Finding a suitable response can be a troublesome process. You may be repeatedly disappointed when promising interventions are vetoed because of expense or difficulty, or because of lack of cooperation. But there is more than one way to solve a problem. So, eventually your team will agree on a response that meets some basic requirements:
- It is not too ambitious or costly.
- It focuses on near, direct causes rather than on distant, more indirect ones, which gives it a good chance of making an immediate impact.
- The mechanism through which each response should impact the problem has been clearly articulated.
So, at last your worries are over and you can relax, right? Wrong! Even more difficult than agreeing on a good response is to make sure that it is actually implemented. You cannot ensure this on your own, but if you know the pitfalls of implementation, you can steer the partnership away from choosing responses that can fall prey to these. Tim Hope and Dan Murphy identified these pitfalls when studying a vandalism prevention project in eleven schools in Manchester, England.
The responses to be implemented at each school were selected by groups of local government officials, school staff and police. Much of the damage was more careless than malicious. This suggested two different solutions: situational responses to protect the buildings or providing recreational activities to divert children into less harmful activities. Only one of the eleven groups recommended improved leisure provision. The situational responses recommended were mostly basic target-hardening (window grills, toughened glass and high fences), though proposals also included a plan to encourage local residents to keep an eye on two adjacent schools and a plan to move a playground to a less vulnerable area.
At only two schools were all the recommendations implemented. In three, none was put in place and at the remaining six schools one or more recommendations failed to materialize. These failures to implement meant there was little impact on vandalism. Hope and Murphy identified five main obstacles to implementation, all of which have been encountered in U.S. problem-solving projects:
- Unanticipated technical difficulties. For eight schools, the groups recommended the replacement of vulnerable windows with polycarbonate glazing or toughened glass. However, not a single pane of either type was installed. The city architects had prohibited polycarbonate glazing because in case of fire it would prevent escape and might give off toxic fumes. Toughened glass had to be cut to size before it was toughened, but the panes came in many sizes and it would have been difficult to store a few of each size in readiness. The alternative of supplying a pane to order was ruled out by the long time (six weeks) it would take to do this.
- Inadequate supervision of implementation. At one school it was agreed to move the playground to a less vulnerable area. The original playground was to be replaced with flowerbeds, but this had to be done by a government agency that got no further than providing an estimate for the work. The relocation of the playground was sub-contracted to a private builder, but due to a misunderstanding only half the proposed area was resurfaced. After two years, therefore, vandalism was unchanged, there were no flowerbeds, and the school had acquired a useless, narrow strip of pavement.
- Failure to coordinate action among different agencies. Every recommendation that was the sole responsibility of the buildings maintenance section of the school system was implemented, while none of those involving other departments or agencies ever materialized. For example, it was recommended that people living near two schools should be encouraged to keep an eye on them after hours and report anything suspicious to the police. This required the cooperation of the school system administration, the principal, staff and pupils of the schools and three branches of the police - crime prevention, community relations and local police. All liked the idea, but no one would take the lead.
- Competing priorities. During the implementation period many other demands were placed on the school system as a result of widespread labor unrest by local government employees and a school reorganization made necessary by a declining school-age population. School staffing changes resulted in the reassignment of staff who were involved in the vandalism project. It is not surprising that the staff gave the vandalism project low priority.
- Unanticipated costs. In some cases, the wider consequences of a particular course of action outweighed its immediate benefits. For example, at the school with the most serious vandalism problem it was decided to mount a security patrol for the upcoming holiday period. The school maintenance workers were employed to patrol the school for payment during their spare time. This was immediately successful in reducing vandalism and was extended beyond school holidays to provide coverage at evenings and weekends. Other schools demanded the same protection and more maintenance workers wanted the additional overtime opportunities. Ultimately the cost became too high and the project was scrapped.
You can see from the list above that some implementation problems cannot be anticipated and that a proportion of all responses selected will never be implemented. However, it is also clear that certain kinds of responses can be expected to encounter problems and these are summarized in the box. In some cases, of course, a response may be so promising that it is worth pursuing despite the risks of implementation failure. But being forewarned is to be forearmed.
Expect implementation problems when a response:
- Requires coordinated action among a number of separate agencies.
- Will take a long time to introduce and involves a number of steps to be completed in sequence.
- Must be implemented by staff with little understanding of its purpose.
- Has no major supporter among the partnership team.
- Lacks the support of senior administrators.
Also expect problems when the response must be implemented by an agency:
- That is outside the partnership.
- That is poorly resourced or in turmoil.
- That will gain little direct benefit from the solution.
- Hope, Tim and Daniel Murphy (1983). Problems of Implementing Crime Prevention: The Experience of a Demonstration Project. The Howard Journal, XXII, 38-50.
- Laycock, Gloria and Nick Tilley (1995). Implementing Crime Prevention. In Building a Safer Society, edited by Michael Tonry and David Farrington University of Chicago Press.