Gathering input and feedback from your community is one of the most important steps of strategic planning.  Community assessment should guide development of your strategic priorities and goals.  Also, it’s essential to help craft your mission and/or vision statement.  Listening and responding to the needs of our communities builds library support and better relationships with community partners.

Connecting with the Community

Mr. Rogers always had good advice!  Think about “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” The best way to put together a responsive strategic plan is to make sure you get input from a variety of stakeholders that represent your community.  An easy way to do this is with a community survey.  Many libraries put together a strategic planning committee to provide feedback throughout the process. Also, make sure to have your focus group with broad community participation:  BIPOC, teens, parents, middle aged, older adults, a teacher or school administrator, municipal officials, community partners, local business, etc.  

Engage Staff and Trustees in Strategic Planning

It’s essential to include staff in strategic planning.  Staff should be involved with community assessment (with a meeting, survey, or focus group), providing feedback on strategic priorities, and providing input to develop actions each year. Some libraries have a values discussion with staff and put together a values statement or list of shared values.  Check out these examples from the Chelmsford Public Library (on page 4 of their plan) and the Olin College of Engineering Library.  You can invite trustees to provide feedback on strategic priorities or a draft of your plan. If you are submitting your plan to the MBLC, your governing body (usually trustees for public libraries, administration for school, academic, or specials) will need to approve your plan. Make sure to include them in the process.  

Getting the Big Picture with a Community Survey

A well-designed community survey will be very helpful to guide development of your strategic priorities.  You don’t have to start from scratch.  On the MLS Strategic Planning Guide, you will find many examples of library strategic planning surveys.  To get a good response, keep it focused and only include questions with data that will inform your plan.  Consider many creative ways to distribute your surveys both in print and online:  curbside pickup, post office, farmers market, town meeting, local cafe, your library’s website, the school system e-newsletter, and social media.  Keep it simple and select 2-3 places to leave your print survey and invite people to return it in-person or by mail.

For Feedback, a Focus Group or Forum

It’s very important to host at least one focus group or community forum as part of your strategic plan.  Some libraries will hold multiple focus groups for different audiences like the staff, trustees, friends, and a community forum.  The ideal size for a focus group is 8-10 participants.  MLS recommends having a SOAR discussion about Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. Some libraries also host a visioning session or include that as part of the SOAR session.  It’s important to have an unbiased facilitator for your focus group.  MLS staff is available to facilitate a focus group for your library.  Reach out to us to learn more about the services we offer or to request our External Consultant Directory.

Virtual Collaboration

Many organizations are finding higher levels of participation at virtual meetings due to the convenience.  I encourage you to host at least one virtual community forum or focus group on Zoom as part of your strategic planning process.  Also, use online collaboration tools to get feedback from staff and trustees.  Padlet is a great tool for brainstorming. Google’s Jamboard (available in Google Drive) can be used to get feedback about developing action steps.  

Getting creative with gathering community input

If you would like to get creative with community assessment, there are other possibilities like key informant interviews, micro-feedback, customer intercepts, service safaris, and journey mapping.  If you are curious to learn more about these, please feel free to reach out to your MLS Strategic Planning Consultants, Kristi Chadwick and me/Michelle Eberle.

Stay tuned for next blog post in this series on Strategic Planning: Identifying Strategic Priorities.