Research Brief – Engaging in Strategic Planning

Districts represent complex ecosystems that must weigh the needs and priorities of all community members against their existing capacity. Accordingly, districts and their communities must commit to assessing their current needs, identifying solutions, and planning and implementing targeted programs, actions, and solutions through robust strategic planning.
Strategic plans are necessary to focus district and school efforts on meaningful priorities, achievable goals, and proven/promising initiatives that will benefit the school community. More specifically, strategic plans establish clear action steps by which districts will achieve their goals and fulfill their mission, vision, and core values.3 Without a strategic plan, districts and their constituent schools lack clear direction for implementing educational and other programming, thus inhibiting their ability to achieve success.
Research indicates that when executed with fidelity, strategic planning has a positive and significant impact on organizational performance. By following a data-informed strategic plan, districts are more likely to achieve their goals. Strategic planning also engages and energizes the district community around a single vision and language for improvement.6 Such plans engage districts in cycles of continuous improvement as each subsequent plan builds on the progress of the previous plan to move the district forward towards achieving their vision.
This brief provides a review of the literature surrounding how district leaders can effectively engage in a strategic planning process that is grounded in a continuous improvement framework. Districts and their communities must commit to assessing their current needs, identifying solutions, and planning and implementing targeted programs and actions through intentional community engagement and data reviews. The report also includes research projects that districts should commission to guide their strategic planning process.


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Strategic planning models are grounded in a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of establishing common organizational foundations, using data to determine strategic priorities and goals, and planning for implementation and ongoing monitoring.

Strategic Planning Philosophy

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