Performing a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis for your city helps to develop a strategic plan that maximizes your municipality’s strengths, minimizes its weaknesses, takes advantage of opportunities and limits its threats. As a mayor, city councilor or city planner, use this technique to evaluate individual city departments (e.g. utilities, law enforcement, emergency services and administration) or the city as a whole (e.g. infrastructure, businesses, services, citizens, amenities, economy and politics). Along with its internal benefits, you can also use a city SWOT analysis to market your area to potential residents and prospective businesses.
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 Lewisville, Texas listed its park funding program, excellent customer service rankings, strong school system and geographic location as strengths. If you have trouble determining your strengths, start by simply listing your community’s attributes (e.g. location, size, parks, recreational opportunities).
The weakness section should look at internal problem areas. These include the same human resources, physical resources, finances and programs as strengths. For instance, the Northwest Initiative of Indiana found their weaknesses in a lack of corporate headquarters, limited broadband Internet connections, lack of urban planning and a disconnect with the state government. External output from community members is key to identifying problem areas in the community.
Opportunities are the external factors that offer potential for your city. Possibilities include trends, economy, environment and legislation. Lewisville discovered the redevelopment of its Old Town section, civic center/arts complex, volunteer utilization, visitor bureau marketing efforts and energy conservation programs all offered opportunities for the city. Consider ways that your community can take advantage of trends, features or the economy to improve its economic stability.
Cities do not face direct competition as do businesses. Instead, threats come from competition for funding, changes in citizenry and restrictive legislation. The Northwest Initiative determined that racial issues, loss of businesses and citizen perception 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.
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.
- Oslo city hall image by Einar Bog from Fotolia.com