August 2002 // Volume 40 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW1
Linking Strategic Thinking and Project Planning: The Oregon State University Extension Forestry Experience
Using an enhanced project planning process, Extension forestry faculty at the Oregon State University strategically allocate Extension educator staff time to educational program development. An internal review of this process was conducted. The integrated process resulted in better linkages between program planning and strategic planning and improved working relationships within the Extension team and generated new ideas for educational programs. As a result, the Oregon State University Extension Forestry Team is better able to focus efforts of campus and county Extension forestry faculty on projects that meet needs identified in an outreach and Extension education strategic plan.
Extension foresters at Oregon State University use a group project planning process to strategically focus more than 25 Extension foresters' efforts on projects of regional and statewide significance. The incorporation of goals developed in a strategic planning process was new in 1998 and resulted in better linkages between program planning and the Extension forestry mission and improved working relationships within the Extension team and generated new ideas for educational programs.
Group Project Planning
Oregon State University has used group project planning processes since the late 1980's. Group projects involve the coordination of activities among county- and campus-based faculty. A group project is defined as having one or more of the following characteristics:
- Involvement of staff from three or more counties.
- A project involving large amounts of time or money.
- A project having statewide significance.
- A project that will substantially improve the organization.
A full description of the group project planning process may be found in Garland and Adams (1992).
Integrating Project and Strategic Planning
In 1997, more than 25 county- and campus-based Extension faculty attended an annual planning meeting. Several Extension foresters suggested linking strategic thinking to the existing group project planning process.
Strategic goals, developed as part of a separate periodic strategic planning process, were used to focus the group's thinking on broad areas of importance. Proposed group project ideas were categorized by the strategic goal or goals they most closely fit under. Group project ideas for each goal were then prioritized by a vote of the group. The estimated time Extension foresters would commit to each goal and the estimated time needed to complete each project was used as a means of determining how many projects to engage in for the year. Prior to this enhancement, projects were not categorized, nor were estimates of time used as a means to determine how many projects to implement.
The enhanced planning process is summarized in Figure 1: The Enhanced Group Project Planning Process:
The Enhanced Group Project Planning Process
Internal Review of the Enhanced Planning Process
Since the strategic planning process was enhanced in 1998, a focused internal review of the process was conducted. Using a scale of 1-10, with 1 being poor and 10 excellent, Extension forestry faculty were asked to evaluate the overall usefulness of the process and to evaluate each of the planning steps. In-person and telephone interviews encouraged a higher number of responses and proved to be more effective than fax or email.
Extension foresters rated the usefulness of the strategic planning process as 6.76, on a scale of 1 to 10, indicating better than average satisfaction. Interestingly, they rated the individual components of the strategic planning process higher than the "idea" of strategic planning itself.
Thirty-five percent identified positive impacts and cited the following:
- Provided balance,
- Validation, and
- Group cohesion.
A list of the evaluation questions, rankings, frequencies, comments, interpretations, and recommendations is available from the authors.
The integrated planning process as implemented in 1998 resulted in several positive outcomes.
Creating Tighter Linkages
The enhanced planning process ensured that projects implemented are linked to strategic goals identified in a separate strategic planning process.
Opening the Circle
The enhanced planning process allowed regional, national, and international issues and trends to influence group projects selected for implementation. One colleague called it, "looking beyond the trees"; another "opening the circle."
Improving Working Relationships
The enhanced planning process prioritized project ideas under each strategic goal, thus recognizing sub-groups or smaller divisions of the forestry discipline. This recognition improved working relationships between forest products Extension foresters and forest resources Extension foresters.
Thinking Out of the Box
Prioritizing group project ideas by strategic goals allowed new ideas to emerge. For example, a group project selected under the goal of engaging the public in a dialog about forests and forestry resulted in an Art Show to engage the public. Sixty-five thousand people at three locations in Oregon visited "Seeing the Forest: Art about Forests & Forestry." This project would not have gone forward under the previous planning model.
Tom Dowling (1998, personal communication), the strategic planning consultant hired to guide the process, highlighted the changes in Extension forestry planning that he observed:
- Better internal understanding about the future project opportunities;
- Greater agreement between resource allocation and organizational goals;
- Better understanding and communication between Extension foresters and the College of Forestry faculty;
- More focus on strategic goals when selecting group projects;
- Greater participation in the planning process by all faculty members irrespective of rank, length of service, or disciplinary focus; and
- Strategic decisions based on external data in addition to data generated internally.
The enhanced group project planning process ensures that the decisions to implement projects are based on sound data and align with Oregon State University's Extension Forestry Mission.
John Garland (1998, personal communication), one of those personally involved in the original development of the group project planning process, commented, "The end result is that there is no shortage of important things to do. Which ones I do as an individual and in cooperation as a group is the important decision." Most Extension foresters (68%) felt that the integration of strategic goals into the group project planning process helped define what should and should not be done.
Garland, J.J., & Adams, P.W. (1992). Coordinated tactical program planning among specialists and agents: The Oregon Extension Forestry experience. Journal of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Education. 21(1).