Engaged Strategic Planning

Cascade Learns Live!

In 2013, Cascade School District in Leavenworth partnered with Be Clearly to pioneer a two day, intensive, "new school" learning activity that provided the entire high school student body with an opportunity to work on real-world challenges as part of independent teams. Clients from the community brought actual challenges from their organization, and teams employed design thinking to produce real solutions. In the process, students gained a deeper personal connection with their own learning and life.

With student innovators engaged in their challenging work, educators and staff were able to get away for an all-hands retreat focused on designing the high school of the future.

This introductory video was a collaboration with student videographer Isaac Roberts.

Wenatchee Learns

Wenatchee Learns was Be Clearly's first full-scale strategic engagement project in the education sector. Applying our Engaged Strategic Planning principles and practices to the world of education yielded a "Whole Learning Community" planning model (based on the idea that every person in a community impacts and is impacted by education).

The initial planning process in 2011-2012 brought students, citizens and learning professionals together to design the future of learning in Wenatchee and to participate in building and supporting that future. More than 4,000 people participated, including most of the student body and staff and about 1,500 community members.

The Wenatchee School District has continued to keep community conversation alive, and in 2013 formed a dedicated partnership center to promote volunteering, dialog, and community-enriched learning opportunities.

This introductory video was our first collaboration with videographer Charley Voorhis.

The two-page document below captures Wenatchee's vision for learning—the culmination of our work together. Note the clarity of the vision statement and the specificity of the strategies. Strategic planning processes often yield objectives so generic that could apply to any organization, in any place, at any time. This is especially true when large numbers of people are involved, because "common ground" can easily turn into "lowest common denominator," yielding generalized concepts like quality, excellence, and communication.

Many strategic planning consultants attempt to introduce engagement to their process, not appreciating how difficult it is to draw a small handful of salient ideas from a sea of perspectives. Merely adding voices can actually hurt the quality of the strategic work, and when people feel they are not being heard, engagement suffers rather than improves. We use a carefully architected step-wise process featuring progressive rounds of conversation to grow "compound insights" (like compound interest, but for ideas) without losing focus. This ensures that strategies are on-point, specific, actionable, and owned by stakeholders.

Click the image of the document for a PDF version.

Our Public Power: the Next Generation

In 2014, Chelan County Public Utility District embarked on a strategic engagement effort aimed at reconnecting with the public while refreshing their strategic plan. PUD leaders found themselves at a crucial strategic crossroads with regard to questions of finance and decisions about service. Past management missteps had eroded public trust, and Commissioners knew they needed to reboot the relationship with their 50,000 customers. Be Clearly helped the PUD design a process to rekindle a sense of ownership characterized by pride and responsibility.

More than 5,000 people participated through interviews, meetings with groups of leaders, topic-specific teams, an interactive website, and an "Owners Guide" booklet mailer with a response card. Visit ourpublicpower.org to learn about the project, see ideas submitted by the public, and view the results and the plan.

A crucial element was framing the project as both an important moment to engage but also a moment to set differences aside and rally in common cause. The fact that Chelan PUD's financial fortunes could result in a dividend to owners created potential for unhealthy conflict among special interests fighting for a larger share of the pile. As a public asset, Chelan County PUD is subject to the "tragedy of the commons" phenomenon, so we crafted a story that unified people in the spirit of care and service to future generations, inspired by past generations who did the same. The result was highly constructive conversation with clear strategic outcomes and a 180° turnaround in public perceptions of the PUD.

This introductory video shows the important role of a carefully crafted narrative in framing a strategic engagement opportunity as a compelling moment—a story in motion that people want to be part of.

Especially through the interactive website and owners guide, the Next Generation project made heavy use of one of the most powerful techniques in strategic engagement: informational inquiry. When reaching out to the public, leaders first inform, then inquire as to what they see and feel. It's a two-way exchange.

In contrast, typical outreach involves "giving" or "taking" but not "give and take." Public meetings will often be "sit 'n git" sessions with no real way for the public to influence outcomes, resulting in frustrating "tell us what you think about what we think you should think" moments. And surveys are commonly uni-directional extractions of opinion, more about data than dialog. These dipstick surveys provide a pulse check—a snapshot in time—but do little to promote thoughtful consideration or learning among participants.

Informational inquiry is a simple and powerful alternative, modeled after conversation. People listen, learn, solve problems, and even change their minds. The result is quality strategic thinking accompanied by high levels of engagement.