The Basics

What and Why?

A strategic plan is a living document that details the direction of an organization. It contains the goals, strategies that work towards those goals, and the overall ideological framework that the organization is working under. Often this plan is made public but is constructed by managers of an organization.

Within an organization, the strategic plan helps provide a consistent guidance for workers and management alike. While an organization relies on a diverse population a strategic plan can lay groundwork which directions all people towards the same set of goals. This is especially valuable for large organizations or groups that have less tangible desired outcomes.

There is also a public relations aspect to be considered. For the general public a strategic plan can give insight into the direction being taken by the organization in the near or distant future. Often it is difficult for individuals who are not working in a field to understand the actions being taken by an organization, and with the context added by a strategic plan it can become easier for them to view the larger goals being undertaken. This opportunity to share the intent of an organization can be lost if there is no strategic plan or if the plan is dense or stagnant.

Fundamental Parts of a Strategic Plan

There are numerous styles of strategic plans, including a large selection of free templates for visual and text based models. There are four primary components that appear in each one though at times the wording is slightly different:


A mission statement, or a statement of purpose, allows organizations to succinctly explain the intended impact of their work. This is will include brief mentions of the community served, the methods used, and the needs being met. While this is not a permanent statement, the skeleton of the statement should hold steady.


Explains where the organization would like to be in the future, and in addition to achievements made internally can include the state of society overall. Vision should stay fairly steady and provide insight as to how the organization perceives itself in a larger context.


This section details the guiding principles and beliefs of the stakeholders in the organization. It should provide readers with an understanding of the framework being used by people involved in this group, as well as the culture that it would like to promote.


Counterpart to Vision, this section should provide more the logistics the organization is planning on using to achieve the stated goals. While this is a roadmap, it is important to keep this aspect of the strategic plan broad enough so that people looking in will not be overwhelmed with jargon or excessive details. Often this turns into a to-do list rather than an expression of general steps being taken.

Textual Models of Strategic Plans

PEST analysis

Political - the impact local and national politics play, including the passage of laws or regulations.

Economic - how the fluctuations in economic markets can influence the goals and strategies.

Social - analyzing changes in population as well as sociopolitical movements.

Technological - emerging technology and rate of diffusion.

The PEST analysis uses data about current trends to evaluate the future macro-environment the organization will be a part of. This can be useful during times of fluctuation and uncertainty, and allows an organization to meet new challenges better. Unfortunately it does not provide much direction in terms of goals or possible strategies.

Examples of a PEST Analysis:
UCL Library Services Strategy 2011-2014
Association of European Research Libraries

Scenario planning

This is a more internal and abstract based approach to strategic planning, and requires input from all levels of an organization. Originally created by the United States military, this planning involved a group of officials being given a mock scenario using accurate information and then being asked to create a solution and chart the potential outcome. Multiple adaptations of scenario planning exist and have been applied to businesses, non-profits, and other organizations outside of the military.

A popular example was created by the multinational oil corporation Royal Dutch Shell. A group of people from the organization are placed together and asked to use information about markets/demographics/sociopolitical activity/ect. to identify key points of change. From that several scenarios are sketched out, and then a few are chosen to be explored in depth. Scenario planning does not lend itself well to public relations nor does it provide any type of accurate forecast into the future. However it does give members of an organization opportunity to think creatively about potential obstacles and solutions.

Examples of Scenario planning:
Association of Research Libraries
Portland State University Library

Alignment model

The alignment model is often used to retroactively evaluate a failed or unsuccessful strategies. It can also be implemented to help streamline an organization's mission, especially if the mission was previously unclear or dense.

After creating an outline of the mission, vision, and values for an organization this model requires additional information about resources available. Low functioning strategies are identified and adjusted to fit the resources available. An important feature of this type of model is the assessment tools which are given so that the organization can evaluate the progress or regressions being made as adjustments are being carried out. These changes are then added to the official strategic goal, and this model is rarely made public.

Examples of the alignment model:
Broward College

Visual Models of Strategic Plans

the SWOT Analysis:

Examples of a SWOT analysis:
California Digital Library
Round Rock Public Library

Cyclical model:

Strategic Plan Template 1-10-1.jpg
Examples of a Cyclical model:
Cuyahoga County Public Library
Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar

Objective-based model:

Examples of an Objective-based model:
California Digital Library
UC Davis Library

Strategic Planning in Libraries

Young Adult Library Services Association
Libraries for Children and Young Adults
American Library Association
Institute of Museum and Library Services
Greater Sudbury Public Library
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Library


Chakraborty, A., Kaza, N., Knaap, G. J., & Deal, B. (2011). Robust plans and contingent plans: scenario planning for an uncertain world. Journal of the American Planning Association, 77(3), 251-266.

Garber, N. (2006). Strategic Planning Model and Terminology. Ontario, Canada: Nathan Garber & Associates Training and Consulting for the Nonprofit Sector

Guzik, M. (2011). Principles of Strategic Planning. In CFO Techniques (pp. 287-295). Apress.

Harris, Robert C. (2010). Strategic Planning Template. Tallahassee, FL: Harris Management Group, Inc.

Jennings, E. T. (2010). Strategic Planning and Balanced Scorecards: Charting the Course to Policy Destinations. Public Administration Review, 70(s1), s224-s226.

McNamara, C. (2007). Field guide to nonprofit strategic planning and facilitation. Minneapolis, Minn: Authenticity Consulting.

Peng, G. C., & Nunes, M. B. (2007, July). Using PEST analysis as a tool for refining and focusing contexts for information systems research. In Proceedings of the 6th European Conference on Research Methodology for Business and Management Studies (pp. 229-237). Academic Conferences Limited.

Renger, R., & Hurley, C. (2006). From theory to practice: Lessons learned in the application of the ATM approach to developing logic models. Evaluation and Program Planning, 29(2), 106-119.

Wu, A. W., Lipshutz, A. K., & Pronovost, P. J. (2008). Effectiveness and efficiency of root cause analysis in medicine. JAMA: the journal of the American Medical Association, 299(6), 685-687.