By Juliana McMillan-Wilhoit

The Need for a Local Public Health Strategic Plan

The Cooper County Public Health Center (CCPHC) in Missouri faced significant challenges despite the tireless efforts of its dedicated staff. With a population of around 17,000, Cooper County’s public health needs are diverse and complex. The organization had undergone considerable changes, including the impact of COVID-19, changes in the composition of its Board of Health, and the appointment of a new Director. These changes disrupted the way CCPHC operated, highlighting the need for a comprehensive public health strategic plan. This plan would help them align departmental efforts, prioritize critical initiatives, and proactively address the evolving public health landscape, ensuring they could better serve their community.

Partnering with Local Public Health Strategic Plan Consultants

Recognizing the need for a structured and collaborative strategic planning process, CCPHC partnered with Flourish & Thrive Labs, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning for public health organizations. Flourish, and Thrive Labs is made up of public health professionals, so they understand the needs of local health departments. This partnership aimed to develop a robust public health strategic plan tailored to CCPHC’s unique needs. The consultancy’s expertise in strategic plan consulting provided CCPHC with the guidance and tools necessary to create a sustainable and effective strategic plan.

The Local Public Health Strategic Plan Process

Over four months, Flourish & Thrive Labs facilitated a transformative local public health strategic plan initiative for CCPHC. This process was designed to foster a collaborative and inclusive environment, ensuring the strategic plan reflected CCPHC’s priorities and challenges. The strategic planning process involved several key stages, each critical to developing a comprehensive and actionable plan.

Environmental Assessment

The engagement began with a thorough environmental assessment. Flourish & Thrive Labs gained a comprehensive understanding of the public health landscape in Cooper County, Missouri. This assessment identified emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities, providing a solid foundation for the strategic planning activities. Additionally, Flourish & Thrive Labs conducted an in-depth review of CCPHC’s organizational documents, examining existing policies, mandates, and operational procedures to understand what CCPHC is mandated to do from both legislative and policy standpoints. By examining these documents, the consultants could identify gaps and areas for improvement, ensuring the strategic plan was both relevant and achievable.

Virtual Pre-Workshops

Flourish & Thrive Labs conducted virtual pre-workshops. They leveraged the Technology of Participation (TOP) methodology and interactive online tools, allowing CCPHC staff to engage in a sticky note-like process without needing to be in the same room. This approach enabled all team members to participate, ensuring a diverse range of inputs and ideas were considered. The virtual format also helped reduce the cost of the engagement, as the consultancy team did not need to account for travel time. The staff provided exceptional feedback on this process, with one nearing retirement stating it was one of her most enjoyable days at work. Another staff member expressed, “I feel so much more connected to my team after this workshop.” Yet another added, “I was really encouraged because what I saw was everybody actively participating and enthusiastically participating. I was really encouraged by that. I really love to see the teamwork.

Onsite Strategic Planning Retreat

Following this buildup, the strategic planning initiative culminated in a two-day onsite retreat. During this retreat, CCPHC temporarily suspended regular operations to focus entirely on the strategic planning process. This immersive experience enabled participants to fully engage in hands-on activities, such as writing on physical sticky notes and collaboratively creating tangible evidence of their collective efforts. During the retreat, the team developed a new mission and vision for the organization and established strategic priorities for the upcoming year. This retreat fostered a sense of unity and purpose, as staff members could see their contributions taking shape in real-time.

Video of the Flourish & Thrive Labs Team Leading the Strategic Planning Workshop

Empowering the Team

CCPHC staff were actively involved throughout the strategic planning process, breaking down barriers and taking ownership of the strategic plan. By involving staff at every step, Flourish & Thrive Labs ensured the final strategic plan accurately reflected the organization’s and community’s priorities and aspirations. This participatory approach not only enhanced the plan’s relevance but also boosted morale and commitment among the team. Staff members felt valued and heard, which translated into a stronger dedication to implementing the strategic plan.

Building Capacity for Sustainable Strategic Planning

A critical component of the engagement was building capacity within CCPHC. Flourish & Thrive Labs equipped CCPHC with the tools and knowledge needed to sustain strategic planning practices independently. This capacity-building effort involved training sessions and workshops that focused on strategic planning methodologies and best practices. By empowering CCPHC staff with these skills, the organization was positioned to adapt and refine their strategic plan as needed, ensuring its continued relevance in the face of an ever-changing public health landscape. This self-sufficiency is vital for the organization’s long-term success and resilience.

Tangible Outcomes of the Public Health Strategic Plan

The local public health strategic plan initiative yielded several tangible outcomes for CCPHC:

  1. Comprehensive Strategic Plan: A well-defined strategic roadmap to guide operations, prioritize initiatives, align departmental efforts, and communicate priorities to staff and the broader community. This plan serves as a blueprint for CCPHC’s future efforts, ensuring all activities are aligned with their overarching goals. You can view the detailed strategic plan here.
  2. Quarterly Action Planning Framework: A structured process for creating and implementing quarterly action plans, enabling CCPHC to make continuous progress toward their strategic goals while maintaining agility and responsiveness. This framework ensures that the strategic plan remains a living document, regularly updated and adapted to meet new challenges.
  3. Alignment with Community Health Assessments: CCPHC can align its strategic plan with ongoing community health assessments and community health improvement plans, ensuring data-driven decision-making tailored to the specific needs of Cooper County residents. This alignment ensures that CCPHC focuses on the most pressing health issues facing their community.

Future Directions and Sustainable Impact

Moving forward, the strategic plan developed through this collaborative initiative has positioned CCPHC for sustained success. With a clear roadmap in place, the organization can confidently navigate new challenges, seize emerging opportunities, and continue to make a lasting impact on the health and well-being of the Cooper County community. The strategic plan provides a structured yet flexible framework that allows CCPHC to respond to emerging public health issues swiftly and effectively.

The strategic planning process facilitated by Flourish & Thrive Labs has been a transformative experience for CCPHC. This initiative equipped the organization with the tools, knowledge, and collaborative mindset necessary to thrive in the complex and ever-changing public health landscape. By aligning their strategic plan with ongoing community health assessments and improvement plans, CCPHC can ensure their initiatives remain responsive to the unique needs and priorities of the residents they serve.

Through this strategic planning initiative, Flourish & Thrive Labs has empowered CCPHC to embrace a culture of collaborative strategic planning. This culture fosters a sense of ownership, unity, and purpose among staff. The initiative serves as a testament to the power of strategic plan consulting in transforming local public health organizations, enabling them to make a lasting and meaningful impact on the communities they serve. By continuing to build on this foundation, CCPHC is well-positioned to lead the way in public health innovation and community well-being.

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