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Festivals Toolkit: Strategic Planning

Careful planning is the secret of a successful event, and this means starting well in advance - 6-9 months ahead for smaller, local events or 1-2 years for bigger events. You may think you know what needs to be done in planning your event, but timing is often crucial.
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Your event is the deadline - it is no good finishing off tasks after this date! If you have planned your event carefully, there should be few surprises on the day. However, nothing can be guaranteed so always ensure you have a contingency plan to cover uncertainties such as weather. Ensure you involve all members of your group or organisation in the process of strategic planning and aim to plan for the next three to five years.

What are the benefits of planning?

When it comes to planning, people often say: "We're too busy to spend time planning: there's enough to do already!" But if you are pushed for time, planning will help you use your time more effectively. Another complaint is often: "A plan is another document that will sit on a shelf that no one will read!" But if you make planning a shared activity with all members of your group or organisation, you will find the process of planning is itself constructive and offers many benefits, even if the plan doesn't become a bestseller!

Planning offers you a chance to take a look at what you are doing now, what you would like to be doing in the future and the steps you will need to take to get there. Planning can be an opportunity for everybody to take stock of what they are doing, share their ideas and experience and think about what they would like to see their organisation achieve in a few years from now. Very often we are so busy getting things done, we lose sight of where we are heading. When was the last time you sat down with your committee and had a relaxed chat about how things were going, what was working and what was not without attaching blame or making any judgments? Planning gives you the chance to take a bird's eye view of your work and get some perspective on what you are doing, away from the day to day pressure of your 'to-do' lists.

How do you plan?
Planning usually involves those people who are responsible for making decisions or influencing the work of your group or organisation. This will probably be your committee, staff or management committee. However, committees can get stuck in a rut and their ideas can get stale, so it is useful to involve members or participants to add a fresh and grass-roots perspective on what you do. Beware of making the group too big, a small group of between six and ten people will work best. This allows good discussions and gives everyone a chance to have an input.

Involve everyone!
Even when you have formed a small group to be involved in the planning process, you can still involve your membership or people taking part in your work, or using your facilities. Let them know you are going to be working on a plan, ask them if they have any ideas on what they would like you to be doing and where they see the group or organisation heading. You can do this by holding a planning meeting(s) for members or participants; don't make them too big, several small group discussions will be more constructive than one big meeting. Then use the results of the meetings in the planning process. Or, you could distribute a survey form asking people for their opinion. Make sure the form is easy to read, easy to answer, has a date by which it should be returned and a clear return address.

Take time to plan
Taking time out from the pressures of your organisations work will help you think creatively and look at what you are doing afresh. You do not need to book yourself into a posh hotel for a weekend, you could simply meet at someone's house. But you do need to get away from ringing telephones and interruptions. Planning is not a formal event, allow yourself to relax, create an informal atmosphere, wear comfortable clothes, forget about roles and responsibilities, take it in turns to take notes and keep the meeting on course. You want to create an atmosphere where everyone can make a contribution, be honest and be listened to, so try and overcome the usual pecking order and give everyone a chance to express themselves.

Further information
Voluntary Arts England briefing note no. 15 on Strategic Planning (pdf format) explains how to involve all your members in planning, what planning involves, how to put together a plan, set goals and achieve them. You will need to sign-in to access the briefings:


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