How do you plan strategically?

We’ve developed a strategic action planning tool to guide you through the steps to developing your own community action plan. You will want to make sure to link your action plan with a plan for sustaining your community initiative where relevant.

Learn more about each of the stages to strategic action planning below.


This step allows you to gain a better understanding of your community’s unique context and landscape. To develop this understanding, you need to know the needs and assets within your community, as well as your community’s level of readiness.

Needs and assets

What already exists in your community that you can build from? What are the needs of your community partners? A community assessment allows you to identify resources as well as the needs and issues most important to your community.


It’s important to know if your community is ready to address youth suicide. The Community Readiness Model, developed by the Tri-Ethnic Center of Prevention Research at Colorado State University to address alcohol and drug abuse prevention efforts, assesses the level of readiness of a community to develop and implement prevention and/or intervention efforts. The model proposes that there are six key areas to explore in order to gain a clear picture of a community’s readiness:

  • existing community-based efforts (programs, activities, policies, etc.)
  • community knowledge of these existing efforts
  • leadership (including appointed leaders and influential community members)
  • community climate
  • community knowledge about the issue of concern
  • resources related to the issue of concern (people, money, time, space, etc.)

The model also identifies nine stages of readiness and corresponding goals to inform strategies at each stage. Once the assessment is complete and the community’s level of readiness is identified, strategies can be developed to move the community forward to the next stage.


Stage of readiness

What can you do?

No awareness: the behaviour is normative and accepted

Raise the community’s awareness that a problem exists.

Denial: the problem is not believed to exist or change is seen as impossible

Create awareness that the problem exists on a local level.


Vague awareness: the problem is recognized with no motivation for action

Raise awareness that the community can do something about the problem.

Pre-planning: the problem is recognized and there's agreement that something needs to be done

Raise awareness with concrete ideas to combat the problem.

Preparation: active planning

Gather and review existing information that can be used to help plan strategies.

Initiation: implementation of the program or initiative

Provide community-specific information to all community members. Use education or training to try to get everyone working from the same page.

Stabilization: one or two programs or initiatives are operating and are stable

Stabilize efforts of programs or initiatives.

Confirmation/expansion: limitations are recognized and attempts are made to improve existing programs or initiatives

Expand and enhance existing services.

Professionalization: marked by sophistication, training and effective evaluation; knowledge and skills gained are applied to other problems in the community

Maintain momentum and continue growth.

Your coalition needs to know where it wants to go before deciding how it will get there. Setting goals collectively can help you figure that out. Establishing goals requires your community to think about the people most affected by youth suicide, the available resources and the current evidence base.

Addressing youth suicide in your community requires a multi-pronged approach with attention paid to life promotion/mental health promotion, prevention, risk management and postvention. There’s a range of possible activities surrounding community-based efforts targeting youth suicide. It’s important to reflect on the big picture and consider your current and future activities as part of a larger strategy. This will help you be strategic and prioritize the best plan of action for your community.

Priority-setting is an important tool that can be used at this stage of the planning process and other stages. In particular, priority-setting will help you determine the vision, mission, goals, audience, activities and evaluation indicators for your community’s efforts. Priority Setting – Four Methods for Getting to What’s Important! describes four simple techniques to help with strategic decision-making. You may find these helpful to use in your community when planning and prioritizing activities.

Based on the priorities you’ve established as a group, your community is now at the stage of selecting/developing interventions/activities. What interventions/activities will your coalition implement? Why are you selecting this particular intervention/activity? How are you going to implement your selected intervention/activity?

Ideally, your coalition should build a plan for evaluation before implementing your intervention activities. Evaluation can help your coalition identify and solve problems, determine if you’re making progress towards set goals, show the community/partners/stakeholders/policymakers/funders the value of suicide prevention, and help you decide how to enhance and/or expand suicide prevention efforts.

Action planning is a continuous process of implementing, evaluating and improving your efforts. Use your evaluation data to monitor implementation, identify and solve problems that may be limiting the effectiveness of your prevention efforts, and enhance prevention efforts. Take the time to reflect on whether you’re reaching your goals and whether you’re seeing anticipated results.


Looking for more information to help plan for your community mobilization efforts? Check out Tools and resources.