Strategic Planning in cities is every day more a frenetic and challenging activity.
Cities across the globe are today face problems and opportunities linked to new geopolitical, social and environmental sustainable challenges. The global future need a wide and strong commitment at the local level and require for an adequate strategic planning process trying to give joint solutions to Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).
The prevailing complex scenario links an increasing number of actors, problem/opportunities and scopes and a decreasing number of resources, expectations and trust. Thus, the first challenge will be to lead a transforming process in the city, space where it is needed to play with whole of those factors as dots and the second one will be to engage different views and ways of thinking for finally boosting connection among those dots. Nowadays, this is the only way to push the achievement of a more intelligent, sustainable, and inclusive urban growth.
Thus, how to manage during the strategic process all needs, ideas, proposals, desires and initiatives with the aims of generating a collective need, idea, proposal and initiatives?. How to lead citizens to look at a collective understanding and view of the city in this tricky situation?
This post try to make reflection on the strategic planning concept and its development methodologies that should be changed in order to generate new powerful transformation tools to help a new real “other urban management system” based on collective city value chains. Also, It want to underline the role that the establishment of goals plays in the strategic transforming process, as relevant and broad aim towards which the efforts of the city should be directed in the future and how it works in the case of the Circular Economy Goal.
If we review current strategic planning concept and methodologies we can see must of planners put the stress on the deep knowledge of the internal and external situation in cities through a SWOT analysis, on the need to define some measurable and realistic strategic objectives and, of course, on the number of actions for their achievement in time (long, medium or sort time) but all that following a linear process.
This focus is a successful method if we underline the achievement of predetermined actions and objectives are the most important.
However, this focus forgets that social, economic and geopolitical environment is continuously changing. Changes are pushing a continuous development of different internal and external scenarios for cities. Thus, strategic objectives are constantly pressed to be adapted to new situations. At that point, where we accept that the change is continuous in city conditions and it affects constantly the direction of our planning activity, not also during the strategic designing step but during its implementation period, we propose to reinforce the role played by the step in which we define goals in the strategic planning in order to propose some methodological changes.
Usually we forget to start the strategic planning process giving a relevant time to build a collective answer to the question, who we want to be in the future?
However some planners who consider this question relevant follow the next working line giving enough time to work on this matter
On those cases, the definition of city goals is a starting part in the strategic process and when we get it, we consider it as static anchors and we start to build the Strategic Plan over those pillars. A pillar more or less modeled, but in any case with a shared ideal static view.
Nevertheless, the strategic process where whole ideas, interest and proposal flow up could be in itself an opportunity time to redefine goals in cities. Then, should take importance, in order to give a subsequently consistency of the strategic plans in a cities, to define city goals in the starting point or not?.
We propose to reflect on changing the way of building strategic planning. We need to work with economic, political, cultural, industrial, and including the private and voluntary sectors representatives of the community in order to integrate many different interests and to design a consistent visions scattered around different perspectives, that is the real challenge.
In a city, Industry representatives should apply for the strategic investment and for proposals liked to the increase and improvement of industrial areas, grants and loan; Universities and technological centers should apply for measures to push incremental and radical innovation in the city; Representatives of the social side will apply for social innovation; Environment views will underline needs of strategic based on resilience; and urban designer will propose some revitalization and new urban development actions. Different cities strategies: Resilience, Investment, reactivation, innovation…that should be combined with a same scope, the integrated present and future city growth and development.
Goals should be a broad aim toward which efforts should be directed any time. Thus, goals should be considered in the interactive effort linked to the definition of objectives after the knowledge of SWOT results, in the effort made to connect different sectorial strategies proposed and in the effort joined to the building process of efficient tactic actions that actors should put in practice to success in the planning challenge through the achieved results.
Finally, considering the city scenario has changed from a framework with unlimited resources to a framework with limited ones, the management of the city strategic planning effort should close the loop cracking the previous traditional strategic line and a new systemic methodology for cities should be developed.
To start on this way, we can compare the city strategic management effort to the work made by companies to success in their business strategy management process. This entire hypothesis, we can draw parallels between the scope of growth and development for cities, subject to limited resources and the needs of actors, and the scope of getting profit for companies, subject to its limited resources and face the satisfaction of its stakeholders. Consequently we can also make a comparison between the way of generating profits in business, through the management of a business value chain, with a city process of making a canvas to discover each City Value Chain, where the expected achievement of Goals proposed is linked to the expected value of the city.
We propose the following canvas for the City Value Chain to work with cities.
Considering this City Value Chain, when a Strategic Planning process in a city needs to give an answer to the question, who we want to be in the future? It should really answer to the following questions:
- What will be the main values (goals) of the city? What city we would realistically like to be in the future? What will be our “excellence” as a city? what is the area where we can and/or want to compete/collaborate with other cities in order to keep our “excellence”?
- Are we ready to growth to this dream? Our resources are enough and ready?
- Who are actors in the city and how they will contribute to build value (goals) in the chain? How responsible we will be in the building process of the future city?
The process to build value will be, not linear, but a dynamic process where COORDINATION actions will allows the building of a shared model of a city development and consequently the establishment of common goals for whole the city that, after a period of time, can be measured in order to evaluate achievements. But also we need to value the use made of resources and, consequently, the OPTIMIZATION focus need to have an important place in the Strategic Planning process. Finally, the success in the collective governance during the Strategic Planning need to be extended beyond and should be considered not only in the strategic objective definition phase but in the tactic proposal phase and principally in the tactic execution phase in order to guarantee a real PARTICIPATION and shared responsibility over the future of the city.
And in this context, where and how can we place Circular Economy in the strategic planning process?
In the case of new currents of thought about Circular Economy, some planners are placing this concept as a new strategic objectives linked to some investment strategies or some innovation strategies. Other authors place it as possible alternative and innovative action programs. Others underline the opportunity offered by the circular economy in the area of resources closing the lop to get more efficient from the resources and materials use, but according the proposed methodology of the City Value Chain all this option will follows wrong options because the real challenge will be to place Circular Economy as a Goal for a city.
The understanding derived of this Circular Economy vision, as a goal, will push forward the need to develop an associated top-down strategic management structure right coordinated in his governance strategic model but also optimized in the needed use of limited territorial resources and boosted considering a bottom-up strategic behavior linked to the participation of public, private and territorial actors.
The new canvas for the strategic planning in cities helps us face the challenge of the Circular Economy. Let´s try a different methodology!!