The Planning Commission at Work

Ten Steps in Preparing a Comprehensive Plan

July 15th, 2000
Article #135

Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.

The primary job responsibility shared by planning commissions across the nation involves the design and development of a comprehensive plan. Whether the plan is labeled comprehensive, master, or general, we are, in most instances, describing the same thing: putting down on paper the hopes, dreams, and aspirations a community holds for itself.

Capturing in words and pictures what a community hopes to become is a daunting challenge. The task is made simpler, however, when the planning commission chooses to systematically organize the process.

While there is no universally accepted "one best way" to develop a plan, this column will describe one "typical" sequence of steps that can be followed in developing a comprehensive plan.

Planning's Building Blocks

Preparing a comprehensive plan involves a number of technical, political, legal, and managerial considerations that will vary from one community to the next. There are, however, three phases common to the planning process. The first involves planning the process; the second centers on plan preparation; and, the third focuses on plan implementation. Bear in mind, however, that effective comprehensive planning is actually more like a continuous loop, since feedback from monitoring implementation of the plan's recommendations ideally should be used to initiate needed changes to the plan itself.

Solid comprehensive planning begins with the end in mind. This is why having a plan for planning is so essential.

Step One: Plan to Plan. No, this is not a typographical error! The first step in the comprehensive planning process must be a plan for planning. Key factors associated with this step include the allocation of time, human resources, money, and energy to the effort. This step is too often overlooked or short changed. Some planning commissions seem to assume the preceding factors will manage themselves or can be dealt with as problems arise. This logic is faulty and potentially fatal to the planning process.

Solid comprehensive planning begins with the end in mind. This is why having a plan for planning is so essential. Before initiating the planning process, answers need to be given to several questions:

  • How long will the planning process last in weeks or months?
  • What future time horizon will the plan address; i.e. ten years, twenty years, fifty years?
  • What subject matter will be included in the plan? Does it cover elements required to be included under the state planning enabling law?
  • How much money will be earmarked for the planning process? Will the monies be linked to a particular time frame such as a fiscal year? Will contingency funds be available?
  • What mix of human resources will be available to work on the planning process? Will local staff planners be given the day-to-day responsibility for developing the plan?
  • Will some or all of the plan be developed by outside consultants?
  • What time commitment are planning commissioners willing to make?

End of excerpt

... article then covers nine more steps:
Step Two: Structure and Schedule the Process
Step Three: Gather and Analyze Data
Step Four: Identify Problems, Issues, and Concerns (PIC's)
Step Five: Develop a "Vision" for the Plan
Step Six: Develop Plan Goals and Objectives
Step Seven: Generate and Evaluate Plan Options
Step Eight: Select and Develop a Preferred Plan
Step Nine: Adopt the Plan, Set an Implementation Schedule
Step Ten: Monitor for Results and Impact

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