Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

The Planning Process

Before taking steps to implement responses, you should first carefully plan the implementation process. It is all too easy to become impatient to get on with the job of tackling the problem, and neglect to spend time on planning how to implement it. This is akin to setting out to build a house without first working out how big it’s going to be, where the walls are going, or what order the work needs to be done in! Yet planning is an extremely important part of the response activity. It can prevent making mistakes that could subsequently prove expensive, either in terms of time, effort, costs, or reputation.

This section examines some of the key points you need to consider when planning to implement a response.

Applying a Project Management Framework

Consider introducing a project management framework, or at least drawing on project management principles in planning and implementing a response. 19 Project management principles help to define a way of working that is particularly relevant to POP initiatives. These include the following:

  • Define goals and objectives. The team should focus on achieving a certain predefined end result or goal. All tasks undertaken as part of the project should in some way be associated with achieving objectives and attaining the goal. Everyone involved in the project should be clear about the intended goals and about the role they must play to meet those goals.
  • Set and enforce performance standards. The project management should ensure that performance standards are maintained and that tasks associated with the project are completed as efficiently as possible. You should clearly articulate the work required to meet the goals, with a timetable of planned activity by named staff. It should be clear who is responsible for performing each activity associated with a response. Furthermore, staff should be held to account for delivering their aspect of the work, thereby providing a lever to ensure the work gets done.
  • Monitor progress continuously and adjust accordingly. There should be close supervision of how the project is operating, with a capacity to make changes to ensure that the objectives are met within the existing constraints. Most projects will work with finite time, funding, and other resources. You will usually need to manage any change to a project within these limitations.
  • Anticipate and manage resistance to change. A project (especially in the POP context) will often aim to change something about the existing situation. This is a process that always needs to be managed carefully. For example, a project that aims to change working practices (e.g., changes to shift patterns) may initially meet with opposition from the staff affected by changes. However, careful advance planning can help to ameliorate some of the opposition by making changes as acceptable as possible, or by rehearsing arguments for why the changes are needed.
  • Capitalize on opportunities. In some cases, a particular course of events can be used to further the cause of one’s project. For example, a critical incident (such as a heinous crime) might provide the necessary opportunity to introduce an innovative response that might otherwise have been viewed as unacceptable. Indeed, such an opportunity can provide more support for a response than might otherwise have been the case from a more painstaking presentation of evidence and arguments. 20
  • Respond and adapt to changing circumstances. The project manager should be aware when the project begins to diverge from the project plan, to be able to make adjustments along the way.

Project management is therefore a dynamic role that requires a degree of leadership, ingenuity, and risk to see a project through to a satisfactory conclusion.

You should view project management as more than simply a form-filling exercise. There is some paperwork required to maintain accountability, and to be used as a record of decisions made and so forth, but you should see it more as a mindset. It is a way of thinking and working that involves careful planning and regular checking to ensure the implementation process remains on track. If you miss this point, then there is a danger that project management becomes a bureaucratic process that stifles implementation, rather than assisting it. See the appendix for a sample project management form used in a POP initiative. There are also many useful project management software programs available.

Matching Project Goals and Objectives

The purpose of goals and objectives is to define the initiative. They state the end result to be sought and set out what is to be achieved along the way. You can also use them as a reference point for checking that the initiative remains on track, by ensuring that the undertaken activity is conducive to meeting the goals and objectives. The following section looks at goals and objectives in turn.

Goals

Ideally, a project goal should specify the problem to be tackled. While this sounds obvious, all too often projects fail to specify a goal, or specify it in terms of the activity to be undertaken rather than the problem to be solved. Examples of this might be “to undertake a project to target prolific offenders,” or “to undertake a project to build youth shelters in local parks.” The problem with these process–oriented approaches to specifying goals is that they can be achieved without having any impact on the problem they set out to address. For example, a project aimed at targeting prolific offenders with enforcement activity and intensive support may be successful in the sense that it has identified the right people and engaged them in enforcement programs and support, but may not change their individual offense levels. In such circumstances, the project has successfully delivered its intervention, but has failed to affect the problem. From a POP perspective, you should view such projects as failures, since the problem persists.

Goals should therefore be problem–oriented, specifying the problem that will be addressed. Specifying a clear, problem-oriented goal in this way can help to prevent “mission creep,” in which a project that originally sets out to address one problem subsequently has other issues added to it. A clear project goal should therefore help to maintain a focus.

A clear statement of the problem leads to a clear goal. For example, when the problem is understood to be “vehicle crashes caused by excessive speed,” one would expect the goal to be “to reduce the number or severity of vehicle crashes,” not “to increase enforcement of speeding laws,” nor even necessarily “to reduce speed.” Clarity in the goal enables sensible adjustments to the response plan if one particular response does not appear to be effective. So, in the vehicle crash example, if enforcing speeding laws does not appear to be reducing crashes, you should try a response other than enforcing speeding laws, before the project is deemed a failure.

A word of caution is in order about setting quantified targets, whether internally or externally imposed. Examples of such targets might include to reduce the area’s extent of vehicle crime by 15 percent, or to reduce the rate of violence against the person to the national average. However, there is the question over how such targets are set. These are often based on a professional judgment about what can be achieved. Often they are simply imposed by funding organizations. They are seldom based on careful data analysis. However, failure to meet targets can demoralize staff involved in delivering a project, even if the project has nonetheless achieved other positive (yet unmeasured) outcomes.

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of targets is that they generally fail to take into account the counterfactual. Yet this is extremely important in POP initiatives. The fact that a project meets its outcome target does not necessarily imply success if you expected to achieve a greater reduction (based on what has been achieved elsewhere). Furthermore, failure to achieve the project outcome is not necessarily a negative result if you actually expected to achieve a worse result. To illustrate this point, a recent evaluation of the U.K. Arson Control Forum’s New Projects Initiative estimated that the combined effect of 19 arson reduction projects was an 8 percent increase in deliberate primary fires. 21 However, this was a much better performance than in a series of comparison areas, which witnessed a 27 percent increase in deliberate primary fires. On this basis, the program was shown to be very cost–effective, yet if a simple arson reduction target had been used, the program would have appeared a failure.

Objectives

While goals should be outcome– and problem–focused, objectives should be output– and intervention–focused. They should specify what you are actually going to undertake as a response, and preferably how much you will undertake. For example, a project goal may be “to reduce thefts from vehicles in an area,” while two objectives may be “to provide an additional 100 hours of high–visibility patrol in hot-spot areas” and “to notify all vehicle owners who leave items on display in their vehicles.” Although people often use such terms as “goals,” “objectives,” and “targets” interchangeably and with much confusion about the proper distinction among them, it is mainly important to bear in mind the need to distinguish between what you are trying to achieve (the purpose of the initiative) and how you are trying to achieve it (the means toward the end).