Banner image courtesy of Rolesville, North Carolina.

Strategic plans can be valuable tools that guide managers and their governing bodies in making complex decisions and navigating challenging periods. And yet, financial constraints, limited staff capacity, and lack of buy in from elected officials are just a few examples of the numerous challenges to strategic planning faced by managers of small local governments.

In this report, ICMA Local Government Research Fellow Stephanie Davis, Ph.D., combines new research and practical experience in a practitioner-oriented guide to making strategic planning work in your community, no matter how small. Its insights are useful to first-time administrators or those championing a strategic plan for the first time.

Inside is an in-depth exploration of:

  • The benefits of having a strategic plan from managers who have them, use them, and encourage them.
  • Guidance on “how to” and items to consider before starting the process.
  • Detailed case studies directly from managers of communities ranging from less than 20,000 to less than 2,000 residents on how they built the case for, created, and implemented their own strategic plans.

Even a simple plan is better than no plan, and managers have found ways to tailor planning processes to fit their community’s constraints and needs.  

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Expert Insight

Image of Dr. Stephanie Davis

Stephanie Davis, Ph.D.

Collegiate assistant professor and program director for the Graduate Certificate in Local Government Management, Virginia Tech.

I have found through my years of work with small communities that strategic planning does not have to be complicated. The key to successful strategic planning in a small community is to tailor the process to fit your needs.

Looking for more resources from Stephanie Davis? Explore these selected publications: 
  • Making It Work for You: Strategic Planning in Small Communities, by Stephanie Davis, Ph.D., PM magazine, 2022. >> Read article 

  • COVID-19 Financial Impacts on Virginia Local Governments: A Report on Financial Policy Implications, by Stephanie Davis, Ph.D., Virginia Tech, 2020. >> Read report