The Planning Council
Elements of QUALITY COMMUNITY PLANNING,
as demonstrated by the member organizations of the
National Association of Planning Councils (NAPC)
On this page:
strategies & methods /
Functions & roles
Organizational models /
Todays planning councils, and their roles and defining characteristics, are
remarkably similar to the original ones of over sixty years ago.
The job of todays councils is broad ... to stitch together the whole varied range
of separate public, voluntary, and, increasingly, private activities into a
rational, effective response to human needs which is appropriate to each of their
Todays councils are guided by an informed perspective on their communities
social assets, resources, and needs. This perspective comes from their wide and varied
research and information gathering activities the unique council asset which guides
all their other actions.
Todays councils are organized to provide leadership for effective community-wide
as well as more localized neighborhood action on important issues and concerns.
Todays councils' common characteristics
... people from
business, health, education, religion, labor, government, civic groups, and geographic
Citizen-led board of directors, with leaders from all sectors
Incorporation as a separate 501(c)3 charitable non-profit (or possibly within one)
Non-partisan and non-sectarian
Driven by a mission to broadly build the quality of community life through
community-wide planning focused on addressing human development needs
A merging of lay and professional interests, skills and experience to guide and
ensure effective community planning and organizations
A highly competent, skilled professional staff with varied knowledge, experience,
VALUES, STRATEGIES, METHODS
Todays councils promote and apply distinct
values, strategies and methods, including:
in decision making throughout
its board and committee structures, supporting community sanction for council actions
An openness for involvement of a wide constituency
A "big-picture" perspective on community needs, problems, and
possibilities for improvements, generating a broad agenda of work
A plan of work based on an objective review of data and information from a wide
variety of sources, (i.e., census reports, sponsored task forces and coalitions, public
surveys, focus groups, consumers views).
Action based on consensus among those most concerned about a particular issue
A planned approach for involving those directly affected by critical problems and needs
in organizational decisions a strong emphasis on a "bottom-up"
approach to planning
An effective working relationship with all sectors, voluntary, public and private,
to help promote effective community-wide action.
A close connection at the neighborhood level to provide a strong link between
community-wide action to support effective integration of helping resources where people
are in their homes, schools, churches, neighborhoods
A recognition that, for the comprehensive community planning function to occur,
organizations such as councils at the community-wide level are the critical link
the "intersection" between the neighborhoods and the state and nation
FUNCTIONS & ROLES
Todays councils have several common
core functions and tasks they perform to fulfill their important and broad role in the
community. All councils serve their communities as an ongoing:
on key trends and developments related to human needs
and helping resources, as well as needed changes for improvements and possibilities for
Researcher and data gatherer
Planner for identifying most critical concerns to be addressed.
Organizer for convening and mobilizing resources for effective action on a broad
range of often interrelated needs and concerns.
Voice for improved social policy decisions to support recommended action.
Source of technical assistance to plan and develop specific recommended changes,
including new programs and organization of programs and agency relationships.
Developer of new resources, financial and other, to help support recommended action
to public and voluntary local and state (and national, when appropriate)
decision makers on better use of their respective resources.
As a part of implementing these "core
functions," or as distinct separate functions, many councils are involved in
important additional activities, including:
Community education -- promoting awareness among the general public, decision
makers, and service providers on important trends, issues, and needed actions.
Evaluation -- determining the effectiveness of programs, community-focused
initiatives, and specific service arrangements.
Provider of information to help link people to needed assistance, often through
general and/or specialized information and referral services, resource directories, etc.
Training source for service providers, volunteers, and program managers on improved
Promotion of voluntary citizen participation -- sometimes by developing and/or
managing community volunteer centers.
In some instances, councils use their flexibility and skills to further enhance their
communities capacity for action. Examples of these less common but important
functions include acting as a:
Funder of services; usually part of a councils larger role of impacting a
particular need; and usually as a subcontractor of "pass through" funds.
Fiscal agent for a project being funded by a private or public source which may or
may not be related to the councils overall efforts to address specific needs.
Provider of various support services for non-profit agencies to further their
financial, organization, and service effectiveness (including centralized purchasing,
management and board training, etc).
Todays councils use different
organizational model approaches, including those described below, in applying their common
missions and functions.
Each councils board and professional leaders, and circumstances within each
individual community, determine what approach the council will focus on. (Although a
particular councils approach may emphasize a specific organizational model, this
does not preclude it from also pursuing activities included in other approaches.)
Some councils focus much of their attention on gathering and monitoring information useful
to identifying major community concerns, the resources available to help, and the ways to
measure progress. In some areas, the councils may actually help facilitate needed
action. However, the emphasis is on being an objective provider of information to
the community as a whole.
Some councils focus their activities on a selected few important community concerns
gathering information, facilitating and mobilizing needed action, and monitoring progress.
In some instances, councils also may provide key support services to affected individuals,
i.e., case management, making appointments for help, etc. The selection of problems
to be addressed may evolve from a larger rational process involving other community
groups, or may simply relate to what funding sources are available at a certain
time. The goals are multi-faceted, focused on changes in social, health, and/or
Some councils have adopted their own broad set of goals and objectives that they commit a
majority of their planning and related activities to address over an extended period of
time. They assess their own performance based on progress made toward each goal.
Such councils position themselves to affect all aspects of these goals (i.e., child
development, healthy families), including social policy, program development, community
involvement, and resource allocations. They often join with other community
development and civic groups to share leadership for effecting desired changes.
Todays councils are funded from a variety of
from national, state, local foundations, for
ongoing activities or special initiatives.
Fee for service contracts with state agencies, local department of government,
private foundations and others.
Local United Ways, for core operational expenses (e.g. core staff leadership and
direct expenses) and selected services.
Private donations from individuals, corporations, civic
Program service fees
Sales of reports, documents, etc.
Special fund raising events
Fees from participating organizations for centralized administrative services
(e.g., joint purchasing, health insurance).
Although the structures and approaches found in planning councils across the country
have evolved over the years, councils core functions have endured and remain of
ongoing critical importance.
The important reliance on the leadership and vision of caring, knowledgeable and
dedicated volunteers, guiding the work of capable professional staff, have always been and
will continue to be keys to the success of councils work.
"About Planning Councils"
(councils' history in the U.S., and
Building: The Contribution of Community Planning Councils"
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