City leaders evaluate the status of departments and the city as a whole through the use of SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analyses. These evaluations allow department heads, mayors, city council members and city planners to develop strategic plans to improve individual departments or the whole city by helping to pinpoint what can be done to improve and what should be left as is. Alternatively, a SWOT analysis can be used to attract new residents or businesses to move to your area.

Evaluating Total Strengths

For the strength section, examine your city’s internal processes, capabilities and amenities. These include human resources, physical resources, finances and programs. For example, in its strategic plan, the city of Wilmington, Delaware listed its growing median income, educated workforce, strong jobs base in a variety of fields and its central location in the Northeast Corridor as strengths. If you have trouble determining your strengths, start by simply listing your community’s attributes (e.g. location, size, parks, recreational opportunities).

Recognizing the Weaknesses

All cities have aspects that are less than admirable. Those that have strengths can also be sources of weakness. For instance, the town of Silver City, New Mexico found their weaknesses in an inequality of infrastructure services, an excessive number of overweight and diabetic citizens, a leakage of revenues and the town's distance from the main transportation corridor. External output from community members is key to identifying problem areas in the community.

Preparing for Opportunities

Opportunities are the external factors that offer potential for your city. Possibilities include trends, economy, environment and legislation. For instance a city can discover that their local river presents recreational opportunities for the city including an outdoor multi-use trail system and unique historic heritage. Consider ways that your community can take advantage of trends, features or the economy to improve its economic stability.

Identifying Possible Threats

Cities do not face direct competition as do businesses. Instead, threats come from competition for funding, changes in citizenry and restrictive legislation. Silver City determined that crime, drugs, animal cruelty and noise all presented threats to their economic development planning. You may discover decreasing population, limited business development and a restrictive tax structure when you analyze your threats, among other things.

Using Your SWOT Analysis

Planning using SWOT analysis is only as effective as the information the report contains. By specifically identifying each topic in the analysis, using statistics and location information if possible, you can develop more detailed, actionable plans. For example, instead of saying roads are generally in poor condition, identify the particular streets that need improvement. Then, use your city SWOT analysis to craft a comprehensive strategic plan, and define your priorities and adjust your decisions along the way.