While the content of a CEDS is critical, the structure and presentation of the information contained within the document is also important. The following suggestions should help:
Keep your audience in mind. A CEDS must be a technically sound plan, but plans do little good if nobody reads them. Consider how your readers consume information. For example, a target of approximately 25 to 30 pages—with a three to five page executive summary containing key findings, opportunities, and initiatives—is a reasonable expectation for keeping a general audience engaged. Extremely busy readers, such as elected officials or business owners, may require a shorter version of the document as an overview, with a reference explaining where to go to find the more complete version. For professional planners, the full technical version of the CEDS may be appropriate. An executive summary, in particular, is an important and useful element since the general public, local officials, federal policy makers, and other senior level executives will generally seek information in a brief, easily digestible form. Decision makers, in particular, need an executive summary to make informed choices based on a short yet useful synopsis.
Recommended Resource: See North Central Florida RPC’s “strategy” and “technical” versions of the CEDS: http://ncfrpc.org/Publications/CEDS/NCFRPC_CEDS_2013-2017.pdf (PDF). The Florida RPCs adopted this format as part of their statewide coordinated CEDS development.
In addition, data that do not directly link and support the strategy should not be featured prominently in the main part of the document. Too much data can be a distraction, especially if it interrupts the flow of the narrative. Use appendices for data that cannot be tied directly to the vision, goals, measurable objectives, and strategies.
Communicate creatively. While the content of a CEDS is clearly the most significant factor, the region or organization developing the CEDS does itself a disservice if the document does not have a professional and appealing look and feel. Many groups, especially those unfamiliar with EDA, will look to the CEDS as an indication of the organization’s or region’s capabilities and overall commitment to effective economic development. Also, the CEDS should make extensive use of charts, graphs and professional photos to draw attention to and bolster the messages within the CEDS.
In addition, the CEDS should be crafted in whatever format provides the best medium for communicating the strategies within the document. Regions are encouraged to experiment with hard copy reports, web-based CEDS, or even mobile apps for phones or tablets if that is appropriate and of interest to the region. In some instances, a CEDS may be best developed in a traditional word processing format. However, many strategy documents are now being developed using other mediums. Different formats should be researched to widen the possibilities. Recent strategy documents from consulting firms, research organizations and university centers may provide ideas on creative formats.
Recommended Resource: For an example of a creative format, see http://nyworks.ny.gov/themes/nyopenrc/rc-files/ southerntier/CU_RegEcoDevRprt_loR.pdf (PDF).
Think beyond the document. When crafting the CEDS, a community should think creatively about how the document (or specific portions) may be used as a vehicle to engage stakeholders in a meaningful conversation and debate about their region. Consider how the CEDS can be used in social media – podcasts, blogs, videos, etc. How can the CEDS, or parts of it, be showcased on a website?