At a glance

Policy stage: 
Level of involvement: 
Length of process: 
2 days. Follow up after 6 months
Number of participants: 

The Participatory Strategic Planning process is a consensus-building approach that helps a community come together in explaining how they would like their community or organisation to develop over the next few years.


Participatory Strategic Planning consists of four stages:

  1. First, the group determines their vision for the future of the organisation or community.
  2. Second, they describe the obstacles that are preventing them from reaching their vision.
  3. In the third stage they move on to agree methods that will help them get past the obstacles and reach the vision.
  4. The final stage is about implementation planning e.g. 'What shall we do in the first year?', and finally, 'What shall we do in detail in the first 3 months?'

Each stage uses a workshop process which involves brainstorming to generate ideas, gathering to explore the themes that emerge, and naming to develop the agreement of the group in each cluster. Each workshop involves a combination of working individually, in small groups and with the whole group. A trained and experienced facilitator is required (a team of two is preferable), and planning the process should involve others in the group as well as the facilitator. The venue should comfortably accommodate the participants in such a way that they can see and hear each other and the facilitator clearly, with good lighting and acoustics. A large, flat area of wall-space is best for organising participants' ideas, written on cards.

You should use Participatory Strategic Planning when you want to build a spirit of ownership and commitment in a group or when you want to reach consensus to move forward. Participatory Strategic Planning can deliver direct decisions as well as a clear idea of where participants want an organisation or community to go, consensus about directions, a community commitment to making things happen and a stronger sense of being a team.

You should not use Participatory Strategic Panning when you are in a hierarchical situation where there is no commitment from the top to allow the group to make decisions and take them forward. Participatory Strategic Planning cannot deliver the fine detail of plans which need to be developed in smaller groups.


  • 5 to 50 is the typical range but it can be more or less than that. The method works well with a mixed group of participants from all levels of the community or organisation.
  • It is designed to be inclusive, so a diverse group of participants can take part.
  • Participants with low levels of literacy might need some support.



  • A team of two trained and experienced facilitators or a two-day event would typically cost £2,000-£4,000 including preparation, facilitation and documentation in addition to a venue, catering, travel, board and lodging, as required.

Approximate time expense


  • A two day event with a recommended follow-up after 6 months.


  • Flexible and applicable to multiple settings
  • A remarkably quick way of enabling a diverse group to reach agreement
  • Works for people with auditory as well as visual preferences
  • Participants often find the process and outcome inspiring


  • Requires trained and experienced facilitators
  • Requires buy-in and commitment beforehand from people in power
  • Requires hard work and commitment on the day and subsequently
  • Requires all major stakeholders to be in the room


Organisational Change

Developed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs through over 30 years of working with local communities around the world. It is now applied widely in voluntary, public and private sectors. Participatory Strategic Planning is one of the group facilitation methods known collectively as the Technology of Participation.


See Institute for Cultural Affairs restrictions.


Institute for Cultural Affairs:

Clare Vermes, Administrator

Manchester-based, core hours Monday-Thursday, 9am-3pm

Telephone:             0845 450 0305       or             0161 232 8444


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