At a Glance

The Parks & Recreation Department of Asheville, NC successfully engaged in a virtual strategic planning process during the pandemic. The results were a strategic plan that participants fully own and are accountable to, measurable quarterly accomplishments, and a virtual synopsis of their integrated, cohesive plan.

Problem Addressed

Asheville, a city of approximately 95,000 people in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, is known for its vibrant arts scene and historic architecture. The Parks & Recreation Department, consisting of 99 employees, oversees 170 public spaces, including athletic fields, neighborhood parks, community centers, a zoo, a splash pad and a pool, all with a budget of $10.9M. The department had shifted programming to accommodate new needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Also due to the pandemic, the department’s staff were abiding by state and local regulations and challenged with what services and operations needed to look like, yet wanted to engage in a strategic planning process. Vital Clarity, a local consulting firm, had worked with the city and its department in the past but needed assistance to deliver the process virtually. HueLife became an invaluable, collaborative partner that helped design and deliver a robust and engaging virtual experience. More specifically, the design preserved the values of inclusive participation and profound respect found in typical face-to-face planning sessions Vital Clarity was accustomed to providing.

City of Asheville, NC Parks & Recreation department used/is using a virtual strategic planning process to address this/these challenge(s).

Solution(s) Used

The joint facilitation team of HueLife and Vital Clarity relied on a variety of processes to deliver an engaging and collaborative experience via a virtual platform.


Facilitators led the group through an environmental scan process. This activity captured and catalogued firmly established national parks & recreation trends as well as those beginning to emerge. The group assessed which trends they were already on top of and which ones they needed to shift attention to.


A planning team consisting of a cross-section of positions throughout the department, such as Park Maintenance, Recreation Program staff, Professional Services, and department leadership worked jointly to answer the question of what they envision over the next 3 years. The plan’s focus was to:

– deepen the department’s culture of teamwork and accountability;

– strengthen communication and trust;

– integrate and align all operations and programming; and

– expand staff development opportunities while serving as a model of service delivery excellence to the community.

The ToP Participatory Strategic Planning process encompassed the creation of a shared vision, identifying barriers to that vision, established strategic priorities, and created action plans to accomplish their goals and objectives.


Facilitating a strategic planning process is intense and can feel long when delivered in person. Facilitating the process in a virtual setting brought another set of challenges. The facilitation team decided that to keep the 20-25 participants engaged and participating, they would need to:

– Offer sessions in 3-hour segments with breaks of a day or two.

– Have 4 facilitators to allow for small group discussions and monitor the chat.

-Have a designated “producer” to navigate screen shares, create and monitor breakout rooms, and keep the group on time.


  1. Engagement in all aspects of the planning process.
  2. Plan document that participants fully owned and are accountable to.
  3. Formed action teams that represent a cross-section of the department for each strategic direction.
  4. A final virtual session that provided an overview of the entire planning process.
  5. Participants were enthusiastic about the process and the result.

Something Unique

Vital Clarity praised the efforts of HueLife and all members of the facilitation team for how they pulled together quickly to deliver a high-quality product to the client. Vital Clarity and HueLife look forward to future collaborations.

Who Should Consider?

Organizations looking to:

-Update or create a new strategic plan during the COVID-19 pandemic.

-Continue strategic thinking or planning in a virtual setting without the loss of engagement and inclusivity.

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