Should we review and revise our previous plans, or is it
time to create a new set of strategic goals for the City?
planning retreats are an extension of previous efforts. A radical
shift from the past might be in order if there is a dramatically
changed environment (i.e. economic or political); the City
has achieved all of its major goals from previous plans; or
your community needs a bold vision around which to rally.
we stay local or go out of town?
The trend is shifting toward
staying local. A local retreat provides greater access for
citizens and the media. It also reduces the perception that
the Council is being wasteful or trying to do their business
in secret. Many Council members prefer to go home to be with
their families rather than stay overnight. Yet, going out of
town can be beneficial. You can work longer into the evening,
and the opportunity for informal conversations can be helpful
in establishing stronger relationships between elected officials
Do we try to schedule the entire retreat in one
Most of the elected officials we speak with would rather
work longer and complete the retreat in a single day. There
is a point, however, when the quality of the work suffers by
cramming too much into one day. The best approach is to let
the amount of work drive the length of the meeting.
Do we invite
the senior staff or just have the Council?
We recommend having
senior staff and department heads attend the retreat. We are
seeing a trend to encourage active staff participation when
discussing the issues rather than using them as a resource
for questions. In either case, the Council provides the final
direction. Topics which are best discussed without staff present
can be built into the agenda.
How do we accommodate the media
location should accommodate media and citizens. Most cities
do not allow media and/or citizens to participate or speak
during the retreat since no vote will be taken. Make sure you
decide how to handle meals and out-of-town accommodations in
advance. If the retreat includes overnight stay, remember to
set the ground rules for what can’t be discussed in
How much detail should we produce on our goals
during the retreat?
Council sets direction. Staff develops
the implementation plans and executes. The Council should set
the broad strategic vision, goals, and objectives during the
retreat. It is also very helpful for the Council to articulate
its priorities and criteria for success for the coming year.
After the retreat, staff will develop the work plans to accomplish
How do we gather input prior to the retreat?
prefer to use anonymous surveys about past performance and
future goals in every situation. Individual interviews after
the completion of surveys are helpful to clarify concerns and
uncover important issues for further discussion.
How are the
retreat outcomes translated into work plans and budgets?
This depends on when your retreat is held. Results from retreats
held in the fall and winter are incorporated into the next
budget cycle. This can mean that a new Council member might
be one year into their term before having a meaningful impact
on the city’s goals. Holding your retreat in the
late spring or early summer provides an opportunity for some
new goals to be incorporated into the upcoming budgets and
Do we use an outside facilitator?
Our strong bias
is yes. It can be difficult for a staff member to communicate
difficult messages to elected officials. Asking the City Manager
to facilitate removes her/him from the discussion and opens
the door for the manager to be accused of running the show.
A strong outside facilitator can keep the group on track and
ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate.
should we look for in an outside facilitator?
strong references from other managers, and excellent process
skills are the minimum. The facilitator should focus the
discussion on the Council and the community – not his/her
own agenda. Most important, the facilitator should be able
to relate well and adapt their style to the group. Some groups
want a more business approach to running the retreat. Others
prefer more social activities and games. The right outside
facilitator can mean the difference between a frustrating
experience and success. It is worth the effort to make sure
you are getting someone with whom you can work.