Group planning typically involves one or more of the following stages: vision, goals, objectives and actions.

Group planning typically involves one or more of the following stages: vision, goals, objectives and actions.

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The planning process 

Group planning typically involves one or more of the following stages: vision, goals, objectives and actions. ‘Strategic’ planning usually involves all of these stages, with each building on the other, and a review stage built in.

Techniques for setting visions, goals and actions are described below, along with some strategic thinking exercises. A group review (evaluation) process is included in review events or group process 

Generating a shared vision

Generating a shared vision is about looking at what you want in the future – your ‘ideal’. It’s useful to describe what things are like in the future, in words, pictures or both. The key to a shared vision is to find something general enough that people can agree to it, without losing the essence of what you want to achieve.

An example of a vision is:

‘Pipi Bay is full of sea life and a safe and fun place for people to be, with some areas protected and other areas providing abundant kaimoana to be sustainably harvested.’

For a small group to generate a vision, holding a discussion, perhaps starting with a round, may be sufficient to identify the common ground. Introduce your discussion with a question like: ‘What do we want things to be like in the future?’

For larger groups, one of the tools listed below may be useful.

Guided visualisation

Participants are asked to close their eyes and imagine themselves somewhere different in place or time. They’re asked to observe the sights, sounds and smells they encounter. A simple guided visualisation for Pipi Bay might be:

‘It is now [date in future]. You are at Pipi Beach on a summer’s day with your family, and you’ve been skin-diving. Describe what the beach and the underwater area are like.’

Participants then share their observations with another person before generating a list as a group and looking for the common themes from which a vision statement can be drafted.

Picturing your vision

Participants draw pictures to represent their ideal futures, which are then used to develop the group’s vision:

  1. The first step is to build visionary pictures of what things should be like in five or more years. Each person draws a picture about the site or project or one of its components – for example:
    landscape pictures – a map or view of the site. eg, a picture of all the physical features of the place such as bush, birds, tracks, etc.
    symbolic pictures – showing the intangible elements of the system. eg a picture of a web to symbolise the inter-relationships in the community or the contribution made by different participants.
  2. People choose the three most important elements from their picture and write each on a sticky, which are then clumped and sorted using a workshopping method. See basic group techniques for more on workshopping.
  3. Develop a vision statement based on these ideas as a group. Alternatively, a small group can produce a new visual representation capturing the common elements and bring this back to the group for additions or amendments.

Values exercise

This can be a useful exercise to do immediately before a visioning session, or where the group is not immediately able to identify common ground. It helps people identify with one another, because some values are common, and to understand why others see things differently. The group can then spot the connections to their project and identify individual motivations they might draw on or have to plan for. This exercise works best with groups of 6 to 20 people who are comfortable with group discussion.

Time: 1 hour.

Materials: A large sheet of paper and marker pens, or whiteboard and whiteboard pens, a sheet with a list of values and some blank spaces (one copy for each person) – see the example values activity sheet (PDF, 38K).

  1. Introduce the exercise as a way of building understanding and finding common ground. Let people know they won’t be judged on their values, and won’t have to share them.
  2. Hand each person a values sheet and ask them to mark the seven values of most importance to them with an X. If they don’t identify with these values, they can write their own in the blanks. Then ask them to rank the top three in order of importance.
  3. Over a break, get people to mark their top three values on a large sheet with all the values listed on it. This should be done in a space where people can go up one at a time in privacy. When everyone has finished, tally them up quietly before the break finishes.
  4. Discuss as a group which values were most frequently ranked highly. Consider how each of these values relates to your group, your project or your site. Try questions like: ‘Can anyone see how family relationships relates to managing natural areas on farms?’ or ‘How can protecting our coast relate to cooperation?’
  5. Discuss the implications for your vision, goals and actions, what you will have to consider or modify to take into account people’s values, and what values your project can draw upon. Ask people to come up with their own vision, using questions like: ‘So if these are the things we want, what would our project have to look like?’ Check your existing plans – ‘Does our current vision reflect the values we ranked highly?’

Generating goals and objectives

Goals and objectives look at the specific things that need to be achieved to reach your vision. Goals and objectives should be specific, measurable, and have a timeframe.

A goal for Pipi Bay might be: ‘The north end of Pipi Bay is established as a marine park by [date].’

A related objective might be: To file a marine park application by [date].’

Simple workshop process

See basic group techniques for more about workshop processes.

A simple technique to generate goals and objectives is to workshop with sticky notes based on your vision statement. Ensure your vision statement is written up in clear view and ask the question ‘What would we need to achieve in order to realise our vision?’

After getting ideas, clumping and naming them, you can develop goal statements. One person could take these away to refine and bring back to the next meeting for further discussion. Sometimes it’s helpful to spend time looking at ‘What’s in the way of us achieving the vision?’ before you generate goals or objectives – this can help clarify the critical areas for action.


In small groups, people work back from the vision statement and devise hypothetical ‘headlines’ showing milestones reached on the way to achieving this ideal future. For example:

  • Research shows successful reseeding of cockles at Pipi Beach’
  • ‘New accessways built to protect dunes’
  • ‘Pipi Bay fisheries to be managed under Taiapure’

This is a fun way to generate ideas for goals and objectives, which can be developed as a whole group or refined by a sub-committee.

Concept pyramid

Concept pyramids can be used when a group is tackling a complex issue and has to produce a plan. It involves facilitating the group to link its vision to overall goals, objectives and activities. Often with a complex issue there are also conflicting goals or expectations. A concept pyramid helps people to share ideas, connect goals together into a ‘bigger picture’ and link them to an action plan.

Building a concept pyramid requires that the leader has skills in facilitation, clustering, and strategic planning.

  1. Introduce the concept pyramid and the general issue – for example ‘What we want for Pipi Bay.’
  2. Ask participants to write down on sticky notes as many of their ideas about the issue as they can – one idea per sticky note. As a general rule, each idea should have more than one word. They should include a noun (naming word, e.g. beach) and an adjective (describing word e.g. natural) but no verbs (doing words, e.g. protect) because the aim is to describe what we are trying to achieve rather than what we want to do.
  3. Put all the sticky notes onto a large sheet of paper where everyone can see them. The ideas (or concepts) form the bottom layer in the concept pyramid. Group them together into common themes, checking with the authors. Aim for no more than 5–7 concepts in a group and give each cluster a title. This title becomes a component in the next layer up the pyramid. The process continues until there is a top layer of only 5–7 concepts immediately under the space for the goal. Now you can start ‘laddering’ and ‘pyramiding’ to fill in the gaps.
  4. Laddering is used when the initial ideas refer to specific behaviours or actions that you want to link to higher goals. By laddering up the hierarchy it is possible to build on what people do to discover what they want to achieve. A typical ‘laddering upwards’ questions might be ‘If you achieve all these things, what will be the result...?’ Such probing continues as you build your concepts into layers of clusters going up the pyramid.
  5. Pyramiding (or laddering downwards) is used when the initial ideas are very general, lacking detail about what is required. For example, for the idea ‘a nice place for families’ the pyramid question might be ‘How do you know when a place is nice for families?’ This process moves down the pyramid towards more specific concepts.
  6. The next step is to define the ‘goal’ at the top, which is the culmination of all the ideas people have identified. Ask the group to examine what it’s prepared so far and decide on the overall goal (overarching concept) of the project.

This process creates a descriptive diagram (PDF, 114K) that links the original issue or vision, the overall goal, secondary goals and their basic concepts together. It can be used later for action planning by getting the group to identify and select priority actions to contribute towards realising the overall goal.

Action planning

Action planning involves working out the tasks required to complete each of the goals and/or objectives. Actions should be specific and assigned to someone to do within a timeframe. Sometimes a bigger action will have a series of discrete tasks sitting beneath it. During your strategic planning, you may just want to identify the big actions, a completion date and a key person responsible, and leave the specific tasks to be filled in at a later time.

Some actions for Pipi Bay might be: Actions for Goal One: North end of Pipi Bay achieves status as a marine park by [date]. 



Consult with tangata whenua Michelle and Riki This month
Contact commercial fishers Michael B By end June
Get in touch with DOC and Ministry for Primary Industries Helen This month
Talk to next sports fishing club meeting Liz 17 June
Obtain application form for a marine park Dave 30 June
Advertise locally for members of sub-committee Hinemoa 1st week July
Convene sub-committee to complete first draft Helen and others 20 July
Group considers first draft All 1 August

Action planning process

1. For each of your priority objectives or goals, brainstorm possible actions. Ask ‘What actions/activities will enable the goals to be achieved?’ See basic group techniques for more on brainstorming.

2. Choose some priorities from among the ideas. In assessing the possible actions, consider:

  • Which actions are easily accomplished?
  • Which actions could provide some momentum for the project?
  • Which actions contribute most to achieving the objective (or goal)?

Prioritise your actions, using a voting technique or the matrix below, where the group ranks each action on a scale of one to five, where 1 means ‘not much’ and 5 means ‘a lot’.

See basic group techniques for ideas on voting techniques.

Example matrix for prioritising actions to achieve Goal One

ACTION Easy to doProvides momentum Contributes to goalHelps with other goals
Consult with tangata whenua 3 4 5 5
Contact commercial fishers 3 4 5 2
Contact DOC and Ministry for Primary Industries 4 4 5 3
Talk to sports fishers 5 4 5 3
Obtain application form 5 4 5 1
Visit existing marine park 3 5 3 1
Advertise locally 3 5 5 4

 3. Timetable your actions – to help you get your key actions in order, consider:

  • Which are the most urgent actions/issues?
  • Which actions will pave the way for other actions?

A useful technique is to write each action on a sticky note and move them around on a timeline, sorting them into order to be actioned. This helps you develop a monthly calendar of tasks.

4. Assign each action to a person.

5. Identify any other people, equipment and resources necessary. Consider:

  • What skills are held by individuals in the group?
  • What outside expertise is needed. Who could provide it?
  • How much money is required?
  • Where will the resources come from?

6. Record your actions, responsibilities, resources and timing in a table (PDF, 49K).

7. Assign someone to monitor progress, remind people of deadlines and generally keep an eye on the process.

Contingency planning

If your project is large and/or likely to be controversial, it can be useful to do some contingency planning or ‘risk assessment’ during your planning. This could also be useful for critical events – for example, a public meeting about your proposal.

  1. Write your project or activity name in the middle of a large sheet of paper.
  2. As a group, brainstorm all the things that could go wrong with your project. Write these in a different colour around the activity heading.
  3. Consider what steps you’d need to take to reduce the risk of each of these things going wrong. Write these in another colour around the outside. If one step to reduce a risk will also help reduce another risk, use symbols or lines to connect the points. 

Swot analysis

This tool can be used to see how capable your group is of undertaking what you want to do. It allows you to assess the context you’re working in, and identify gaps in skills and knowledge, which if filled can increase your project’s chances of success.

  1. Introduce the purpose of the exercise - for example, ‘to assess our current capability to undertake our project to .....’
  2. On large pieces of paper set side by side (or on a large whiteboard) write up the following headings: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats
  3. Create lists underneath these. Strengths and weaknesses are internal (features of your group) while opportunities and threats are external (features of your environment or context).
  4. Use the data to help you work out actions you might need to take, or adjustments you could make to your project – for example, contingency planning to address threats.


Review events or group progress

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