Strategic planning

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Strategic planning cycle showing key stages in the process
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  • Updated.jpg 1 April 2016


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Strategic planning, according to Wikipedia, is an organization's process of defining its strategy, or direction, and making decisions on allocating its resources to pursue this strategy. Strategic planning is often recursive, and is an occasionally contested process in academia as it is seen as further evidence of corporatization of the academy. In any case, strategic planning is traditionally viewed as one of four major functions in management along with organizing, leading and coordinating or controlling people, budgets and resources. It is quite simply identifying where you want to go, why you want to go there, how you will get there, what you need in order to get there and how you will know if you're there (or not).

Historically, the focus of most strategic planning has been on providing information services in libraries. In health libraries, the focus is similar but with an increased focus on the provision of innovative services to support research and scholarship. In many hospital libraries, there is an increased focus on the role of the librarian in evidence-based health care. In terms of planning, all administrators are encouraged to work closely with their librarians in order to ensure that the organization's larger strategic goals can be reached but that those at departmental levels are aligned with the broader vision. Warkentin et al (2007) describe an experience at a pediatric hospital where two competing visions in strategic planning led to communication breakdown, protests from physicians and finally resignations from the medical staff. A number of useful models or approaches are used in strategic planning. How strategic plans develop depends on the leadership of the organization and the talents of the library staff. Other issues affecting strategic plans include the culture of the organization, its complexity, challenges, size and services. By way of orientation, strategic planning can be goals-based, issues-based, scenario-based or organized more organically.

Academic libraries' strategic planning

In 2015, Laura Saunders, an LIS academic at Simmons in Boston, published an important paper that examines actual strategic plans written by Canadian and American academic libraries. At times heavily weighted towards the American context, it is interesting to see how other academic libraries see the strategic planning instrument/exercise. See Saunders L. Academic libraries' strategic plans: top trends and under-recognized areas. J Acad Librarianship. 2015;in press.

Types of strategic planning

  1. Goals-based planning is the most common
  2. Planning starts with focusing on a mission (vision and values), goals to work towards, strategies to achieve goals, and action planning (who will do what, and by when)
  3. Issues-based strategic planning starts by examining issues, strategies to address those issues and action plans
  4. Organic strategic planning might start by articulating organizational vision and values, and then action plans to achieve vision while adhering to values. Some planners prefer specific approaches to planning such as appreciative inquiry
  5. Some plans last for up to one year, many to three years, and some as long as five to ten years. Some plans may include only top-level information with no action plan
  6. Some planning documents are five to eight pages long, while others can be considerably longer.

Quite often, an organization's administrators know what will make it into the strategic plan. However, its development should aim to assist in clarifying the organization's plans and to ensure that employees participate in the process. For many who believe in the process of strategic planning, the resulting document is not as important as the planning process itself.

Strategic planning benefits

  1. Involves stakeholders to encourage broad participation in planning
  2. Defines the vision (and purpose) of the organization by creating a mission statement, and vision
  3. Establishes some realistic goals and objectives that are consistent with mission and vision
  4. Identifies some strategies for a defined timeframe within the capacity for implementation
  5. Communicates those goals and objectives to constituents
  6. Develops sense of ownership and encourages stakeholders to watch its development
  7. Ensures the effective use of resources by focusing on key priorities
  8. Provides a base from which progress can be measured and establish a mechanism for informed change
  9. Brings together of everyone’s best and most reasoned efforts have important value in building a consensus about where an organization is going
  10. Provides clearer focus of organization, producing more efficiency and effectiveness
  11. Builds strong teams in the board and the staff (in the case of corporations)
  12. Produces satisfaction among planners around a common vision
  13. Increases productivity from increased efficiency and effectiveness
  14. Solves major problems over the longer term

Canadian library association strategic planning

The Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) published its new strategic directions document in June 2013. CARL/ABRC members are the 29 major academic research libraries in Canada, including Library and Archives Canada and the Canada Institute for Scientific and Technical Information (NRC-CISTI). Its strategic directions (12) are listed in the complete document, but here are some of them:

  • Redefine our research collections and services
  • Facilitate collaborations to share and preserve Canada’s research collection
  • Develop expertise for new and emerging roles
  • Help members address resource management issues
  • Expand the role of the library in research
  • Promote open access and new forms of scholarly communication

See CARL/ABRC Strategic Directions document 2013

ACRL strategic planning

ACRL is committed to:

  • visionary leadership, transformation, new ideas, and global perspectives
  • exemplary service to members
  • diversity
  • integrity and transparency
  • continuous learning
  • responsible stewardship of resources
  • the values of higher education, intellectual freedom, the ALA Ethics policy, and “The Library Bill of Rights”

See Bell S. Higher Education Association for Librarians: Branding ACRL. 2013


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