Master Planning - Part One: A Living Plan

We've been enjoying our work with Heronfield Academy in Hampton Falls, and it's gotten us thinking about our approach to master planning. We've put together a little series on how we approach planning, and why.

More than a plan for future action, a Master Plan is a call to action. It articulates a vision for the physical character of a place that should inspire and engage your team, your stakeholders, your financial supporters and your community. It should clearly define a path toward future goals, allowing the organization to make informed decisions about investments in development of facilities and land use rather than merely addressing immediate needs. A Master Plan serves as insurance on investment resources; it is a guide for development, making sure all capital improvement efforts work in concert toward a cohesive and adaptive vision.

Why is a Master Plan important?

A good Master Plan addresses both land use and facilities, and can include such things as future programming, physical expansion, site acquisition and/or energy use goals. It is distinct from an architectural project, in that it does not drill down to the level of specific details of buildings. Crafting and maintaining a Master Plan is an act of good stewardship of the resources an organization holds, and stewardship of its legacy. Acting with the absence of a clear vision and considered plan tends to be a costly mistake, limiting future possibilities. 

A well-presented Master Plan can also be quite powerful in that it can:

  • Rally the support and buy-in of the community and stakeholders
  • Evoke a sense of ownership in all those who participate in the process
  • Attract and inspire confidence in potential investors or donors

What is a Living Master Plan?

Any successful organization is an evolving, adaptive thing. The Master Plan as first established will express a current vision for the future, but that vision will inevitably be shaped by new drivers that emerge over time. Unanticipated changes might include alterations to programming or capacity or they may be financial changes, either positive or negative. When new challenges arise, static planning documents may no longer seem relevant to the new condition and can remain as a bound copy of ideas on a shelf. 

It is critical that a Master Plan be understood as a living document rather than a rigid directive.  We refer to this type of plan as a “Living Master Plan”; a flexible blueprint that outlines flexible strategies for achieving goals that evolve over time. More than a static document, this tool can actively distill the values and direction of your organization, making your decision-making process appropriately responsive.  

A Living Master Plan allows this work to be reviewed and refined on a regular basis. It will include a timeline not only for planned implementation but for regular review points to ask, what challenges are we facing that we did not foresee? What are we learning as we implement the plan that we can then input back into it? How has our organization changed since we wrote this plan? Annual reports are excellent opportunities to ask these questions of the board, leadership, staff and end users to incorporate diverse levels of engagement.  

In Part Two: The Process we will explore how we create such a plan.