Terms Of Reference (TOR) For A Plan

A plan is best initiated with a Terms of Reference (TOR). In some ways it could be thought of as providing the parameters,  or a "plan for your plan".  

Some think of it as a "recipe" for how the plan will be implemented.  It will also be essential if it is determined that the plan requires the assistance of outside consultants or coaches and is typically part of a Request for Proposals (RFP) if that is the case.  It is especially important for recruiting volunteers who serve as the committee members overseeing the development of the plan.

While it will be tempting to simply copy other existing TORs, it is best to get others involved in developing the TOR as it will ensure both an understanding and a consensus for the type of planning that needs to occur.

There is no one best way to develop a TOR however the following section headings will help you get started.


Section 1: Introduction

This section typically provides a history and background of both the community and the reasons, statistics and trends that point to the need for the plan.


Section 2: Objectives

This section speaks to the intent of the study and typically includes the vision, purpose, outcomes, and authority invested in the plan.

(note that because these examples relate to a community strategic plan, the statements are quite broad. For other types of plans the vision, purpose, and outcomes will be more narrowly defined).

Vision for the Plan
The final community strategic plan will be endorsed by the community as providing a clear and inspiring direction for meeting their needs and those of future generations. The plan will be widely shared and embraced as a living document that will assist and guide the corporate, government, and voluntary sector decision-making in (insert name of community) that will ensure individual and community quality of life.

Both short and long term strategies will be clearly articulated in a practical, achievable plan. For example: 

  • It is anticipated the plan will be adopted and implemented by Town Council and administration, schools, the health region, community groups and organizations, businesses etc.
  • It is also envisioned that the community collaboration, cooperation, and shared effort required to ensure a community-driven plan will also result in greater pride and innovation and a closer, more united community.

Purpose of the Plan
Example: The purpose of the study is to build a more engaged, healthier, and vibrant (insert name of community) by developing a 'community-driven' and 'citizen-owned' community strategic plan that will maximize individual, and community quality of life. The resulting plan will include a vision, principles, values, mission, strategic priorities, action steps, estimated costs and timelines.

The plan will provide long term planning guidelines, assign priorities, and suggest practical implementation strategies that can be integrated by the corporate, government and community/voluntary sectors.

Outcomes of the Community Strategic Plan (Examples)

  •  Increased beautification of the community
  •  Improved 'community pride'
  •  Higher levels of citizen participation
  •  Clear consensus for community priorities
  •  Identification of community strengths and priorities
  •  A town that is more attractive for residents/visitors/tourists/new residents/business/industry, etc.
  •  Improved coordination of community opportunities that results in reduced duplication and maximized resources
  •  More partnerships and collaborations.

Authority Vested in the Plan
Describe who has authorized the plan and its intent. For example, 'The plan is intended to act as a guideline for parks, recreation and culture services in ________. The plan will be forwarded to City Council for its approval and once adopted by Council will be the basis for parks, recreation and culture planning decisions over the next 10+ years.


Section 3: Existing Studies and Data

Some homework may be required before this section can be completed as it will be necessary to find and list all directly and indirectly related studies, publications and websites that are of importance for the assessment of the current and future situation.


Section 4: Scope/Constraints/Principles

In this section, generally requirements can be listed i.e. 'the community strategic plan should be concise and easily understood, the plan should include an executive summary etc.' Some thought should also be given to the values and principles that are seen as being essential. For example, 'a community development process will be used.' The boundaries of the study, timetable or schedule, and roles and responsibilities of those involved should also be described.


Section 5: Tasks and Requirements

The specific expectations of what this plan will deliver should be outlined here. For example, completing an inventory or asset mapping of services, events, programs, funding and facilities; identifying trends and issues; examining, analyzing and making recommendations, determining appropriateness and gaps, suggesting promising practices, potential and capacity for alternative sources of funding, environmental and sustainability issues, identifying opportunities, etc.


Section 6: Implementation

Be very clear about exactly what the plan will do. For example, 'Provide a plan that includes short term (3 - 5 years), mid term (6 - 10 years) and long range (10+) implementation strategies showing prioritized recommendations, delegation of responsibilities, financing, and a detailed plan of action'. Also determine 'include when the plan will be updated or reviewed and who will be responsible for doing it'.



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