There are, in general, two kinds of municipal strategic plans. One is pragmatic and practical. It tells you what you need to build, fix or replace, when you need to do it, how much it will cost, and where the money will come from. This is the stuff a council grounded in reality can use to budget, plan sensibly, and maintain the community’s infrastructure. It’s a roadmap that leads to a well-defined destination.
The other kind of plan is best described by the term woo-hoo. It’s an airy, feel-good exercise that spews forth happy catch phrases, the more nebulous the better. This is the stuff of wet dreams born of vague campaign platforms and fuelled by cliché-ridden dogma meant as a collective group hug without actually doing anything concrete. It’s an entrance to the fairy world where you can freely wander among the flowers.
I’ve seen the latest stage of Collingwood’s nascent strategic plan and in two words I would describe it: woo-hoo.
Over several posts, I’ll look at the “plan” as proposed, and critique it. It starts by asking participants to rank a “vision statement.” A vision statement, it says, is described as,
…inspirational. It brings together the priorities, thoughts and desires of a community to describe the ideal future for a community.”
Actually, what council needs is a mission statement that tells voters what it intends to accomplish in its term not a slice of spongy white bread. A mission statement can include a vision but there’s a goal in it. To boldly go where no one has gone before, is a mission statement, albeit a bit vague for municipalities. To fumble and flail and stumble wildly in the public eye while forgetting procedures and campaign promises… well, I suppose that’s a mission statement of sorts, too.
But let’s look at the five “vision statements” proposed for Collingwood (try not to let your eyes glaze over):
- Collingwood is a responsible and sustainable place for business that leverages its vibrant downtown, waterfront and natural assets to offer a healthy, affordable, four season lifestyle to its residents.
- The Collingwood of the future is a diverse, affordable and sustainable community that will grow based on its core strengths: waterfront, downtown and natural heritage.
- Collingwood is a responsible and sustainable community that leverages its vibrant downtown, waterfront, and natural assets to offer a healthy, four season lifestyle to its residents, visitors and businesses.
- Collingwood is the place where healthy living, excellence in government and a commitment to each other create a community that takes pride in its waterfront, its stewardship of the natural environment and its historical past.
- Collingwood is a thriving waterfront community that leverages its natural, economic and cultural heritage assets to promote a healthy lifestyle for all.
Don’t they just want you make you sing Kumbaya around the campfire? All those warm and cuddly generic, cookie-cutter statements that strain to avoid identifying Collingwood as a unique community. And all those buzzwords: leverage, excellence, thriving, sustainable, core strengths… sure, they’re all old and tired from overuse, but surely there’s still life in these old chestnuts if we drag them out of retirement and flail them. Why not sprinkle in a few more, like paradigm shift, prioritize, synergy and proactive? Really make it sticky sweet. (and let’s overlook the missing hyphen from four-season for the moment…)
And, of course, meaningless. Where are the action verbs? Where are the concrete, measurable goals?
Simple test: replace Collingwood in the lines above with the name of any other municipality with a waterfront and see if it makes a difference. Barrie.Toronto. Midland. Kingston. Ottawa. Nope, One is easily replaced with the other.
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