Hallmarks of Excellence

Each state is unique, with its own particular set of circumstances and constituents that directly affect planning. An effective plan by a state in the Northeast might be completely different from one in the Southwest. How can a state look at its plan and measure it against a set of general standards of excellence? The National Endowment for the Arts generated some answers to this question during the meetings of its FY2000 Partnership Agreement panels. The panels' ideas were then expanded and enhanced at NASAA's Strategic Planning Forum convened in the summer of 1999.

Forum participants reached a consensus on the characteristics that they have found to be central to the best strategic plans—those that most successfully convey the mission and roles of state arts agencies and help guide difficult program development and resource allocation choices. Excellent plans are:

Appropriate: The plan is firmly situated in and cognizant of the particular confluence of elements in the agency's environment—political, geographic, economic, artistic and historic. It is a plan that defies formulas or cookie-cutter approaches. The plan demonstrates its awareness of those issues that make its state and its constituents unique, and presents a vision and set of goals that fit its own situation.

Hallmarks of Planning Excellence

  • Appropriate
  • Inclusive
  • Collaborative
  • Visionary
  • Adaptive
  • Measurable
  • Integrated
  • Directive
  • Arts-centered
  • Communicative
Inclusive: An effective plan takes into account the full range of possible constituents for the arts in its state, and has employed a number of creative efforts to include those constituents in helping create the plan. These activities can include surveys, town meetings, focus groups, listening forums, round tables, one-on-one interviews, and Internet mechanisms such as chat groups and e-mail response forms on the state's website.

Collaborative at all levels: The theme of partnership takes inclusiveness to another level. Partnership shows that you have:

  • taken your entire state into account
  • built on public and private partnerships by actively involving all sectors concerned with cultural and community development
  • included partners in your planning, decision making and implementation
  • made it easy for constituents to see their place in the plan and become involved
Visionary: Does the plan convey a strong overall sense of purpose and direction? Without a clear, inspiring vision, it is very difficult to enlist staff and constituents in making significant sacrifices to create a new future. A plan must excite people in a compelling manner before it can request their support.

Adaptable: The world is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Smart plans recognize the futility of trying to predict the future with absolute certainty. These plans build adaptability into their strategies by delineating significant end results with flexibility in the means employed to achieve them. Some plans even outline several action scenarios for differing circumstances.

Measurable: When goals are couched in vague language they run the risk of producing vague results. When possible, effective plans build measurability into goals, objectives and strategies. They model success in as specific a manner as is appropriate. This has become more important as state governments and partners in the private sector have increased their demands for accountability, measurable outcomes and specific evaluation strategies.

Integrated: Are there themes that hold the plan together? Can the reader sense the agency's core values being articulated in all sections of the plan? Do all programs match the priority areas articulated by the strategic goals and the executive summary? The most satisfying plans look like a complicated puzzle that has been put together to form a cohesive image without extraneous pieces and without any gaping holes. These plans also become wholly integrated into the external environment of the agency and all its actions—its initiatives, communication strategies, budget proposals and staff actions.

Directive: An effective plan gives direction to its readers by:

  • showing how to achieve significant forward movement
  • defining both what should be done and what should not be done
  • providing a sense of focus for items of high, medium and low priority
  • giving frameworks for both long- and short-term issues
Arts-centered: The plan reveals the centrality of creativity, the arts and artists. The document celebrates the role and importance of creativity in civic life, and the planning process itself integrates artists in its activities.

Communicative: When planning and the plan are all done, what happens to the document and its contents? Do they remain on a shelf gathering dust? Or, does the agency employ vibrant and creative ways to help the plan find the light of day? Agencies that invest the time and energy to craft an excellent plan also invest time and energy to communicate the results to all of their audiences and partners. The best plans lend themselves readily to reformatting for multiple forms of communication.

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