MMA Innovation Award winner
Award presented on January 24, 2009

Natick has demonstrated that strategic planning, typically the domain of organizations with top-down management structures, can be adapted to the distinctive features of town government.

“There’s not a lot of centralized decision-making in most towns,” observes former Natick Finance Committee member Craig Ross. “And strategic planning is a very centralized process.”

Ross helped spearhead the development of what became the “Natick 360 Strategic Plan,” a project that required cooperation among five autonomous boards and committees and extensive public participation.

As a Finance Committee member, Ross says, it occurred to him that despite the substantial resources that town officials were responsible for deploying, “We had no planning context for making decisions.” And, given the autonomy of, say, the Board of Selectmen and the Planning Board, “There was no reason for these boards to get together.”

For Natick, the solution was to have selectmen, the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission, the Finance Committee and the School Committee assume joint responsibility for creating the strategic plan. Each of these five “sponsoring boards” supplied members to work on the task, which eventually produced a dozen broad strategic goals and more than 200 action items.

Strategic goals include assuring short-term and long-term financial stability; developing and implementing a plan for extraordinary capital projects; developing a comprehensive system for maintaining and improving public facilities and infrastructure; and attracting and retaining businesses that provide high-quality jobs. For each strategic goal, action items are distributed among all or most of the five sponsoring boards.

Ross says that the other key challenge, beyond involving the individual boards and committees, was to ensure that there was significant public participation in the process.

After Town Meeting approved funding to create the strategic plan, the town hired ETC Institute, a Kansas firm that specializes in market research on behalf of local governments.

With ETC’s help, Natick was able to tabulate the views of more than 1,300 households – more than 10 percent of the town’s total. More than 500 residents took part in workshops related to developing the strategic plan or provided written commentary.

“The public, having a chance to have a voice in the process, engaged with us as a partner, and not through a sense of ‘You don’t know what you’re doing,’” Ross says.

For more information, contact Craig Ross at (508) 655-2545.