​​​The town of Amherst is located in the southern tier of New Hampshire in Hillsborough County on the western edge of the Merrimack Valley and the eastern edge of the Monadnock region.  With a population of approximately 12,000 residents and a land area of nearly 35 square miles, Amherst is a growing suburban-rural community that has successfully maintained many desirable historic and rural characteristics. 

rior to adopting strategic governance in 2013, Amherst’s town government had endured three default budgets in five years. This was, in part, due to:

  • A lack of clearly defined issues and outcomes, which made justifying expenditures hard.
  • Citizens' perceived a lack of transparency in town government.
  • The Board of Selectmen focused on micro-management rather than on higher-level strategic thinking and operational governance.

In 2013, Amherst adopted strategic governance and followed a clearly prescribed process. Town departments (Fire, Police, EMS, DPW, Community Development, Recreation, Town Clerk, Town Offices (administrator, Tax, Finance) along with the public library developed strategic plans by completing the 10 work activities in just four months (May-August). They have also used these plans to underpin their annual operating plans and budgets for each year since then.


The changes in town governance and in citizen support have been significant:

  • Since 2014, residents have passed all proposed municipal town budgets.
  • Of the 158 articles proposed by the Board of Selectmen since then, voters have approved 157.  
  • Amherst has continually invested in improving town services while maintaining the 8th lowest municipal tax rate of all 31 Hillsborough County municipalities -- representing an exceptional value for taxpayers.
  • More authority and responsibility have migrated down to department heads, while more timely information flows up to the town administrator and selectmen. 
  • Residents always know where things stand and feel town officials are delivering excellent services. There is also alignment on what won’t be done.
  • Other town committees, commissions, and boards have adopted strategic governance for themselves.


Department heads, selectmen, and the town administrator use strategic governance as the basis for multi-year initiatives, operational plans, and budgets. In public meetings, they use real-time tools to make trade-offs and and show impacts of various strategic scenarios for taxpayers. They also communicate and engage with residents so that everyone understands the process and the rationale for goal setting and decision making.

Most important, government officials measure and report on progress towards all goals, which are stated as citizen-oriented outcomes, so that residents can clearly see how they benefit from initiatives and investments. This has built an ongoing cycle of transparency and trust.


In each subsequent year, all plans have been refreshed in late spring to account for changes either within Amherst or those likely to impact the town from outside. Refreshed plans are presented annually to the selectmen, who use these plans as the basis for their annual operational planning and budgeting and for explaining to residents their intent and the elements that comprise the proposed budget. Department heads are now quite self sufficient in managing their strategic thinking and in presenting publicly.  (Amherst strategic plans can be found at http://www.amherstnh.gov/board-selectmen/pages/strategic-planning-budget-process.)


The strategic plans of the various town departments reflect the vertical perspectives of functional groups into which town government is organized to do work. But there are broader, more horizontal, categories that, together, shape the quality of life for Amherst residents. ​The Board of Selectmen has framed broader strategic town priorities to serve as the basis for their decision making. These include: 

  • Public safety (Police, Fire, EMS)
  • Infrastructure/Built Environment
  • Financial Condition/Affordability
  • Community/Economic Development
  • Town Character
  • Environment/Landscapes
  • Historic/Heritage
  • Housing
  • Recreation
  • Education

​A Clear, step-by-step approach fostered Success

As part of this process, department heads created 10 work products that, together, helped them understand past demands on their departments, upcoming trends and impacts, and ways to anticipate and meet future demands. These included:

  • A defined work plan and timeline for the overall strategic governance process.
  • A set of historical dashboards that shows trends in service demand, spending, staffing, key initiatives, etc. for each department.
  • An environmental scan to anticipate key factors from within the town and from other sources (federal and state regulations, professional regulations and new requirements, etc.) that might well have an impact on community needs and departmental operations.
  • A SWOT analysis of external opportunities and threats that might impact each department along with departmental strengths and weaknesses that should be better managed.
  • A dashboard reflecting current key performance measures for each department.
  • A vision for where each department is heading and what it should achieve over a specified time period.
  • A set of strategic initiatives that would be required to fulfill that vision (including those that would be required by other departments to support their efforts).
  • A vision dashboard reflecting proposed key, multi-year, resident-focused departmental outcomes.
  • Strategic plan presentation with associated budgets for those years for public dissemination.

case study: Amherst NH

The Center for Strategic Governance, LLC

10 Old Mont Vernon Rd. Amherst nh 03031