April 13, 2009
2009 APTA - TRB Light Rail Conference Issue
Designing the New APTA Strategic Plan, 2010-2014
BY W. STEVE LEE, President and Chief Executive Officer, Collaborative Strategies Group, LLC, Washington, DC
An effective strategic planning process needs leadership.
At its November 2008 retreat, APTA’s Executive Committee created a steering committee to launch its strategic planning process for 2010-2014. The strategic plan will be a road map to lead APTA from where it is now to where it needs to be in five years, establishing the association’s priorities so that it can better serve the needs of its members and staff, as well as to guide APTA in the rapidly shifting economic, political, and social environment.
M.P. Carter, APTA first vice chair and chair of the APTA Strategic Planning Steering Committee, intends that “this strategic plan will be a living document, which is compelling yet accessible and meaningful to all.”
As 2010 approaches—the start of the new strategic planning cycle —nothing less than a sea change faces public transportation: climate change, increased ridership, a wave of baby-boomer retirements, deteriorating infrastructures, deep budget cuts, public policy initiatives, and new technologies. At the APTA Legislative Conference, Carter underscored the point that “public transportation faces an unprecedented array of challenges and opportunities on our plate.”
As a membership organization, APTA must line up its priorities with those of its members, but also must lead them toward alignment with the institutions, trends, and ideas that will influence and change public transportation. In his remarks, APTA President William W. Millar expressed hope that the strategic planning process results “in a plan that is informed by the needs of our members” and that “sharpens the alignment of APTA’s vision with the ambitious goals of TransitVision 2050.”
TransitVision 2050, the final report of APTA’s TransitVision 2050 Task Force, identifies a future for public transportation. Among other things, it describes the world in 2050, and how it has changed since the early part of the 21st century. While the endpoint is firmly in place with APTA’s vision, the path to get there will require great flexibility and responsiveness by APTA to a dynamic, changing environment.
Tasked to make the process as far-reaching and engaging as possible, the steering committee selected Collaborative Strategies Group, a District-based firm with experience in transportation and expertise in collaborative processes, to design and implement APTA’s strategic planning process.
The APTA Executive Committee will consider a draft strategic plan for adoption at its annual retreat in November 2009, with the final plan presented to the Board for approval in March 2010.
An effective strategic planning process must be transparent, inclusive, and engaging.
The strategic planning team will invite APTA members and staff to help shape this strategic vision through:
* Brainstorming sessions;
* Stakeholder interviews;
* Interactive online discussions;
* Presentations; and
Participation by APTA members will be encouraged throughout the process.
An effective strategic planning process must consider relevant issues.
This is not simply a reflective exercise. To be sure, knowing where APTA is will be important to knowing where APTA is going. Strategic planning is meaningless if it does not result in a plan that stands a chance of implementation.
Important questions that will be asked are:
* How can APTA be more effective in what it is already doing?
* Where and in what ways should APTA expand its work?
* Are there areas/programs it should no longer pursue?
* What trends and changes in the world most affect its work and how should APTA respond?
In January 2009, the strategic planning team began a series of brainstorming sessions with APTA members and interviews with members, leaders, and staff. Throughout spring 2009, the team will convene brainstorming sessions open to all members at the APTA Bus and Paratransit Conference and the APTA Rail Conference. The focus of these sessions will be to fully understand where APTA members stand; their concerns, hopes, and dreams for the future of their organization; and how APTA can support key goals.
At the same time, the team will discuss with APTA committees how the new strategic plan will meet the needs of the areas important to them. The interviews will also include non-members to gain the fullest possible perspectives.
An effective strategic plan should be focused on implementation and action.
It is critical to keep in mind that the target of the strategic plan is the APTA membership.
Those who have engaged in strategic planning know that process often defines product. The process is defined to be broad and relatively easy to participate in, yet it makes sure to move beyond superficial input. The aim is for APTA members to feel there is something to be gained by participating—that their ideas will be heard and they will learn—and to acquire something extremely useful from this process.
The ultimate goal of the 2010-2014 APTA Strategic Plan is to create a bridge between what public transportation does in 2010 and beyond, and what APTA can do to clear the path.
An effective strategic plan must have ownership and accountability for its implementation.
By March 2010, APTA expects that all its members will share responsibility for the strategic plan. They can then champion the plan and ensure that APTA continues to meet the challenges it sets forth.
APTA members must support the plan to make it a priority; APTA staff must provide what is needed to bring the plan to life.
The strategic plan should be flexible, adaptive, and enduring.
The path to 2014 is unclear, but it is important that by “2050, America’s energy efficient, multi-modal, environmentally sustainable transportation system powers the greatest nation of earth” (TransitVision 2050). As M.P. Carter said: “Challenges are being thrown our way, but so are a great many opportunities.”