a city? 

Here are two perspectives: 

Coun. Phil Squire

Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire says statements that form the city's Strategic Plan are often too short on specifics to serve much use as a guiding document. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

The Ward 6 councillor isn't a big fan of strategic planning statements. 

"I think it has probably limited value," he said. "I think it's something that we put in pamphlets, we put in literature. But do people look at it? Are people guided by it? No, I don't really think so."

"No one has ever asked me about our strategic planning," he said. "I think they're more focused on streets and parks and garbage pickup and transit. Those are the things they're really interested in."

Squire says he would prefer a more concrete list of measurable accomplishments, instead of broadly focused vision statements. 

"If you build an underpass, if you fix your transit system, if you reduce construction disruption, people are really going to notice that," he said.

But isn't it valuable to lay out priorities, even in broad strokes? Squire said, not so much. 

"The measurement of it becomes almost impossible," he said. "The generalization of goals ... they're just so difficult to measure. But if you have more specific goals, then people can say 'Well you did this, or you didn't do this.'"

Squire also pointed out that few Londoners have responded to an early call for public input of the city's website and social media channels.

"There were 90 people out of a city of 400,000 who to date have provided input, and that's not very many people. And it can provide skewed results as to what people in the city are interested in," he said. 

City staffer Lynne Livingstone

Livingstone directed the discussion on Monday and said the Strategic Plan plays an important role in guiding both staff and council. 

"It really sets the direction for civic administration and for council for the next four years," she said. "And it really drives the direction of the multi-year budget. It lays out things like how will resources be allocated? What priorities will you put your dollars toward?"

She said the first steps of shaping the vision statements can be difficult.

"It begins with 'What's the vision, what do you hope to achieve?' The aspirational statements. It's the why," Livingstone said. "The next piece of work that council will see are the outcomes, expected results, strategies and metrics. That's where you're actually going to see the specific actions and how they'll be measured."

What's next? 

Livingstone also pointed out that voters are crucial to shaping the strategies.

Starting Wednesday, Londoners can weigh in online on the ideas council has come up with so far. That input will come back to council at the Jan. 28 Strategic Priorities and Planning Committee meeting. There, council will set the vision, mission, and values while administrators share the draft proposed outcomes, expected results and strategies. 

"Those are the details," said Livingstone. "That's the gritty stuff."

The public engagement steps up in February with public consultations online, in person and by phone. Council will have time to consider this input before the Strategic Plan is finalized in April, in time to guide the budget process which begins in May.

About the Author

Andrew Lupton

Reporter

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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