The Canterbury region in New Zealand is currently being reconstructed following two major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. In response a Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) has been set up by the New Zealand government. This provides an example of a community needing to be reconstructed on a number of levels. In such instances of social reconstruction, which arise from natural disasters and other causes, it is important that productive discussions are facilitated at various levels about the goals and coordination of the reconstruction. The key issues which need to be addressed are: 1. the involvement of stakeholders in major decisions regarding the reconstruction rather than it being dominated by national authorities; 2. determining the best practical tool/process for underpinning the high-level strategic direction discussions at various levels; and, 3. how gaps and overlaps between the multiple projects being undertaken by multiple parties (both from within the location being reconstructed and from outside of it) can be identified either for the reconstruction as a whole, or for certain sectors and sub-areas within the reconstruction. The DoView® Visual Planning process is a visually based tool/process which could potentially be used to ensure that discussions about the direction and priorities for reconstruction are undertaken in a way that facilitates clear strategic thinking. It could be considered for use in reconstruction processes at various levels, for instance at a high community-wide level, or more specifically in regard to service provision for particular sectors within the community which is being reconstructed. More information about DoView Visual Planning at http://doview.com/plan and DoView Visual Sector planning at http://doview.com/plan/sector.html.
How will strategic direction and priorities discussions take place?
There are obviously many issues which need to be addressed in reconstructing a community. This article is focused on a limited, but important, aspect of the work of reconstruction. This is the issue of finding the best and most accessible tool/process for underpinning the strategic discussions amongst parties about the strategic direction of, and priorities for, the reconstruction. It should be noted that this article does not focus on various methodologies for community engagement of the citizens (dialogue or other processes) in the reconstruction of their community, nor does it focus on project planning methodologies and software for actually ‘doing the work’ of reconstruction. Rather than focusing on these areas, the article suggests a new way of undertaking just those aspects of the reconstruction process which are related to discussion about the strategic direction and priorities for reconstruction at various levels (e.g. overall strategic directions, reconstruction in various sectors, reconstruction and government services, localities etc.). The approach suggested in this article could be used regardless of what community engagement approach is selected for use and no matter what specific project planning methodology is used to coordinate the detailed implementation of the reconstruction.
The essence of the approach outlined in this article is its focus on determining the outcomes and priorities for reconstruction at various levels and the mix of projects which will achieve these rather than detailed planning of projects once they have been selected as priority projects (whether this be at an overall level, or for specific sectors, government services etc.)
The new way of working proposed in this article has grown out of theoretical work by the author in the area of how to deal with the identification, prioritisation and achievement of outcomes at a national, regional, sector, or organizational level (http://www.outcomestheory.org). The new approach is based on the use of a visual approach to identifying outcomes and the steps which it is believed will lead to them and then mapping possible projects onto this visual model in order to identify gaps and overlaps and lastly mapping the different organizations responsible for each project.
In essence it is suggested here that instead of the traditional approach to structuring strategic and prioritisation discussions (the use of long textual and tables-based documents), that a new visual strategic planning approach should be considered. This approach – the DoView Visual Planning methodology – is based on building a visual model of the outcomes being sought in the reconstruction and the steps required to achieve them. The visual DoView plan is then used to both prioritise the steps and outcomes which will be sought initially and to show visual ‘line-of-sight’ between the projects being implemented and the priorities on the visual model. (Note the approach has previously been called Easy Outcomes and Duignan’s Outcomes-Focused Visual Strategic Planning Process). More information on the approach is available at http://doview.com/plan and on its use for whole sector planning at http://doview.com/plan/sector.html.
The traditional approach to organizing community reconstruction
In cases of community reconstruction, various committees and forums are set up (e.g. the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Community Forum) for coordinating the reconstruction and having strategic discussions about goals and priorities. In the traditional approach, these types of discussions generally consist of the following:
- Verbal discussions amongst the parties about the direction the reconstruction should go in. These may or may not be informed by various consultation and dialogue processes with the community.
- Text-based summaries of these discussions and some conclusions about priorities.
- Tables setting out all of the projects which are being undertaken and some sort of attempt to link these projects with the text-based summaries in 2 above (e.g. through textual summaries of the ‘objectives’ of each project).
- Various more PR-orientated publications summarizing such planning at various levels.
- Standard project management software and systems at the level of managing the projects.
The problem with the traditional way of conducting such strategic discussions
A picture is worth a thousand words
How the DoView Visual Planning approach could potentially be used for community reconstruction
The DoView Visual Planning approach could be used in cases of community reconstruction in various ways:
- Some of the discussions about the objectives and outcomes for the Canterbury reconstruction (for instance the overall objectives, those for a sector, those for government agencies, those for a locality) could take place against an ‘Outcomes DoView’ – a visual model of all of the outcomes that are being sought for a region, a sector etc. and the steps it is believed are needed to get to them.
- Priorities could be set visually onto the Outcomes DoView (by marking the boxes in the model up A, B, C, etc.). This immediately makes transparent the priorities for the reconstruction.
- Projects and activities being undertaken could be mapped back onto the DoView Outcomes DoView. This immediately shows if there is sufficient emphasis in the activity being placed on the outcomes for the reconstruction (the ones prioritised in 2 above). It also immediately reveals gaps and overlaps in the patter of projects and activities being undertaken.
- In addition, DoView Outcomes DoViews which are built to facilitate strategic discussions and priority setting can be used for a range of other purposes (identifying performance indicators to track progress and possible evaluation projects to look at the impact of the activity which is taking place).
Advantages of the approach
Reconstructing a community is a potentially highly complex process which involves many parties with potentially different views on the direction and priorities for reconstruction.
- There is a major risk that the voices of the community are lost in the babble of ‘policy speak’ from central government when involved in such community reconstruction work. The traditional tools national bureaucrats use for planning – long text-based policy documents and endless tables setting out details of projects – often provide an impermeable barrier for local communities and busy local stakeholders wanting to quickly get on top of strategic priority decision-making. Local people, particularly in the middle of a major reconstruction effort, do not have the time to penetrate long text-based documents.
- The visual strategic planning approach used in DoView Visual Planning provides a much more transparent and accessible format for community representatives and other stakeholders at various levels to discuss priorities, gaps and overlaps in the reconstruction process. This is because it uses the power of visualisation to quickly provide an overview of priorities and projects.
- If local communities and stakeholders at various levels and in various sectors are to have effective input at the policy table, the tool used for discussion of high-level strategies and priorities at that table needs to be one which is easy for all parties to engage in and directly ‘see’ the priorities which are being set and whether or not there is a connection (line-of-sight) between what is being done on the ground and the priority outcomes which are being sought.
Where DoView Visual Planning is currently being used
The DoView Visual Planning approach (under the names Easy Outcomes and Duignan’s Outcomes-Focused Visual Strategic Planning Process) is being used in a wide variety of sectors by public and not-for-profit organisations in New Zealand and internationally in the case of some projects.