Planning Department Accreditation

Dear Management Doctor:

Many of the departments within our community have received national accreditation (Building, Police, Fire, Parks). After conducting some research, it does not appear that there is any accreditation available for Planning or Community Development Departments. Are there any "best practices" or accepted norms to measure ourselves against if we are trying to ensure that our Community Development Department is meeting or exceeding a national standard? Further, is there a set of measures that other planning organizations use to show success? For example, we can measure number of permits, staff reports, or plans created, but it's difficult to quantify all the other things we do. How do we capture an effective measure for "creating a quality community?"

Anything you could provide would be very helpful. Thanks!

Trying to be Premier


Dear Trying,

You are correct in noting that there is no accreditation available for Planning Departments.

I actually developed a first cut of an automated planning department review system a number of years ago. This system was programmed for the Internet. The department would answer a series of questions and, depending on the answer, would receive a score along with a recommendation for improvement. We tested this with a half dozen planning departments and had less than an enthusiastic response. The test is all programmed and sitting on my computer and one day when I run out of other things on my "bucket list" I may revisit it.

My approach was somewhat like the ISO reviews being used for building departments. When we do reviews of building departments, we always look at the community's last ISO report. We find that ISO doesn't always see the key issues and sometimes we also differ with the ISO findings. Nevertheless, I think the ISO reviews are useful.

We have also reviewed over 150 planning departments in 29 states plus the Cayman Island, Barbados, Washington D. C. and Calgary. Each one is different and I find that many, but not all, key issues would be difficult to list for the different types of planning departments. That is an issue I struggled with in my automated planning department review system.

I have written 13 articles on performance standards on our website. I suggest you start there. Look in the search engine under "P" for performance Standards. These should give you lots of ideas. Maybe you and I can find a foundation grant so we can put together a system. Can you imagine how many years it would take to get planners to agree on a system? I don't think I will live that long. However, maybe I'll have some fun and try this at a national planning conference.

I also teach a two-day course called, The Complete Management Course for Planning Directors and another three-hour course called the 10 Skills Every Planning Director Must Have. I used to travel the country each year teaching these in 10 or 11 cities but given the current economy, this is not workable. In the meantime, I have converted these courses to Webinars which I taught a few months ago. As soon as my schedule clears, I will repeat these, likely in the late fall or winter.

Feel free to call me if you want to discuss this further.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

Our organization had to use performance excellence criteria for non-manufacturing organizations based on Baldrige's work to prepare a plan for the state. At first, I threw up my hands and then resigned myself to getting through it. Gradually, however, I developed an appreciation for the process itself, which is probably much more useful than the plan we developed. Depending on your goals, you may want to consider this process. It challenges you to be a better organization, rather than measuring your organization against others.

Good luck with whichever approach you choose.


Relative to this topic, you might be interested in reviewing the performance measurement system which the International City Management Association offers through its Center for Performance Measurement (CPM). International City Management Association offers through its Center for Performance Measurement (CPM). We have just recently joined this group to track our performance within each department, including Planning & Building. The CPM provides a number of survey templates containing numerous benchmark indicators for various functional areas, and allows for performance comparison to similar communities across the country. Communities in the same geographic region are grouped into "consortiums" which meet periodically to discuss issues of common interest. Here is our contact for this program if you are interested in more information:

Gerald Young
Senior Management Associate
ICMA Center for Performance Measurement
Greg Young
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