Gold Standard — Create a Road Map for Success: Involve All Stakeholder Groups in Strategic Planning

Rachel Hathhorn
Rachel Hathhorn

Setting the direction for any organization, company or school district with strategic planning is critical. One major element of this process is involving representatives from all stakeholder groups to create a dynamic road map that serves as a guide to success.

At Pine-Richland School District in suburban Pittsburgh, we engaged more than 150 people — parents, student, staff, and community and business leaders in meetings and focus groups, plus more than 770 others through a survey, in developing our latest strategic plan. Following are the action steps we followed that can help you create your district’s own road map.

  • Do your research

    First, we identified representatives from all stakeholder groups we wanted to involve — staff, parents, community members without children, and students. We invited them to participate in various work sessions, or “town hall meetings,” to maximize the number of participants. By involving more people, you can net a wider range of individuals with varied backgrounds and expertise. Find out what people think are district strengths and areas for improvement, as well as what they envision for your district.

    You also should review past strategic planning processes to see who was involved and consider inviting them again. And, while you might not want to, you should include your biggest skeptics. They will only make your plan stronger, and they can even help you gain new supporters along the way. And remember, education is about students, so be mindful that you solicit student feedback, whether it be face-to-face or via survey.

  • Establish ground rules and objectives

    Different stakeholders may have different expectations about the planning process. So, developing ground rules and clearly communicating expectations will help you stay the course. Those engaged in the process will appreciate that the work is meaningful and not going astray. Your ground rules, goals and objectives help communicate to your participants what you hope to accomplish throughout the process and keep you moving forward. Develop a timeline so that participants can see where you are in the process and where you’re headed. You’ll keep participants engaged longer if they know what is expected.

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  • Incorporate feedback mechanisms

    The feedback you collect from town hall meetings, focus groups and surveys can be about the process or about what should be included in the strategic plan. By providing multiple feedback mechanisms and opportunities to give input, you’ll get more community members engaged in planning and enable more of them to take ownership of the final plan.

  • Monitor progress

    Monitoring progress during the planning stages as well as the implementation stage is extremely important. This is key to evaluating the strategic planning process. Ask yourself important questions:

    • Are we getting enough feedback from key members of our education community?
    • What can we refine?
    • What is not clear?
    • Is implementation actually occurring?

    By monitoring progress, you’re letting your strategic planning team and participants know that their work is strongly valued and important.

    At Pine-Richland, we developed an interactive website complete with updates indicating where the district is with its long-term and short-term goals in the implementation phase. We schedule periodic updates and interactive sessions at board meetings and at town halls. By doing this, you will let stakeholders know that the plan has been implemented and not just sitting on a shelf collecting dust.

  • Engage participants in marketing efforts

    Enlist participants to help, not only to create the mission, vision and values, but also in marketing the plan. They can help develop slogans or simple acronyms to make the value statements easy to remember.

    Pine-Richland participants helped to develop the acronym PRIDE (Personal Growth, Resiliency, Innovation, Diverse Opportunities and Engagement), which led to the creation of a toolkit for employees that included eye-catching posters, bookmarks, videos and various other items to share the message. To make the vision statement easy to remember and understand, we enlisted a student to create art that embodied the vision of the district. Involving stakeholders in creating simple messages helps ensure everyone understands the mission, vision and values of the district.

  • Over-communicate

    According to theRule of Seven” in marketing, someone needs to hear or see a message at least seven times before taking action. In today’s world, there are so many competing messages that you can never over-communicate a topic such as a district’s strategic direction. Provide ongoing communication through your website, social media sites, annual report, in your newsletters (paper or electronic), local newspapers/magazines, parent meetings, staff meetings, public board meetings and even community sessions. By being intentional about communication, you keep the plan in front of everyone, even those who did not participant in strategic planning.

You might consider your progress in creating a strategic plan the first leg of an adventure and a lengthy trip — one that will be even more successful and rewarding if your district can follow a road map created with the input of all stakeholder groups.


Rachel Hathhorn is the director of communications for Pine-Richland School District, Gibsonia, Pa. Contact her at