Strategic Planning: A Process of Empowerment

Rather than a deficit view of what your organization is not doing, or not doing well, a strategic planning process should identify where you want to go, what you are already doing that might help, and how you might leverage the strengths of your organization to get there. By empowering your employees with a positively intentional view of your organization’s impact, it is possible to design a future state and the steps to get there. When an organization works with others to achieve its goals, identifying the influence you have on others and the influence they have on you, along with the steps you might take to achieve the influence you are seeking should be a part of your strategic action plan.

There are three key theories of strategic planning that work well when viewed as part of a holistic process:

  1. Appreciative Inquiry
  2. Outcome Mapping
  3. Logic Modelling

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry

There are a series of stages built into the Appreciative Inquiry process:

1. Discovery: What are we currently doing well?

  • Ideas are themed and patterns emerge related to organizational strengths. This process allows organizations to focus on positive capacity.

2. Dream: What is the world calling us to become?

  • What are the things about our organization that no matter how much we change, we want to continue into our new and different future?

3. Design: What should be our ideal state?

  • Co-constructed ideas are grounded in what we are currently doing well, opportunities that are apparent, and organizational capacity.

4. Destiny/Delivery:

  • How do we empower, learn and plan for actions to reach our ideal state?


Along with steps in the Appreciative Inquiry cycle, there are a number of foundational principles that guide conversations and planning:

Appreciative Inquiry Principles

Outcome Mapping

Where does outcome mapping fit into Appreciative Inquiry? Within the Design Phase, those organizations that work collaboratively with other groups in a mutually influential role can utilize facets of outcome mapping to identify actions, outcomes, and desirable observable behaviours.

Strategic action planning and program evaluation involve the following steps:

Strategic Planning Steps

In order to have an impact, people and organizations need to change behaviours. This occurs within the Outcomes stage. When we see ourselves and our organization as a part of a large web of interdependent entities in relationship with one another, we can view change as

  • Continuous
  • Complex
  • Non-linear
  • Multidirectional
  • Not controllable

People and organizations contribute to the goals of others through influence rather than control.

Program Evaluation as Formative Assessment

Program evaluation is built into strategic planning so that progress can be monitored. When viewed as formative assessment, program evaluation can provide real-time information to inform decisions regarding action plans, inputs, and innovations within your organization. Are the actions you are taking resulting in the outcomes you have identified?

Traditional Evaluations

Evaluation as Formative Assessment

Purpose Supports improvement, summative tests, and accountability. Renders definitive judgments of success or failure. Supports development of innovation and adaptation in dynamic environments. Provides feedback, generate learnings, support direction or affirm changes in direction.
Roles & Relationships Positioned as an outsider to assure independence and objectivity. Positioned as an internal team function and ongoing interpretive processes.
Accountability Focused on and directed to external authorities and funders. Centered on the innovators’ deep sense of fundamental values and commitments.
Design Design the evaluation based on linear cause-effect logic models. Design the evaluation to capture system dynamics, interdependencies, and emergent interconnections.
Measurement Measure performance and success against pre-determined goals and SMART outcomes. Develops measures and tracking mechanisms quickly as outcomes emerge and evolve.
Evaluation results Aim to produce generalizable findings across time and space.

Evaluation engenders fear of failure.

Aim to produce context-specific understandings that inform ongoing innovation.

Evaluation supports hunger for learning.

Complexity and uncertainty To control and locate blame for failures. Learning to respond to lack of control and stay in touch with what’s unfolding and thereby respond strategically.

(Quinn Patton, 2006)

Boundary PartnersBoundary Partners

Boundary partners are a term used within Outcome Mapping to describe those groups or organizations that you work with directly and anticipate opportunities to be mutually influential. Outcome Mapping identifies behavioural changes in your boundary partners as being a key measurable towards your goals. This is due to the fact that “development is done by and for people. Although a program can influence the achievement of outcomes, it cannot control them. This is because ultimately the responsibility rests with the people affected” (Earl, 2008).

Progress Markers

Progress markers (Earl, 2008) are a set of statements describing a progression of changed behaviours in a boundary partner. These describe:

  • Actions
  • Activities
  • Relationships

Leading to the ideal outcome. These markers show the complexity of the change process and have the following characteristics:

  • Can be monitored and observed
  • Permit on-going assessment of boundary partner progress, including unintended results

The ladder of change can be applied to any progress marker:

  1. Beginning: Expect to see.
  2. Mid-Term: Like to see.
  3. Final: Love to see.

Logic Model

A logic model (Taylor-Powell & Henert, 2008) has many different forms and is a structured way to note specific inputs and activities of an organization and how they lead to outcomes over short, medium and long-term timelines. A logic model can be used in conjunction with other strategic planning processes and is a useful organizer.

Logic Model

When using a Strategic Planning Logic Model, a process might be to:

  1. Identify your vision and future state.
    • If using Appreciative Inquiry, use your thinking about your future state here.
  2. Identify your goal areas needed to reach that future state.
    • This should include those initiatives that you are currently doing well, what needs to change and new innovations.
  3. Determine your outcomes as short, medium and long-term.
    • If using Outcome Mapping, use your thinking about Boundary Partner Progress Markers here.
  4. Generate your inputs, including time, resources, people.
    • Realistic resources may have an impact on timelines for outcomes.
  5. Determine your outputs and activities and who will participate in them.
    • These may be viewed as deliverables.
  6. Identify your measurable data.
    • What can be tracked? What does that data tell you?
    • What data do you currently have access to? What requires a collection method to be developed?
    • Refer back to your observables in outcomes and outputs. Have you captured these in your data? Will your data story give you a picture of this initiative?

By working through an integrated process for strategic planning, you can empower your organization to look beyond a deficit view of present state and work towards a desired future. By having an action plan for the steps to getting to your future state, it is possible to measure progress as formative assessment, providing a continuous feedback loop for your organization.


Earl, S. (2008, June 20). Outcome Mapping Pt 1. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from

Quinn Patton, M. (2006). Evaluation for the Way We Work. The Non-Profit Quarterly(Spring), 28-33. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from

Stavros, J., Godwin, L., & Cooperrider, D. (2015). Appreciative Inquiry: Organization Development and the Strengths Revolution. In W. Rothwell, R. Sullivan, & J. Stavros, Practicing Organization Development: Leading Transformational Change (pp. 96-116). Wiley Blackwell.

Taylor-Powell, E., & Henert, E. (2008, February). Developing a Logic Model: Teaching and Training Guide. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from

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