The occasion of planning offers unique opportunities for an agency to position itself to meet its greatest challenges successfully. Some big decisions about the scope of a plan for multiple years of an agency's activity are made up front. If we perceive radical change is necessary—perhaps due to changes in how constituents define or experience the arts, or reorganization within state government, or a change in state government philosophy or priorities—the scope of planning will be broad and include some focus on exploration of agency mission and purpose in the new environment. If agency leadership is secure in its current mission and purpose, the planning process can begin addressing priorities and goals, even if there is a question as to whether sizable budget increases or cuts are ahead. If relatively little change is desired or expected, the planning process can "tweak" current operations and programs, focusing on efficiencies and ways to maximize program benefits, and documenting accountability.
As I observe the range of state arts agency planning processes, I often think that with a little more purposeful investment some of them could yield far more beneficial results or help solve some particularly challenging problems. Here are a few outcomes that some enhanced staff, consulting and convening resources can help achieve.
Unifying the Constituency
Whether the divisions are geographic, demographic, urban-rural, or related to size of organization budget, art form or cultural tradition, some special investment in information gathering, conversations and convenings can be designed to identify common goals, foster mutual understanding and lead to a collective agenda supported by various factions.
Communicating Effectively with Key Authorizers and
Supplementing a strategic plan with a communication plan is a way for an agency to ensure that executive branch officials, legislators, legislative staff, state agency colleagues, civic leaders, press, grantees, applicants and other constituents receive needed information at appropriate times from trusted sources with messages they will appreciate and understand. A thorough communication plan is part of any overall strategy to increase agency public value. An explicit and effectively implemented communication plan is what enables organizations with very few staff—such as the Arts Education Partnership and the International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies—to provide highly valued services to national and global publics. State arts agencies in new locations within state government, rolling out new initiatives, and reaching out to emerging constituencies should especially consider enhanced investment in this aspect of their planning.
State arts agency priorities often include goals that the agency cannot accomplish without the assistance of networks that have more authority in the goal area and/or greater resources. This is true, for instance, with goals related to arts education, creative aging, arts and the military, and aspects of creative place making. In these cases, inviting representatives of a desired partner group to participate in the arts agency's general planning process may not get the job done. An additional investment in a dialogue designed to identify mutual goals, resources, and an agenda with a specific partner group might be far more effective.
Leveraging Local Impact
In some states, for instance, those with one or more large-budget urban arts councils and those with a strong statewide local arts agency infrastructure, it might be worthwhile to invest in a focused dialogue on the most productive ways the state and local arts agencies can collaborate to advance each other's goals. There are also examples of states in which the state arts agency and a statewide arts network conduct the state's multiyear arts planning process together. This mode of planning facilitates the development of grants or nongrant initiatives designed to catalyze local arts activities (such as cultural district development), cultivate local arts leadership, or pursue goals and programs to impact "every community" or "every corner of the state."
The above are only a few examples of outcomes that can be advanced by a special investment related to an agency's planning process. It's useful to note that a special planning emphasis can be managed as a component throughout the overall planning process, as a part of it—say, as an activity in year two, or years two and three—or as a separate activity concurrent with or after a more general process.
Help from NASAA
State arts agency leaders are encouraged to contact NASAA staff when beginning to think about their next agency planning process. NASAA staff has extensive experience and expertise in this area, and can guide members to many website resources. We have frequent "planning to plan" conversations with members in which we discuss desired outcomes and effective means of achieving them, and note the qualities of plans that have elicited positive comments from NEA panels, referring members to sample plans along their lines of interest from other state arts agencies. For more extensive or on-site consultation, NASAA staff is available to members on a discounted fee basis. As always, your comments, suggestions and questions are welcome.