Creating an Effective Planning Environment
The communication and problem-solving process used to establish goals and objectives, agree on roles, make decisions, and resolve conflicts is a crucial variable in creating and sustaining interagency linkages (Melaville and Blank 1991). An effective planning environment is one in which team members can communicate honestly and freely and in which they are free from the distractions of their daily routines. The following elements will contribute to a planning environment that will result in a collaborative plan:
Time. Sufficient, uninterrupted time must be devoted to the task of developing a plan. A minimum of 8 hours is recommended. However, if team members do not know one another and are unfamiliar with the respective organizations represented on the team, a longer period will be required. You may wish to have some shorter pre-planning meetings that enable participants to become personally and professionally acquainted.
Location. A neutral location in which participants are freed from the distractions of other responsibilities is best. Team members can be encouraged to dress casually.
Appropriate Planning Tools. There should be a conference table large enough to accommodate the entire team as well as a flip chart for use in recording information. A laptop computer for recording decisions and drafting the plan is also a useful device for this process.
Team member commitment to planning time. Team members should be willing to free their calendars to devote a block of time to developing the plan. This commitment is an indication of their seriousness about participating in a collaborative venture.
Facilitation. Having the services of an outside facilitator who will assist with the process can be helpful. A facilitator can help resolve differences and keep the plan development process on course.
Information. Plan development may require information that team members, individually or collectively, do not possess. If you can anticipate the type of problems or issues the team may choose to address, appropriate resources can be made available during the planning session.
Formulating an Action Plan
A plan for the team's work should contain the following elements: purpose, goals and objectives, specific activities to achieve the goals and objectives, designated responsibilities (who will do what), and timelines for completion of activities. The key problems and issues identified in Step One may provide a foundation for the team's purpose. It is important that those involved reach consensus on the plan's content. Otherwise it may not receive full support from all team members (and hence all agencies represented). Appendix A contains an action plan form that has been used in the Ohio At-Risk Linkage Team project. You can copy this form for your team's use in developing its action plan.
Exhibit 1 depicts some examples of objectives and activities from the action plans of local interagency linkage teams in Ohio.
Sample Objectives and Activities from Ohio Action Plans
Objective: To develop an agency-wide referral system to eliminate frustration and confusion on the part of clients
Objective: Explore possibility of a central assessment center
Objective: Develop a Job Club program to meet the collective needs of all agencies
Developing Agency and Community Support for the Plan
Once the plan is developed and finalized, it needs to be shared with the respective agencies involved in the team. Each team can decide how this activity should be accomplished but team members should be prepared to point out how the plan will help their agency achieve its mission more efficiently and effectively.
Some of the local interagency linkage teams in Ohio have found it beneficial to share their plans with the wider community. One team, for example, created a broad-based community advisory committee that meets quarterly to advise the team on its plans. Broad-based community support may provide access to additional resources, but, equally important, it can generate community good will and support for the team's work.
Questions to Consider in Step Five: Developing a Plan
2. What locations would provide the appropriate setting for the planning session?
3. Who could serve as a facilitator?
4. What information should be available during the planning session?
5. Would it be advantageous to have some team meetings prior to the planning session?
6. If you decide not to use the action plan reprinted in this guide, what type of plan-ning form will you use during the session?
7. What will be done to ensure that the plan is realistic, i.e., that it establishes goals and objectives that can be accomplished?
8. Who will take responsibility for finalizing the plan?
9. How will support for the plan be developed among the agencies represented on the team?
10. How will support for the plan be developed within the community?