Guest blogger Paul Cooper talks about the importance of strategic plans for coalitions

Blog Post created by ryan.quinn Employee on Mar 21, 2013

PaulCooperHome fire sprinkler coalitions face daunting obstacles, but one of the biggest is that many lack a clear and comprehensive plan to achieve home fire sprinkler adoption. Developing a strategic plan won’t assure a group’s success, but moving forward without a plan virtually assures its failure. 

Through my work with fire and life safety groups, I’ve encountered an array of reasons coalitions can’t get started on their own strategic plans. Here are the five biggest myths that hold them back:

Myth 1: Nobody reads plans, so they’re a waste of time. Writing a smart plan is the beginning of a process of change, not the end. So it’s essential that coalition members also commit to implementing its most important components, and create a process for assuring accountability. But even if every strategy isn’t implemented, merely creating a consensus plan can help a group improve its effectiveness. Dwight Eisenhower echoed this idea when he said, “Plans are useless, but planning is indispensible.”

Myth 2: A plan will lock us in and prevent flexibility. Planning involves a certain amount of guesswork about the future, and planners are wise to be modest prognosticators. The best plans are forward-looking and flexible, with clear timelines and metrics, plus contingency options if things go awry.  

Myth 3: We don’t have to put our plan on paper. The only reason to keep your plan in your head is if one person (you) is going to do all the work. A true coalition shares responsibilities, and the only way to assure that everyone knows their roles and completes their tasks is to get together and write them all down.

Myth 4: Planning is a lot of work. Writing a coalition plan is easier than you might think. Plan writing will take some forethought, and it should be a consensus process that includes all the major stakeholders; there are numerous guides online and in the bookstore to get you started. If creating a plan still seems daunting, get some outside expertise to minimize the pain and maximize your chances of success.

Myth 5: We don’t really need to plan. If your coalition is content with things as they are, then you don’t need a plan. But change is never easy: If you want to change the law, change the code, or change opinions, you need a strategic plan to marshal your resources and advocate effectively for home fire sprinklers. 

Paul Cooper is a facilitation and strategic planning consultant based in Washington, DC. He has worked with NFPA, the Washington Fire Sprinkler Coalition, and numerous other fire and life safety advocates around the country.