Strategic Goal Setting—Even Done Virtually—Is More Important Than Ever

August 18, 2020

Pushpins in a bulletin board and the words goal setting, strategic planning, and facilitation.p0-An important driver of success in communities is the ability of leaders to act strategically. Especially in city government, it can be easy for the day-to-day work of running a city to dominate the council’s time. Some councils go years without ever really sitting down and thinking broadly together about common priorities. This can lead feeling like the city is jumping from issue to issue without making meaningful progress on the things that are most important to the community.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution, and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Community and Economic Development (CED) can help. Even one goal-setting session a year can do wonders for your community. The process is fairly simple. We first use a consensus-based process to determine top priorities for the next year. We then consider ongoing commitments and the strengths and weaknesses of your community. Then we focus on the specific actions that need to take place and who is responsible for getting it done. Ideally this session is made up of the full council, the mayor, key staff, and even community partners. The goals should be important, realistic, and actionable.

Goal setting has many benefits, and communities that make this an annual or even biennial tradition experience significant changes. The goal-setting document presents clear instructions to staff about what council is dedicated to achieving over the coming year. It keeps the focus on the issues that are most important to progress in the community. The process also helps maintain the council’s focus. By beginning with common goals, valuable time is saved as the focus is immediately on those issues that have majority support.

The goal-setting document is also excellent as an evaluation tool. At the end of the year, the council can look back their goals and evaluate their success in achieving them. Putting goals down on paper creates the opportunity for frank conversations among staff, council, and the community about what got done, what did not, and why.

Due to the exceptional circumstances, this year’s goal-setting documents will most likely not reflect what communities did in the last even months That is OK! These are meant to be short-term, living documents. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, ISU Extension and Outreach CED has developed a process for fully digital goal-setting meetings that preserve the interaction and collaboration of our in-person meetings. In times like these when it can feel like every day brings new challenges and opportunities, taking the time to consider your overall goals and objectives is more important than ever.

If your city or other organization would like to discuss options for goal setting this fall, contact Eric Christianson at or 515-231-6513.