Case study-A Methodology for Development of a Strategic Development Plan for the Municipality of Blagoevgrad
C a s e S t u d y
A Methodology for Development of a Strategic Development Plan for the Municipality of Blagoevgrad
The implementation of this project is the result of an effort on the part of the Municipality of Blagoevgrad together with Local Government Initiative and later with the Foundation for Local Government Reform to develop a new process of management decision making. The Municipality s goal was the development of a process, which would lead to the enactment of decisions consistent with democratic principles of government.
The project was chosen on the basis of an in-depth analysis of the current state of local government in Blagoevgrad. The Municipality wanted to develop a process for citizen participation that would allow all sections of the community to have direct input into planning the future of Blagoevgrad. We therefore decided to undertake a strategic planning process. We understood that this process would involve citizens at all levels of the Municipality. The result would be a process that would develop not only a shared community vision but would also give us a decision making process responsible to our citizenry. That is, by achieving our main goal, we would also develop a process that could solve a series of other problems. The main goal of the project may therefore be formulated as follows:
To build consensus based on the views of different social groups for the long-term development of the municipality by means of using a new methodology for development of a strategic plan. This process is in effect a bottom-up system building consensus at all levels.
2. Problem Statement
The project for development of a long-term strategic plan was aimed
at solving several problems.
a. The necessity of restoring long-term planning at all government levels
This is necessary to provide coordination and interaction between national and local development policies. It is also important to provide a sound foundation for improved regional cross-border cooperation. The adoption of the Regional Development Act which requires seven year development plans occurred after we had begun our planning process. This reinforced to us that the need for strategic planning was evident at the national level and showed us that we were on the right track with our planning effort.
b. The lack of consensus between major political forces on the issue of future development
This problem has created a lack of continuity whenever a change in government occurs. Our municipal government was so politicized that even necessary and useful projects and initiatives offered for consideration were rejected or blocked by the political party not in power. This has created inertia on the part of the municipality in providing certain services clearly recognized as needed by everyone.
c. The lack of a mechanism for actual participation of our citizens and citizen groups in government
In reality citizen participation has been expressed only by exercising the right to vote at times of elections. Once elections were over, however, the citizens become just objects. There was no mechanism to allow effective citizen participation, which would enable us to tap the potential of our citizenry. It made it very difficult to generate public confidence and support for our government because people felt they were not really cared for by the government.
d. The need to develop a process to effectively tap the talents of existing N.G.O. s
There are many working N.G.O. s in Blagoevgrad. These groups are a reservoir of qualified experts who have experience in developing and implementing projects. The new planning process involved them directly. This gave them the opportunity to look at their work not as independent organizations on their own but rather as key organizations, which are an inseparable part of the whole process. That process being the delivery of quality services to our citizenry through the efficient administration of our municipality.
e. The necessity to better utilize the potential of Blagoevgrad s two universities to serve as resources for an open citizen-oriented local government
f. The requirement of the municipal administration and staff to adopt new techniques for communications with its citizenry
The idea of problem solving involving all groups was beneficial to understanding the real concept of democratic decision-making. The process proved invaluable in opening up the efforts of municipal staff to its citizens. This has led to a better understanding of problems. It enables citizens to become familiar with municipal staff and afforded the municipal staff an opportunity to let people become acquainted with their work and to seek their approval and support. The whole effort has created a much better understanding among all parties.
3. Project description and Implementation Timeline
Stage 1: October 1998 through December 1998. A work plan aimed at achieving the goals that had been identified.
The project was initiated in October, 1998, by signing a Memorandum of Understanding between the Municipality of Blagoevgrad and the City of Auburn, USA, in close cooperation with the International City Management Association/ICMA and the Foundation for Local Government Reform/FLGR.
Our partners from Auburn have a rich and extremely valuable experience in the area of long-term planning with citizen participation. They have already successfully implemented a long-term development plan for their city the Auburn 2000 plan. Based on the results and the success of that plan, they have developed their current long-term development plan Auburn 2020 .
Using the experience of our Auburn counterparts, we adapted a process to meet our needs given the reality in Blagoevgrad. We had to consider the short time for the implementation of the project which was one year. We decided to develop a common vision for the future of our municipality. We set up short-term, mid-term and long-term goals aimed at achieving this vision, and to define the resources needed to achieve these goals. It was impossible, however, to cover all areas of development within the limited timeframe.
Therefore, we decided to develop three major areas:
urbanization, infrastructure and transportation;
environment and solid waste management.
Our decision was based on our belief that after completing this process, we
could easily apply it in other areas, such as education, healthcare, culture, etc., so as to have a complete strategic plan.
We adopted Auburn s organizational model for the development of the strategic plan. A steering committee and three work groups were established. The steering committee was charged with developing a mission statement, identifying key issues to be examined, reviewing the reports of the work groups, emphasizing commonalties between reports and reconciling differences among them, and then combining them into a final report for submittal to the Municipal Council.
The three work groups also created mission statements, identified key issues to be examined, and recommended policies, programs, and projects that could be adopted and effected by the Municipal Council. Upon completion of group discussions, each work group was charged with creating a final document outlining their mission statement and group recommendations, which was presented to the steering committee.
Stage 2: January 1999 February 1999 Informing the public of the Municipality s plans to engage in the strategic planning process, appointing the steering committee and the three work groups.
Thanks to preliminary efforts aimed at promoting the strategic plan, representatives of the general public, NGOs, and the private sector appointed to the steering committee and work groups willingly accepted their responsibilities.
The steering committee and the works groups included representatives from all of the following:
Municipal Administration including the Mayor s Team, Department Heads, and Technical Experts
Municipal Council including the Chairman, Committee Chairs, and Council Members
Local, National, and Regional Agencies including Company Managers and Regional Environmental Protection Agency
Private Businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, and Industry
All of the meetings were open to the public, and interested citizens and experts were welcome to take part in the work.
Stage 3: March, 1999 Steering committee and work group training on strategic plan methodology and citizen participation.
At this stage, the steering committee and the work groups had meetings with technical experts from the City of Auburn. The meetings primarily focused on the democratic planning process and the exchange of technical information. Focus areas and available resources were also discussed.
Stage 4: April May 1999 Work group meetings.
This stage included data collection for the focus areas, discussions of ways to solve specific problems, and the formulation of proposals for short and long term goals.
Stage 5: June, 1999 Preparation of work group reports and submission of reports to the steering committee.
The technical secretary for each group consolidated group discussions, data collection, and recommendations into a report. The reports included the identification of existing consensus based problems and resources, and specific initiatives and projects aimed at solving the problems.
Technical experts from the City of Auburn attended the steering committee meeting dedicated to the discussion of the work group reports. The steering committee concurred with the reports because they felt that they were realistic and achievable.
Stage 6: July, 1999 Development of a summary report by the steering committee.
Stage 7: August, 1999 Present the Strategic Plan for the Development of the Municipality of Blagoevgrad through 2015 to the public and submit the plan to the Municipal Council for approval.
Stage 8: September, 1999 Standing committee review of the plan and adoption by the Municipal Council.
A strategic plan for the three focus areas was developed in one year (October 1998 September 1999). The model strategic plan (Auburn 2020) included detailed development of all areas of public life. We are aware that we need to continue our work during the next year in order have a complete strategic document for Blagoevgrad s future development that is based upon consensus among all groups in the community.
4. Solutions overview
Though we are still in the process of developing a long-term strategy, the
following initiatives have already been implemented:
- established partnerships between the municipal administration and the public aimed at the implementation of joint initiatives;
- established an effective model for the delegation of responsibilities to NGO s and the private sector;
- established a model for consensus building between the interests of different groups in the community on issues of primary importance for the municipality;
- adopted new polling techniques and methods of providing active citizen participation;
- instituted new avenues for NGO participation and established favorable conditions for their development as an important part of the overall effort to improve local government;
- developed a strategic plan for three of the most important areas of public life which will be used as a model for the development of a complete strategic plan for the Municipality of Blagoevgrad.
The contribution of this project towards the improvement of local government practices in the Municipality of Blagoevgrad has both direct and indirect implications. The direct implications are listed above. However, the indirect implications of the consensus building process used for the development of the strategic plan can lead to the following in the future:
- better coordination between the local government, state institutions and agencies, private business and NGO s with respect to the implementation of important projects in the Municipality;
- consistency of local development plans, regional development plans and national policies;
- continuity with regard to the main goals of municipal government, regardless of political affiliations in leadership positions;
- development of a comprehensive strategy aimed at attracting domestic and foreign investment;
- utilizing public-private partnerships for projects requiring substantial investments;
- a basis for setting up common priorities for cross-border cooperation with Greece and Macedonia;
- bringing municipal government closer to the needs and wishes of the citizens;
- better quality and a more democratic decision-making process in the municipal administration;
- encouraging participation by NGO s in local government to develop initiatives for achieving the goals and objectives of the strategic plan;
- better understanding on behalf of the citizens of the functions and activities of the Municipality, and more active citizen involvement in local government;
- savings to the Municipal budget through the use of the expertise of the scientific community within the two local universities, as well as others in the community.
We would like to reiterate that as a whole, we believe the strategic planning process used by the Municipality of Blagoevgrad in conjunction with professionals from the City of Auburn was extremely successful. Due to the stipulations of the newly adopted Regional Development Act, all municipalities in Bulgaria will have to start working in the same direction. We would be happy to share with them the experience that we are now sharing with you.
We would like to once again express our enormous gratitude to our partners from Auburn, especially to Mr. Doug Watson, City Manager, Mr. Phillip Dunlap, Director of Economic Development, and all of the professionals on the team for their assistance and support during the whole process. The confidence and partnerships we established during our joint work will be continued into the future. We have already discussed some new ideas and initiatives for cooperation between our two cities beyond the scope of the Technical Twinning Program. We intend to expand and strengthen our relationships into a lasting cooperation.
We would also like to thank the whole team of FLGR, especially Mrs. Ginka Kapitnova and Mrs. Ina Raycheva, who did everything they could as coordinators of the program to support and help us every step of the way.