Lesson 1: What is the planning process?


There are several models of the planning process. This lesson will focus on program planning as it applies to public or government planning processes.

Planning can be viewed as an approach to problem solving. It provides a systematic way of viewing problems and developing short- and long-term solutions. It can also be viewed as a decision-making process used to help guide decisions concerning future needs.

Stages of the Planning Process

Use as a guide to develop 5-10 year
program plans, or to revise existing plans
Stage 1: Identify problems and needs
Stage 2: Develop goals and objectives
Stage 3: Develop alternative strategies
Stage 4: Select strategies and develop a detailed plan
Stage 5: Design a monitoring and evaluation plan

The advantages of using this sequence of decision-making steps include:

  • Clarification — Serves as a communication tool to inform the community, village or town about future activities.
  • Control — Minimizes uncertainties since the planner must carefully weigh alternative courses of action.
  • Management — A useful method of allocating limited resources.
  • Evaluation — Encourages periodical assessments of progress in meeting intended objectives. 

1.1 Identification of the Problem

At this stage, the planner(s) and community leaders collect information to assess problems and needs. A variety of techniques may be used:

  • Conduct surveys — Using a complete census of a given area, or sample surveys that focus on problems/concerns
  • Hold community, village or town meetings — Identify key problems and issues
  • Conduct interviews — With others who are involved or concerned such as other government agencies, non-government organizations, and community groups
  • Use secondary data — Census or prior survey data to identify problems and needs

The planner and team see that many problems exist. The planner must work with staff and residents to select problems requiring attention. The planner needs to ask a number of questions at this stage to clarify the problem(s):

  • What is the main problem of concern?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • Are existing resources available to eliminate the problem?
  • Is another agency or organization trying to solve the problem?
  • How severe is the problem?

It is important to realize that problems are not always what they seem to be at first glance. Detailed investigations, in addition to a consensus with community members, are needed prior to proceeding to the next stage.

Always remember: The way the problem is stated directs attention to the solutions.

1.2 Goals and objectives

Once the problems have been identified and agreed upon, the planner develops goals and objectives to alleviate the problem or needs. Goals are usually accompanied by detailed and specific objectives.

Definition: Goals are broad statements of desired accomplishments. Goals are usually accompanied by detailed and specific objectives.

In general, objectives can be defined as specific, measurable accomplishments to be achieved within a given time period. Developing clear objectives provides the guidelines for measuring progress and achievements. Objectives are written best if they are S.M.A.R.T.

S.M.A.R.T. Objectives

  • Specific — Indicates the target population for given services.
  • Measurable — Indicates how many will be targeted.
  • Area-specific — Indicates the geographic location of the target population or community.
  • Realistic — Takes into account existing resources, and has the support of the target population or community involved.
  • Time-Bound — Should indicate the time period when accomplishments will be achieved.

Examples of goals and objectives:

  • Goal — Improve the quality of housing in the Nkoranza District
  • Objective — Build homes for 30 citizens in the Nkoranza District by January, 2005
  • Specific
    Build new homes for citizens
  • Measurable
    30 citizens
  • Area-specific
    Nkoranza District
    • Realistic
    • Household surveys have been conducted
    • Citizen meetings have taken place
    • Resident interest has been determined
    • Funding has been obtained from the government and a non-profit organization such as Habitat for Humanity.
  • Time-boundary — Achieve in a set number of years

1.3 Development of Alternative Solutions

There are several ways to achieve goals and objectives. At this stage the planner working with staff and community leaders, comes up with a list of alternative strategies to achieve the goals and objectives. There are 3 basic ways to collect information for this activity:

  1. Investigate ways that other agencies and communities are achieving similar objectives.
  2. Have staff and others generate ideas based on their personal experience.
  3. Use knowledge gained from demonstration or pilot projects that offer possibilities in achieving the intended goals and objectives.

Once alternative strategies have been identified, evaluate each to determine which is the most appropriate for achieving goals and objectives. There are a number of ways to evaluate each alternative strategy.

  • Financial considerations
    How much would it cost to implement?
  • Available resources
    Are staff, money, and time to implement available?
  • Target population
    Will the target population accept the given strategy?
  • Social costs
    What are the long term positive and negative consequences of the strategy to the target population?
  • Intended objectives
    Will it achieve the intended objectives?

1.4 Selection of Strategies and Development of Detail Plan

Once a strategy (or group of strategies) has been selected, a detail plan to implement the strategy is developed. The development of the plan requires four types of activities:

  1. Programming: Identify the activities or tasks that need to be completed in order to reach the desired objectives. In many cases, several major tasks or activities are required to achieve each objective. Activities then need to be put into the order in which they should be completed.
  2. Allocating resources: Determine and assign the resources needed to implement the activities. Resources are normally divided into three general categories: humanphysical (materials, facilities and equipment) andfinancial. In planning, both internal as well as external resources are identified. While it is important to identify resources within the organization to carry out specified activities, other public and private sector agencies can also play major roles in implementing the plan. Community members can also contribute to planning and implementation activities.
  3. Scheduling: Establish the required time needed to complete each activity. This will involve an assessment of how long each task takes to be completed.
  4. Fixing accountability: Determine specific individual and/or agencies/institutions responsible for the accomplishment of activities. Simple devices can be used to indicate tasks and planned completion time such as Gantt charts, which indicate tasks vertically (Y-axis) and time horizontally (X-axis).

1.5 Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and evaluation help guide the following kinds of decisions:

  • Continue or discontinue a program or component of a plan
  • Improve existing programs/plans
  • Add or drop a component or an entire program
  • Institute a similar program elsewhere
  • Reallocate resources among competing programs or program components

There are two types of evaluations:

  1. Process evaluation: Helps program managers and policy makers redirect program activities to achieve desired goals. Process evaluation is concerned with the efficient use of resources such as personnel and equipment, and focuses on reducing waste and making more productive use of scarce resources. It is primarily concerned with finding better ways of implementing the plan.
  2. Impact evaluations: Measure whether or not the plan is having an impact on the target population or environment. It is concerned with program effectiveness, that is, whether or not the plan is achieving its objectives.

Some people also refer to monitoring programs as a form of evaluation. Monitoring simply tracks the progress of program implementation and operation. It usually entails the development of an information system that is updated periodically to meet reporting requirements of certain activities, such as the expenditure of funds, the number of participants, allocation of staff to given tasks, and the completion of given tasks. Evaluation, however, is more concerned with addressing specific decisions concerning program success.

Program evaluations are successful if the following three conditions are met:

  1. Program objectives are well defined in terms of specific measures of program performance
  2. Intended uses of evaluations are well-defined, and
  3. Monitoring and evaluation plans are developed.

Include an evaluation strategy in the plan to determine if goals and objectives are being achieved. The plan should include a time frame and budget for monitoring and evaluation.

1.6 Developing a Simple Monitoring and Evaluation Plan

  1. Time Frame: Develop a schedule for monitoring and evaluating the plan. Determine how often it is necessary to monitor and evaluate progress in achieving each objective. For example, should it be quarterly, at the end of each year, or every 3 years?
  2. Indicators: Develop indicators to measure progress in achieving each S.M.A.R.T. objective. If one of the objectives is to build 30 homes for residents, an indicator or measure of success could be the number of homes built.
  3. Data sources: Indicate the types of information needed to measure indicators. How will the information be collected? Are service statistics, census data, sample surveys, and/or community focus group meetings.
  4. Means of analysis: Once data are collected, identify ways to analyze it and produce reports.
  5. Reporting: Identify ways to present the findings to different audiences within the community, village and/or regional office. Which method will be used to report findings? ...In addition verbal reports in meetings? Written reports? In addition, determine who will receive the reports.
  6. Assigning responsible person(s): Identify and train, if necessary, individuals to implement the monitoring and evaluation strategy.

The planning process is a continuous cycle. The outcome of monitoring and evaluation efforts can provide new information to revise plans and programs.

A Quick Exercise

Exercise Goal:
Improvement of primary health care services for children in the Nkoranza District

To reach this goal:

  1. Develop a S.M.A.R.T. Objective
  2. Create an indicator to measure success and
  3. Indicate data needs

Answer: What is the Planning Process?

Answer — Exercises

There are a number of objectives that could be developed for this goal. A focus on childhood immunizations is one strategy that you may use to improve the health of children.

S.M.A.R.T Objective
Ensure that 20,100 children under the age of 5 receive measles, DPT3, and polio immunizations in Nkoranza District by 2003
Indicator of success
The actual number of children under the age of 5 that receive measles, DPT3, and polio immunizations
Data source
The Nkoranza District health clinic's immunization records.


          Ralph Brody, Problem Solving: Concepts and Methods for Community Organizations (New York: Human Sciences Press, 1982).

          John P. Lewis, ed., Strengthening the Poor: What Have We Learned? (New Brunswick, Transaction Books, 1988).

          Peter Oakley, Projects with People: The Practice of Participation in Rural Development (Geneva: International Labour Office, 1991).

          Samuel Paul, Strategic Management of Development Programmes: Guidelines for Action (Geneva: International Labour Office, 1983).

          Dennis A. Rondinelli, ed., Planning Development Projects (Stroudsburg, PA: Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross, 1977).

          Peter H. Rossi and Howard E. Freeman, Evaluation: A Systematic Approach (Newbury Park, CA: Sage, 1989).

          Edward A. Suchman, Evaluation Research (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1967).


Filed under: Population
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