CEDS Resource Library
Strategic Blueprint: Tools to Help Achieve Goals
There are hundreds of CEDS reports in the resource library. Some may be better than others, but which CEDS document is better (or worse) than another is of little significance if a region’s great strategy is never actualized. How, then, are we to make the strategy work in the real world? Are there some best practices to put the action plan into practice?
There are good resources and guidance offered on the EDA website for writing a CEDS and making it work.
The strategic direction and corresponding action plan contained within the CEDS are the heart and soul of the document. They should answer the questions “Where do we want to go?” and “How are we going to get there?” by leveraging the analysis undertaken in the SWOT.
The vision, goals, and measurable objectives will provide a strategic framework for public and private decision-making and serve as the basis for the formulation and focus of the action plan.
Goals and objectives provide the basis for formulating the action plan and serve as milestones to evaluate regional progress. Goals are broad outcomes or general intentions that build upon the vision and are often intangible.
Objectives are more specific, measurable, concrete, and support the obtainment of the goals. Goals and objectives provide benchmarks by which area officials, economic development stakeholders, and the community can measure performance.
The goals and objectives should be prioritized to provide a basis for decisions on the use of available resources [both financial and personnel].
The successful establishment of a vision with corresponding goals and measurable objectives—properly prioritized and based on a reasonable view of the region’s strengths and capabilities—will result in a well-defined strategic framework that will drive overall implementation of the CEDS.
—Selected text from the CEDS Content Guidelines on the EDA website.
All great advice and guidance. But counsels and committees and working groups may need more specifics and a tight alignment between resources and goals in order to put the CEDS into action.
The following brief discussion on a CEDS “best practice” is a distillation of what many in the (international) economic development field call "The Logical Framework." This tool, or method, goes by several names with slight variations (for example, the Logic Model). EDA itself recommended using the Logic Model to evaluate their i6 Program. For a few Logic Model examples, please see the following:
Paraphrasing from the i6 Program report: The Logic Model captures and documents, both qualitatively and quantitatively, the project activities that result in outputs and outcomes. It also accounts for key immediate steps from the start of a project, such as the activity of capacity building, and logically relating those activities to the longer-term quantitative outcomes. The process documents assumptions that may interfere with the cause-effect relationships between an activity and an outcome. The Logic Model acknowledges and documents the many external forces and operating environment that may affect participants. And, as alluded to above, the Logic Model shows the relationships between the resources and activities pursuant to relatively small, incremental outcomes that in turn are linked to the broader overarching goals and objectives of the whole project, or in the case of CEDS, the goals and objectives of the development strategy.
Thinking through and documenting project and initiative specifics is difficult. Consider that a building’s blueprints can consist of 150 pages for a modest structure. But each of those pages documents a part of the building that, absent that component, the building would not function as the architect had intended. If not executed, the building may even fall down.
Before providing an example of a Logical Framework, one more (empathetic) point related to logical framework, logic model and other variations of the same type of tool. Terms like “outcomes” and “objectives” may have different meanings from one tool to another. That can be frustrating for both those who are new to the tools, and for those old salts who feel strongly that their way to frame the log-frame is right. Our advice: Simply be consistent in your application of the terms and check yourself (and your teammates) to make sure you don’t use terms interchangeably. While you may think a goal and an objective are the same, not all may appreciate the definitional overlap, especially considering the many layers of intermediate steps and linkages that flow through the logic-type models.
We haven’t coined the term “logic-flow-model,” but we do like applying the term to the logic-type models because, in a sense, logic flows in the model. Big ideas, like vision and goals flow down into actions to take and measures to chart progress toward an overarching goal. Small actions have results which, in turn, flow (or roll-up) into intermediate outcomes that in turn influence longer-term goals.
While the Logical Framework, or log-frame, isn’t required when developing a CEDS, working through a log-frame is highly recommended when drafting the action plan. The log-frame will help ensure there is a what, who, how and measureable outcomes that you have control over. For example, increasing per capita personal income (PCPI) is a laudable goal for a region, but it won’t happen quickly or without targeted efforts. The log-frame approach will also break an initiative or project into different levels of direct control, as well as different levels of measures. For example, a governor, a mayor or a regional economic development council has no direct control over PCPI. PCPI is a high-level, or "headline," measure that may be fine for a newspaper to report and increasing it as a goal can even capture people’s imagination, but what can you, a council member, do about it?
There are mid-level measures (and outcomes) over which you may have a modest amount of control. You may have some influence on the number of new firms and jobs that are created that pay a higher-than-average wage. As a council member, you may have even more direct control over outcomes and activities as measured by more granular indicators. For example, you may work with both your local junior college (JC) and a specialized steel products firm human resources department to develop an advanced welding and industrial technician curriculum that would, in turn, provide the skill sets and training needed to fill those sought-after high-wage jobs.
If one of your CEDS goals is to “increase the quality of the workforce,” one way to do that may be to increase the number of people with associate degrees. How could that happen? Perhaps it would be to reduce the barriers to attending courses by providing childcare during evening classes. As a thought exercise, what measures or indicators would you use to chart progress toward the three levels of goals presented above?
- High-level: Increase workforce quality
- Mid-level: Increase the number of people with associate degrees
- Granular: Increase availability of evening childcare on JC campus
As you get more granular in thinking through activities and outcomes, the more you will likely ask yourself, and others on the council, something like: “Who is going to be the agent of change at the regional JC? How will that change agent get the resources to provide that activity?”
In short, the log-frame approach moves one from goals to identifying actions, actors and resources, as well as the metrics and indicators you will use to measure performance. It also makes one think through some of the critical assumptions associated with the cause and effect. In the following example, there was a huge assumption that few could see. Can you identify it? We bet you can think of other activities and intermediate objectives that would serve the high-level goal on improving living standards. This example is for a water project:
If we drill, and there is a sufficient aquafer, then we will have a working well, and if we have a working well in the village—a measureable result—and if the locals drink the well water rather than dirty surface water, then the locals will be healthier, and if the locals are healthier, they will be able to work more consistently, and if they work more consistently, they will increase their income and living standards.
If your council agreed that one goal of your strategy is to improve your region’s business climate, how would you apply the log-frame analysis?
The log-frame matrix below was pulled from the web. As the diagram shows, many if-then causal relationships flow through from the goal to the activities—from the goal down to the project activities.
Source: "Using a Logical Framework Approach," www.freshminds.co.uk
How to write a logical framework (logframe): The website “tools4dev” provides some handy examples of the log—frame, in some cases, with the cells of the matrix filled in. You’ll note that the source is from an international development outfit.
Logical framework project starter: The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has resources for one doing project or program design, planning and evaluation.
Logical framework template: The USAID site also offers templates to help guide you through the process.
LF indicators: The USAID site also provides guidance on selecting performance indicators.
- Performance Monitoring Indicators: Please don’t get too irritated with the CDCS acronym on this link. (Yes, there are way too many acronyms in government.) It stands for "Country Development Cooperation Strategy," but no matter. The basic idea holds. Good indicators of performance are:
- Useful for Management
- Attributable to someone
- Disaggregated (or as granular as possible).
A simply search for “logical framework template” on the web will yield many additional resources.
This section of the CEDS and economic development resource library has provided what may be a missing link between the laudable goals presented in a CEDS regional strategy and taking effective action to achieve those goals. There are many variations of the logical framework, but the general idea is to ensure there is a what, who, how and measureable outcomes that you have control over are all spelled out in detail.