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Planning is the future-oriented, systematic process of determining a direction, setting goals, and taking actions to reach those goals. Planning is all about making change and is a basic management function essential to the success of all levels of an organization. This chapter provides an overview of planning definitions, issues, and tools or techniques. Several examples of models or frameworks for community health assessment and improvement efforts are provided along with references. A second goal is that readers develop an appreciation for the ambiguous nature of the planning vocabulary and recognize the need for clarifying understandings before venturing forth into planning, particularly when this activity involves a diverse group of professionals or community laypersons.

While planning can be described in the terms of techniques and tools, it is often a very complicated social process that must be mastered by the successful manager and thriving organizations and or communities. One of the most essential of planning tools in public health is the ability to work with professional and community groups.

Planning in Context—The Continuous Improvement Cycle of Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation

Planning is a core activity of what public health professionals, managers, and executives do. A generic or generalized model includes the steps or stages of understanding and engagement (“planning to plan”), needs assessment, setting goals and objectives, developing and intervention, fielding the intervention, and evaluating the results. Without planning and the formulation of explicit goals and objectives, evaluation becomes difficult, especially in larger organizations and in the community.1 Rather than a linear process, planning is best considered as part of a continuous improvement process that involves the iterative gathering of data, translating it into useful information, and using that information to make decisions.2

Need for a Common Vision and Language

When beginning or reinvigorating the planning process, particularly in a setting with a diverse staff, it is essential to establish a common understanding of and language for the activities ahead. Picking a model, and its associated vocabulary, will help provide a common framework. Training using the selected model and vocabulary also helps improve communication. A large number of models and tools are available to provide a roadmap, a language and common understanding of how to proceed. Since there is no one best model, it is more important to pick a model and move forward than to labor over what is the “best” model. While picking a model is an essential first step, ultimately, the success of the planning and improvement process is dependent on multiple factors such as leadership, hard work, resources, and luck. Considerations for selecting a model are included later in this chapter.

As the planning process is initiated, and periodically throughout its life, it ...

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