We were approached by the Council for the Advancement of Native Development Officers (Cando) to write a quarterly article on the strategic planning process for their newsletter – ‘N-Side’.  Cando is a great organization that provides support and capacity building for Economic Development Officers in First Nations communities.

Cando has now published 4 of the 5 articles in the series, and we thought we’d republish the articles here on our blog as they come out (though, admittedly, they are a bit long for a blog post!).  The articles follow the 10 step strategic planning process that we use in all our work, and each article will highlight a few of the planning steps. We are happy to share this information and hope that it is useful for your planning processes. If you are going to use it in toolkits, guides, or other materials please give us credit.

The following article was published in the May 2013 Issue of Cando N-Side News 

By William Trousdale and Colleen Hamilton, EcoPlan International

Getting Started with Strategic Economic Development Planning

Strategic planning for long-term economic development is the best way to determine what your options are, which options best meet the needs of the community, and how to implement them successfully.

The planning process we are describing follows a ten-step process, structured around four Big Questions (see image).  In this article we’ll be working through the first Big Question – WHERE ARE WE NOW? which sets the stage for creating economic development plans that ‘fit’ your local situation. The better the fit, the more likely your plans are to take root and succeed.

Getting Started

This is often the most difficult step, and one that is crucial to project success. It’s about creating your core planning team, and asking yourself some tough questions:

  • How does our history and culture play into our current situation?
  • What is the triggering event?
  • Who will champion the project?
  • How do we get funding to do the plan?
  • Do we have internal capacity or do we need more training and/or outside help?

Plan for Stakeholder Involvement

Incorporating a wide variety of views, opinions and ideas into the planning process will lead to more creative action strategies and greater ‘buy-in’ from the community, which paves the way for successful implementation – avoiding the SOS syndrome (sitting on a shelf) which plague so many plans.

Start by making a list of everyone that might have a stake in the project. Then beside each person or organization’s name, make a note about what they could contribute to the economic development planning process, and if their involvement is critical, important or minor. Remember, anyone who could block the success of your project is a critical stakeholder!

From there, plan several levels of engagement for different stakeholders. While it will vary from situation to situation, we often recommend:

  • Creating a key stakeholder working group. Ideally this might include about 5 to 7 members — but no more than 15 — of your critical and important individuals/organizations that you will work with closely throughout the project, being engaged at key points. These stakeholders will also act as messengers back to their constituencies.
  • Using other engagement methods for minor stakeholders and the wider community, like open houses, presentations about the project at the school, newsletters tucked into the local newspaper, or surveys.

It’s important to have broad representation in your stakeholder groups. Think about who needs to be involved (and who should be involved, politically). Local leaders (both formal and informal, elected and hereditary), on- and off-reserve members, minority groups and local business people are often good starting points to ensure a knowledgeable and inclusive group.

Assess the Current Economic Situation

What kind of information would help you form good economic development strategies?  What information do you wish that all stakeholders could know about your community before they start coming up with action ideas? Here are some sample statistics:

  • Population: broken down by age and gender; trends
  • Employment: labour participation rates, information on the industries that people are employed in and the nature of the work (seasonal, part time, full time), broken down by age and gender
  • Sector trends: what sectors are stagnant, stabilized or expected to grow
  • Income/wages: average income/wages, source of income (government transfers, wages, self employed), percentage of income spent on basic necessities, broken down by age and gender; trends

Ideally this information is already available from a community census. Of course, data is never actually easy to come by.  In some cases you’ll need to collect this data yourself through surveys or other means.

With this community data in hand, its time to do some analysis. A simple SWOT analysis (Strengths, Opportunities, Weaknesses, Threats) can be a powerful tool for identifying opportunities for economic development and framing the community context.   This can be a great place to get your stakeholder working group involved in the project for the first time.


By walking through these steps and answering the question “WHERE ARE WE NOW?”, you’ll be better positioned to create an economic development strategy that is grounded in the realities of your community and has community buy-in for implementation. In the next article we’ll get creative and start determining what your community’s ideal future looks like.

William Trousdale is the lead author of: “Promoting Local Economic Development through Strategic Planning” by UN-HABITAT and EcoPlan International (contact us for a copy). He can be reached at william@ecoplan.ca. Colleen Hamilton is a planning analyst at EcoPlan. She can be reached at colleen@ecoplan.ca

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