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Stephanie Bartlett | Apr 18, 2024

5 Strategic Planning Tips for Government Agencies

In today’s dynamic environment, government agencies are facing increased demands to effectively communicate strategic visions, initiatives and community impact.  Volatile economic and financial factors, regulatory issues and technology enhancements especially all make it harder to meet those demands.  No wonder looking ahead with a strategic planning process can feel daunting.  Yet the right tools, processes and data analytics help agencies gain efficiencies, enable better insights and feel more confident in the future when building strategic plans.

But before we dive into 5 strategic planning tips for government agencies, let’s quickly review what strategic planning entails.

What Is Strategic Planning?

Per the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA), strategic planning for government agencies involves articulating where or what an organization wants to be in the future.  That process includes designing a vision and identifying goals and objectives.  While related to developing financial policies, capital improvement planning and budgeting, the strategic plan is inherently different.

Typically, strategic planning is used to do the following:

  • Articulate an organizational vision
  • Foster organizational alignment
  • Undertake comprehensive environmental and economic assessments
  • Prioritize services, initiatives and programs
  • Establish goals

Why Does Strategic Planning Matter?

Strategic planning helps Finance leaders model the organization as it exists today and then layer on possible strategies over the top.  What types of strategies?  Changes in tax policies, capital projects, new programs and so forth are some examples.  Through this proactive approach, stakeholders can visualize plausible future scenarios and their corresponding impacts.  Strategic planning can be a useful storytelling tool to help stakeholders understand the future impact agencies can have on their community within resource constraints.

Plus, internally, strategic planning is a powerful way to set the direction and prioritization of an agency.  Why?  The planning completes a cohesive feedback loop.  First, the strategic plan drives the budget and resource allocation.  Then actuals drive revisions to the forecast.  And finally, forecast changes influence the strategic plan in future years (see Figure 1).  This feedback loop ensures agencies are aligned on maximizing community impact.

Figure 1:  Feedback planning loop that creates organizational alignment.

Strategic Planning Tips for Government Agencies

Getting a handle on what’s going to happen tomorrow or next week is tough on its own.  So understanding what might happen in 1-2 years – or in 5 years – seems nearly impossible.

And if the planning process is happening in offline spreadsheets?  Well, that’s an even bigger headache.  Putting together a plan that truly represents a vision of the future requires aligning actual data with inputs from across the agency.  Thus, having to combine various spreadsheets that lack data quality and consistency controls can make any planning process a tedious, time-consuming task.

But it doesn’t have to be that way!  Below are 5 strategic planning tips for government agencies to save time, get better insights and gain confidence when building strategic plans.

1. Centralize data and ensure quality control.

The foundation of a reliable strategic plan lies in having accurate and timely data to support confident funding and spending decisions.  In addition, the data used for the strategic plan must be consistent and aligned with the data used for other financial planning processes, including the budget.

How can alignment be created?  By working with IT and operational stakeholders to leverage available data from across the organization, Finance teams generate informed insights and make data-driven decisions.  Implementing tools that centralize data from multiple sources, ensure data quality control and provide transparency with drill-back capabilities ultimately fosters alignment and trust within the organization.

2. Integrate financial statements.

Organizations often focus primarily on the Statement of Activities.  But modeling the Balance Sheet and Cash Flow Statement in the strategic plan also has significant value.  Why?  In an ideal world, agencies could have endless cash.  But today Finance leaders typically have financial constraints and must prioritize and balance funding to ensure long-term financial sustainability.

By integrating all three financial statements, stakeholders can better understand the long-term financial impact of different strategies and external factors.  Stakeholders can also make informed decisions that include the following:

  • Utilizing recurring vs. non-recurring funds
  • Using reserve allocations
  • Covering core services
  • Funding new initiatives in an optimized way (i.e., debt vs. cash)

3. Conduct scenario analysis.

Scenario planning helps organizations be more resilient and adaptable.  The process requires identifying a range of possible future conditions and then developing plans to respond to each condition.

For example, a local agency may want to understand potential scenarios with changes in tax policies.  Government agencies, after all, must carefully consider the potential impacts of tax policy changes to balance revenue needs with the economic health of the community.

Scenario planning not only improves the accuracy and effectiveness of the planning efforts, but also helps Finance become a strategic partner to the organization.  By understanding possible outcomes and having a plan in place to react, agencies can be better positioned for success in a rapidly changing world.

4. Automate calculations and logic.

Excel can be highly error prone – whether due to mis-keyed or corrupted data cells or incorrect or broken formulas.  Plus, Excel can especially be burdensome when data is pulled from multiple sources and each part of a spreadsheet relates to and affects other parts.  Tiny errors can easily –and quickly – turn into bigger headaches.

Implementing a software solution that automatically brings data together, leverages standard calculations and easily performs wide-ranging scenarios is a game-changer for Finance teams.  Gone are the days of pouring over buggy spreadsheets and digging through rows of data to fix mis-keys or errors.  Instead, the right solution can restore work-life balance.  How?  By allowing the team to focus on research and analysis instead of spending long hours and late nights in the office dealing with data issues.

5. Utilize dashboards & visuals to tell your story.

Dashboards and visualizations are powerful storytelling tools for the strategic plan.  In fact, effective dashboards help guide decision-making with a varied audience (see Figure 2).  The ability to quickly visualize data trends, impacts of initiatives and economic drivers, and core financial KPIs over time becomes possible with dashboards and reports.  And those capabilities enable better and faster decision-making.

Figure 2:  OneStream data visualizations enable faster insights and changes in response to fluctuations in the market and financial results.


While predicting the future remains uncertain, strategic planning equips Finance leaders with the foresight and agility to capitalize on opportunities and navigate potential changes effectively.  Finance can leverage integrated data solutions, automated calculations, scenario planning frameworks and impactful visualizations.  Through those aspects, Finance teams will improve efficiency, insights and confidence in the strategic plan and position the agency for long-term success.

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OneStream brings Finance processes into a single platform solution to enable seamless integration between the data, people and processes driving the organization.  Learn more about how OneStream uniquely empowers government Finance teams to enhance planning, gain new insights and streamline Finance processes.

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