Strategic Plan Glossary

Glossary of Strategic Planning Terms

Action plan – A detailed description of the steps used to implement a strategic plan.

Baseline – Base level of previous or current performance that can be used to set improvement goals and provide a basis for assessing future progress.

Benchmarking – Gathering comparative information about practices of other organizations engaged in similar endeavors to help establish project targets and goals.

Capacity building – The development of an organization’s core skills and capabilities, such as leadership, management, finance and fund-raising, programs and evaluation, in order to build the organization’s effectiveness and sustainability.  The process of assisting an individual or group to identify and address issues and gain the insights, knowledge, and experience needed to solve problems and implement change. Capacity building is facilitated through the provision of support activities, including coaching, training, specific technical assistance, and resource networking.

Case study – A research approach using qualitative data (text) about a subject such as detailed observations notes or information recorded from interviews. This is in contrast to a quantitative (numeric) research which relies more on statistical methods.  Case studies are typically based on what is termed anecdotal evidence but can provide useful detailed information that something of significance is happening that may merit further study.

Collaboration – Combining the efforts of two or more organizations, departments, or individuals to create synergies which would not be possible through individual efforts.  This can be done for the purpose of planning or operational activities.

Committee – A body of persons delegated or assigned to consider, investigate, act on, or report on some matter.

Cost-benefit analysis – A classic management tool that involves calculating or estimating the monetary costs and potential benefits of a proposed course of action.

Cultural competence – An understanding of values, behaviors, attitudes, and practices which enable people to work effectively across racial/ethnic and cultural lines.

Customer – Anyone whose interests are served by an organization, or who is the target of the services of an organization. Customers are typically external to an organization, but sometimes can be internal to an organization, for example one department may be the customer
of another department.

Data-Driven Decision-Making (DDDM) – Using contextually relevant and accurate data to assist in making informed decisions related to both planning and implementation.  Data is typically obtained from operational processes or from valid research methods.

Demographics – The characteristics of human populations and population segments, especially when used to identify consumer markets.

Diversity – A culture that connects each employee to the organization; encourages collaboration, flexibility, and fairness; and leverages diversity throughout the organization so that all individuals are able to participate and contribute to their full potential.

Empowerment evaluation – An evaluation approach that includes collaborative and training functions within a goal of the empowerment of management and program staff to continuously assure quality of services.

Evaluation – A study to determine the extent to which a program or project reached its goals.

External Assessment – Analysis of the elements or forces that affect the environment in which an organization functions—also called an “environmental scan.”

Focus group – A qualitative research process designed to elicit opinions, attitudes, beliefs, and perceptions from a group of individuals taken from a larger group to gain insights and information about a specific topic.  Focus groups are usually organized to represent various stakeholder groups such as students, employees, faculty, etc.

Gap analysis – The identification of the difference between the desired and current state.

Goal – A desired end result.  Goals are typically not measurable but are usually supported by one or more measurable “objectives.”  For example the goal may be to increase student employment opportunities and a supporting objective might be to increase the number of employer co-op positions by 30% over the next 3 years.

Impact evaluation – Evaluations that look specifically at whether or not a plan or program has achieved its goals and had its intended effect.  An outcome or impact evaluation measures the final results of a program or initiative. (See also, Outcome Evaluation
Inputs – The resources that are used to make the project happen (such as people and equipment).

Instrument – Research tool used to assess variables during an evaluation. Examples include surveys, questionnaires, telephone interview protocols, executive interview protocols, or focus group protocols.

Litmus test – A test that uses a single key indicator to prompt a decision.

Mission statement – A brief, comprehensive statement of purpose. A mission statement simply describes why an organization or program exists, its calling or its specific tasks. A mission statement states a common direction to focus the individual and group efforts within an organization or group.  It is generally longer and more operational than a vision statement.

Needs assessment – A structured process to determine the needs of a designated individual, group, or organization.

Objectives – Specific and measurable targets for accomplishing goals.

Operational definitions – Definitions for terms and research variables specific to one program or project; a definition used within a program or project. Research variables must be clearly defined. For example, if the term “recidivism” is being used in a study, it should be defined, such as “committing another criminal or juvenile offense.” How these variables are measured has a great impact on the success of the study.

Outcomes – The long-term end goals that are influenced by the project, but that usually have other influences affecting them as well. Outcomes reflect the actual results achieved, as well as the impact or benefit, of a program.

Outcomes Assessment – Evaluations that look specifically at whether or not the program achieved its goals and had its intended effect. What were the “outcomes” of this program? An outcome or impact evaluation measures the final results of a program or initiative. (See also, Impact Evaluation.)

Output – A type of performance measure that focuses on the level of activity in a particular program.

Performance measures – Tools or information used to measure results and ensure accountability.

Process evaluation – Investigates issues regarding the program’s current operations or the implementation of new initiatives. Questions most often focus on what the program does, who does it, and how it is done.

Project logic – A model that arrays the resources, activities and goals of a project to allow the relationships to be clearly viewed and understood.

Qualitative research – Qualitative research is conducted in a more interpretive and contextual fashion and goes beyond the “facts and figures” gathered by objective measures. Qualitative research attempts to measure the complexity of a given topic and often involves narrative responses to questions, rather than categorical responses.

Quantitative research – Quantitative studies rely upon statistics and measures that can be expressed numerically. In order to make valid inferences from quantitative research, certain rules need to be followed in terms of the research design and sampling methods.

Research questions – Questions that ask what variables can and will be manipulated and studied. For example, do restraining orders issued on stalkers reduce violence to victims?  Does having a restraining order, the independent variable, result in a reduced likelihood of the stalker hurting the victim, the dependent variable? A research design is based on research questions.

Results – The “outputs” of the activities of a project, directly measurable and within the control and influence of the project.

Sample – Some smaller part of a larger population that is being studied. One of the key aspects of a sample is whether it is truly representative of the larger population. To be representative, the methods of drawing the sample are critical.

Stakeholder – Any person or group with a vested interest in the outcome of a project or plan.

Strategic plan – A practical, action-oriented document resulting from the strategic planning process.

Strategic planning – Process to determine or re-assess the vision, mission, and goals of an organization and then map out objective (measurable) ways to accomplish the identified goals.  Strategic planning typically focuses on results to be achieved in a 3, 5, 7, or 10 year time span as contrasted with tactical or operational planning which typically focuses on results to be achieved in a one year or less.  Strategic plans should be updated through an annual process with major re-assessments occurring at the end of the 3, 5, 7, or 10 year planning horizon.

Most strategic planning methodologies depend on a three-step process (sometimes called the STP process):
Situation – evaluate the current situation and how it came about
Target – define goals and/or objectives (sometimes called ideal state)
Path – map a possible route to the goals/objectives

An alternative approach is called Draw-See-Think:
Draw – what is the ideal image or the desired end state?
See – what is today’s situation? What is the gap from ideal and why?
Think – what specific actions must be taken to close the gap between today’s situation and the ideal state?
Plan – what resources are required to execute the activities?

SWOT analysis – An abbreviation used to denote analysis of an organization’s internal Strengths and Weaknesses and external Opportunities and Threats. Also called an “internal/external assessment.”

Values statement – A narrative description that outlines an organization’s beliefs and guiding principles.

Vision statement –  A narrative description of a future state to help keep project teams focused.  A concise statement of what needs to change, typically the promoter, sponsor, or leader’s “agenda.”  A compelling, conceptual image of the desired future.  Typically shorter and more conceptual than a mission statement.