What are the basic steps to developing a master or strategic plan?

Note that while many utilities will have the in-house staff to prepare a master plan, it’s standard practice, and for good reason, to have an independent entity (i.e., an external consultant) to do this work. For either, the general steps are identified below:

  • Define the objectives and desired outcome of the plan – recognizing that the plan should not be restricted to infrastructure planning alone, For example, the plan must address: capital investment for infrastructure & equipment, human resource investment in additional operators and service providers (utility), sustainability investment to operate and maintain the infrastructure and equipment and continued training of operators and service providers. Capital investments need to be commensurate with the other two investments, otherwise the capital investment becomes unsustainable.

 

  • Develop draft table of contents for the plan. Please click here to see an example of a table of content. The table of contents is an important step that helps a) ensure an organized, easily readable plan but, more importantly, b) it helps in the process of gaining ultimate approval of the plan. Look at available examples, particularly from your region, on the Web and pick the one(s) most aligned with your needs – then modify it for the specific needs of your utility.

 

  • Ensure that those who must approve the plan first approve the table of contents. With the plan months away and the implementation often years away, it’s a relatively easy and non-controversial task to gain these approvals. As best you can, particularly for the more critical stakeholders such as a regulator or a donor who might be paying for the plan, have a face-to-face dialogue about the table of contents to gain their understanding and acceptance. Once they agree, try and get their formal (e.g., written) approval of the plan’s table of contents. This also increases the efficiency of the plan’s development and minimizes the cost of the effort.

 

  • Based on table of contents, estimate the internal or external resources needed, and costs, to complete the plan, especially the team leader and technical specialists (normally civil engineers, quantity surveyors, drafters, financial specialists) with the sufficient experience for the tasks required. Besides required environmental/ social aspects, include a thorough quality control plan – that is, qualified external reviewers to the plan. While a plan represents a small fraction of the life-cycle (long term) cost of operating a municipality/utility, there are still costs to prepare the plan which could range from $100K to $1.5M depending on the complexity of the plan. Estimate these costs, as it will help in justifying both internal and external resources needed.

 

  • Based on table of contents, estimate the internal or external resources needed, and costs, to complete the plan, especially the team leader and technical specialists (normally civil engineers, quantity surveyors, drafters, financial specialists) with the sufficient experience for the tasks required. Besides required environmental/ social aspects, include a thorough quality control plan – that is, qualified external reviewers to the plan. While a plan represents a small fraction of the life-cycle (long term) cost of operating a municipality/utility, there are still costs to prepare the plan which could range from $100K to $1.5M depending on the complexity of the plan. Estimate these costs, as it will help in justifying both internal and external resources needed.

 

  • Secure required funding for the plan. In some cases, the cost of developing a plan is prohibitive for a municipality or utility, in which case the utility or municipality will need to prepare a solicitation to a donor to pay for all or part of the plan. Occasionally these plans will be paid for by a grant (e.g., from USAID, DIFID, GTZ, MCC), but normally they are paid for by loans (e.g., from the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and African Development Bank). Particularly those providing loans will have their own formats that should be completed by the utility or municipality. If the utility or municipality do not have the staff to follow these formats, then they will need to engage a consultant to assist them – a task that should not take more than a few days.

 

  • Assuming that external assistance to prepare the plan is required, follow utility and government procurement guidelines to secure their assistance. Procurement steps is a separate ROCKBlue blog topic not covered here.

 

  • Complete the draft plan and prioritize investments (including human resources and sustainability investments). What’s critical to a plan is that it is fact based – that is, all decision making is based of reliable facts or professional judgement (e.g., future water and sanitation demands). Planning elements that are based on facts and reliable data will be easier to defend – particularly if they represent large costs or controversial activities. The other critical aspect of the plan is quality control (e.g., rigorous third party or external checks).

 

  • Review the draft plan and early findings by the regulatory agency so that they feel part of the effort and to ensure that they are in agreement with the direction the plan is heading. Have this intervention early and often to avoid future road blocks from the regulator.

 

  • In the public comment step, with key stakeholders, seek their approval, including desired levels of service and acceptance of costs. The plan, when being executed and funded will invariably impact rate payers (and even non-rate payers). Determine who these impacted entities are and include them in the public comment step. Public consultation requires preparing early drafts and findings (e.g., on the levels of service such as how many hours per day, pressures and coverage; but more importantly the resultant costs in terms of revised rates).

 

  • Finalize plan, gain required approvals and publicize the Plan and associated costs (e.g., rate increases if required).