The planning process

Many books and articles have been written on the planning process, which may be of interest to the NEPA practitioner from both the management perspective and the physical, or land-use, perspective. (See, for example, Drucker, 1973; Goodman, 1968; Faludi, 1973; Lynch and Hack, 1984; McHarg, 1991.) Broadly, the approach to planning often used is the "rational comprehensive" (or "synoptic") approach, although other approaches exist (Hudson, 1979). Synoptic planning has four elements: (1) establish goals, (2) identify alternatives, (3) evaluate options, and (4) implement decisions. These elements can be further refined into a series of cyclic steps, as shown in Fig. 3.1.

Synoptic Planning
Figure 3.1 Generalized planning process.

First, the community, agency, executive, or planner must decide what is "at issue," in other words, what problem needs to be solved. For the planner or the executive some care must be given to defining this question (Drucker, 1973); if the central question, or issue, is not thoughtfully parsed, the answer, or solution, will be inadequate, ineffective, or irrelevant. "The first step—the most difficult and most often bungled step—is to ask what the problem is" (Lynch and Hack, 1984).

An agency plan is generally developed to answer a specific question: What course of action would be optimal to address a specific set of issues? A related question may be why the action is proposed. Is it required by specific legislation? Is it necessary to correct a violation of law or regulation? Is it clearly part of the agency mission? Is it in response to some change in the environment? All these factors will affect the development of the plan. A good plan is structured to address how an agency will meet certain goals, or end points. The plan may outline objectives, which are means (operational actions) to reach the goals (Drucker, 1973). Sometimes a planner will confuse "goals" and "objectives," or combine them into one term of "goals and objectives," but the two are quite distinct. For example, in a football game, the goal would be to win the game, while an objective might be to make a first down. A strategy is a way to achieve an objective, and consists of implementing a series of actions. There may be many strategies pertaining to a single objective, and more than one series of actions can be deployed at the same time. Going back to the football analogy, one action to achieve a first down might be for the quarterback to throw a forward pass, while at the same time a teammate might execute a second action and block a defensive player. Both of these would be actions taken by the team to implement the objective (first down) and reach the ultimate goal (win the game). Goals and objectives may be set by the agency, or may be established with input from interested parties, the scientific community, or the public at large.

Once there is consensus on what is to be addressed, the planner, with input from appropriate parties, can develop options, or alternative means, to address the goals and objectives that need to be met. Through the planning process, the options are sifted and examined, compared and analyzed. The results of this evaluation are presented to the decision maker, and a course of action is selected. The planning process does not stop there, however; the executive or agency must decide how to implement the plan and take the appropriate actions to put the plan into place. Effective plans are often conceived as "living documents"; that is, the results of the plan are monitored over time, and the plan's effectiveness evaluated.

An agency should not "plan to plan," but should "plan to do." A plan is prepared to give an agency a means to weigh options and address uncertainty over time. By developing a plan, and following it, an agency can ensure that its near-term actions will be lined up toward achieving a common long-term goal. The agency can avoid taking actions that are mutually counterproductive and avoid squandering its resources on unneeded or incompatible actions. For federal agencies, the plan implementation should give guidance on what NEPA or other environmental reviews would be required at each step. Plan implementation may additionally specify what permits or licenses would be needed to carry out each step. If the NEPA review indicated specific mitigation measures to ameliorate adverse impacts, these may be appropriately addressed during the plan implementation.

The last step of the planning cycle is feedback: Did the plan, when implemented, effectively address or solve the problem that was at issue? Perhaps the plan missed the mark and needs to be revised or fine-tuned to better address the planning issue. Even if the plan was a good one, the conditions leading to the original issue may have changed over time, leading to the need for planning revisions.

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