18 – Integrated planning in local government. Some questions and answers. Part 1.

This short series of posts follows earlier posts on local government planning (see posts 11 and 12).

First to the questions. Is planning integrated simply because we each make our plans at the same time and tell each other what we are doing?  Is integration achieved simply by joining together multiple independently created plans into one plan? This approach can be seen in many councils. When everyone prepares their plan at the same time, even when they share information with each other about their plans, I would hardly call it integration.  When the 20 or more departmental plans are completed and then joined together, I wouldn’t call that integrated either.  In fact, both approaches are likely to result in the opposite of integration if they create competition for resources and a focus on goals at a local level that is not aligned with organisational goals. So, what can integrated planning look like?

Integrated business planning has been described as connecting the planning function across the organisation to link strategic planning and operational planning with financial planning.  The objective is to improve alignment (thank you Wikipedia).  This makes sense to me, especially in a diverse service organisation like a council where between 20 and 200 services (depending on how you define them) are delivered to customers using resources from a common pool.

Price Waterhouse Coopers have a handy booklet on their web page on integrated business planning that focuses on process integration and functional integration (http://www.pwc.com.au/consulting/publications/integrated-business-planning.htm).  They say that the extent of integration will depend on the size of the organisation, the operating model it employs, the inherent complexity of the organisation and the industry.  Again, this makes sense and picks up on the need to look at your organisation vertically and horizontally to achieve high performance.

Some local governments have been getting in on the act.  The Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government (ACELG) has released a study on strategic planning frameworks across local government in Australia (http://www.acelg.org.au/news/strategic-planning-australian-local-government).  If focuses on strategic planning (i.e. trends and issues in the locality) and corporate planning (i.e. the administration of the council’s own activities).  It identifies a number of practical, conceptual and resourcing challenges for councils in undertaking effective strategic planning.  The most advanced planning framework identified is in NSW, where the Local Government Amendment (Planning and Reporting) Act (2009) has the goal of strengthening the strategic focus, streamlining planning and reporting processes, and encouraging integration between the various plans of councils.

The ACELG study says that in comparison with other states, the NSW Planning and Reporting Guidelines for Local Government provide a very detailed structure for integrated planning.  A ten year ‘community strategic plan’ is the highest level plan, and it sets out the community’s main priorities and aspirations for the future and actions required to achieve them.  Some actions are the responsibility of the council while others are the responsibility of other levels of government or community organisations.

It is accompanied by a ‘resourcing strategy’ that focuses in detail on the council’s responsibilities and includes a ten year financial plan, a ten year asset management strategy, and a four year workforce development plan. The next level plan is the ‘four year delivery program’, which covers the main activities to be undertaken by the council to implement the ‘community strategic plan’ within the resources available under the ‘resourcing strategy’. Lastly, an ‘annual operational plan’ supports the delivery program and sets out the projects and activities to be undertaken to achieve the commitments made in the ‘four year delivery program’.  This planning framework should ensure that plans are relevant, feasible and integrated.

Lancing Farrell

ACELG, 2013. Strategic planning in Australian local government – a comparative analysis of state frameworks (http://www.acelg.org.au/news/strategic-planning-australian-local-government).

Price Waterhouse Coopers, 2011. Integrated Business Planning (http://www.pwc.com.au/consulting/publications/integrated-business-planning.htm).