Who's on First? Resolving Problems of Implementation in Public-sector
by Craig Dreeszen,
Community cultural plans, regional tourism plans, and neighborhood development plans are
conducted within the public sector. Most exist outside the domain of any single agency with enough
authority and resources to assure the plans' intentions are fulfilled. Too often these plans fail
to live up to their promise, and their goals remain unfulfilled. Completed community plans are so
often ignored that the "gathering dust on a shelf" metaphor is ubiquitous. This need not be so.
The implementation problem is due, in part, to planning assumptions and methods that work better
within a single agency than on a community or regional scale. The planning experience of many
community leaders was developed within the confines of single organizations where boundaries,
authority, and responsibilities are well defined. When the planning scale is expanded beyond
individual organizations to include a community, different methods are required.
Power and politics are among the factors that must be accommodated if the goals of
community-level planning are to be realized. Understanding the distinctions between initiatives on
the private and public scale, planners can adapt lessons from strategic planning in agencies to
better implement public-sector plans.
Here is advice for how to accommodate some factors that affect private-sector and public-sector
- Within organizations, leadership is ordinarily well established.
- In public sector planning, however, leaders must be recruited and leaders must win public
support. Often the agency that initiates a plan will deliberately seek community leaders outside
its own organization to head the planning. This helps demonstrate that the planning is intended to
benefit the whole community.
- In agency planning the board of directors or trustees is in place.
- In public-sector planning, a broadly representative, steering committee should be created to
oversee the planning. In cultural planning it is common for a few initiators to identify a larger
group of community leaders to form a temporary steering committee. This brings more authority and
resources to the planning table. If an existing agency has a broad community-wide mission, its
board may govern the planning, though there is a risk that the agency will be expected to implement
the resulting plan.
Authority to plan
- In agency planning, the board's authority to plan is made explicit within its bylaws.
- When citizens are planning for a community, they should seek authority to do so. A public
agency, such as a municipal arts commission, may be expected to plan by its enabling legislation.
But even a public agency should do what a private-not-for private organization must do, which is to
seek explicit authority to plan. Request the highest elected municipal or county official to issue
the formal invitation to citizens who will serve on the steering committee. This implied
authorization positions the planners to come back to local government with recommendations for
action and funding. The municipal or county planning office should be directly involved from the
start of planning.
Power and politics
- In an agency, power relationships are well established. In an organizational planning process,
it is usually clear who is in charge. While planning can sometimes tip the balance of power, most
groups take planning in stride.
- In the public sector, power and political conflict can be volatile enough to divert planning
from its course. A regional cultural tourism plan can run up against agencies with competing
interests. Even an uncontroversial issue like arts education can evoke conflict when competitive
grants for implementation are at stake. Culture-war based political agendas can erupt in public art
planning. Public-sector initiatives too closely associated with one mayor or county commission can
be dismantled by their successors. There are no simple remedies except to be alert for power
issues. Wise planners do not assume that all have the same interests. The many successful cultural
political campaigns indicate a growing political sophistication and community organizing skills.
Arts advocates are less vulnerable now.
Values and culture
- An organization's culture tends to be more homogenous than not. Members of an organization,
while potentially diverse, have much in common arising from their voluntary association with the
group. They will share many values. If they didn't they would not join and stay as staff or
volunteers. Consequently, planning can start with some shared assumptions.
- Communities are more diverse than most agencies. A plan for a varied community must
respectfully accommodate those differences if the resulting recommendations are to be taken
seriously. Assessment and planning methods that reach people in neighborhoods, job sites, and
churches will represent a community more authentically than one where consensus depends upon those
who speak up at a public hearing in city hall. Attend to values implicit in language and methods
used. Be genuinely inclusive.
- Planning in agencies can take advantage of existing systems for communication, financial
control, and accountability.
- Community-wide planners may need to create the administrative systems that sustain their work.
Often the absence of a dependable means of communication or a system for monitoring spending isn't
noted until something goes wrong. The time and funds it takes to build a temporary administrative
infrastructure surprises many leaders new to public-sector planning.
Perception of community
- Agency plans often consider the larger community to be a source of audience members and funding
whose patronage is sought.
- Successful community plans consider the community to be the constituents on whose behalf the
plans are made.
Purpose of planning
- Private-sector plans are often conducted to fulfill an agency's mission and sustain the
- Public-sector plans, when successful, are undertaken to fulfill a community need.
Central control of implementation
- It is possible for the chief executive and his or her staff to control much of the
implementation of an organizational plan. This is truer of short-term action plans than of
- Central control of a community plan's implementation is however, quite difficult. Even
municipal land-use plans with the power of law, are challenging to implement. Assuring action on
the policy and program plans that characterize most community arts and cultural planning are even
more difficult. Following are some approaches that have worked to encourage implementation on a
Some implementation strategies for public-sector plans:
- Name multiple, specific agencies charged with implementation of specific outcomes (Los Angeles
Cultural Master Plan). This only works if named agencies participate in the planning.
- Identify a single, coordinating entity charged with overseeing implementation (Charlotte Arts
Education Plan). In some cases, the coordinating agency is created to implement the plan.
- Raise funds specifically dedicated to implement the community plan (Charlotte Cultural
- Involve respected and representative community leaders in an inclusive process (Shreveport
- Reconvene the planning steering committee periodically to monitor implementation progress
(Rapid City Cultural Plan). The expectation of a public accounting for results can be a powerful
incentive to act.
- Plan for the municipality or county to commission a formal evaluation of the plan two to five
years after publication (Northampton Cultural Plan).
- Seek authority to plan from elected officials and submit resulting plans for inclusion in
comprehensive plans such as the municipal master plan or school plan (Denver Comprehensive
- Widely distribute a well-designed plan. Describe goals in general terms and actively encourage
individual groups and agencies to fulfill the plan as it serves their interests (Tacoma Cultural
Good intentions can be implemented. Planning on a community, county, or regional level can
achieve impressive results.
A national study documented the impacts of community cultural planning. (Dreeszen, 1994). The
three most significant reported effects of cultural planning on local arts
- Increased agency visibility/credibility;
- Better understood community needs; and
- Increased agency funding.
For communities the results included:
- More responsive programs and services;
- Increased civic awareness of local arts and culture;
- Improved communications;
- Audience development; and
- During the study period, communities completing cultural plans sustained or increased arts
funding in contrast to a national trend of reduced funding.
None of the factors cited above need obstruct plans from tapping the potential of a community's
arts and culture. Community plans can be accomplished with attention to the special characteristics
of planning in the public sector.
Friedmann, John. Planning in the Public Domain: From knowledge to action. Princeton,
NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997.
Kemmis, Daniel. Community and the Politics of Place. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma
Lewis, Justin. Art, Culture and Enterprise: The politics of art and the cultural
industries. London: Routledge, 1990.
American Planning Association
The Planners Network
The Planners Web
Please send us your comments on this
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal
1100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20506