Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

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Implementing Responses to Problems

Tool Guide 7 (2007)

by Rick Brown & Michael Scott


This guide deals with the process of implementing responses to problems in problem-oriented policing (POP) initiatives. It addresses the reasons why the responses you plan to implement do or do not get properly implemented, and how you can better ensure that they do. The guide does not address the broader issues relating to implementing a problem-oriented approach to policing within a police agency, matters that have been more fully explored elsewhere. 1

The POP literature has paid a fair amount of attention to the processes of analyzing the nature and extent of problems and developing suitable responses to them. Relatively little attention has been paid to the actual process of implementing the responses, and to the factors that are important in getting it right. 2 It is clear from POP studies, however, that implementation failure is common.

Implementation takes place in the "response" phase of the SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response, Assessment) problem-solving model. The response phase actually comprises at least three different tasks: (1) conducting a broad, uninhibited search for response alternatives; (2) choosing from among those alternatives; and (3) implementing the chosen alternatives. 3

There are four basic reasons why any particular problem-solving initiative might fail:

  1. The problem was inaccurately identified: the underlying problem was something other than what it first appeared, the problem was not as acute as initially believed, or the police agency or the community was not as concerned about the problem as first thought.
  2. The problem was insufficiently or inadequately analyzed: the real contributing or causal factors were not discovered, or insufficient or inadequate evidence was mounted to persuade others to take interest in the problem.
  3. The responses developed from the problem analysis were improperly or insufficiently implemented, or not implemented at all.
  4. The problem was properly identified and analyzed, and responses were implemented, but the responses did not have the desired effect.

This guide concerns itself principally with the third of these four reasons: successful or failed response implementation.

The guide is divided according to the four key stages of implementation:

  1. The preimplementation stage, which addresses the factors you should consider before implementation.
  2. The planning stage, during which you should consider the specific implementation mechanics and systems.
  3. The implementation stage, in which you should put responses in place, monitor them, and make adjustments.
  4. The post-implementation learning stage, in which you should consider implementation successes and failures.

Bear in mind that POP initiatives are of varying scope and complexity, ranging from highly localized projects that a lone police officer might address as part of his or her routine duties, to ambitious projects affecting the entire jurisdiction that require a team of specialists to address. Therefore, the factors and recommendations discussed here will have more or less importance, depending on the POP initiative's scope and complexity.

Factors to Consider Before You Start Implementation

You must take into account a range of factors before beginning the implementation process. In some cases, these factors are a given and cannot be influenced. Understanding these will help in selecting responses and in planning how you will implement them. In other cases, you can alter the factors to generate a more satisfactory outcome from an implementation perspective. Regardless of the type of factor concerned, they help to set the context within which future implementation will be undertaken.

There are six key factors that you should take into account before starting implementation: 4

  • internal support,
  • external support,
  • leadership,
  • communication,
  • resources, and
  • staffing.

Each of these factors is discussed in the following pages.

Internal Support

Responses are more likely to be implemented where there is clear support for them within the organization undertaking the implementation. This is particularly important where an organization is expected to invest resources in an initiative. Here, there are a number of questions that you should ask that may affect internal support:

  • Does the initiative fit with current organizational goals and objectives?
  • Does the initiative fit with existing operations/initiatives?
  • Are there particular units/people within the organization whose support is essential for successful implementation?
  • Are there any issues associated with the organization's internal politics that may make implementing the particular initiative problematic?
  • Does implementation require a change to existing policies or working practices?
  • Is there a potential champion for the initiative at the senior management level?

You should consider each of these issues before starting an initiative, as a lack of organizational support could make it more difficult to win the necessary resources and colleague support to complete the work required. It is also important to bear in mind that internal support will also be helpful if there are subsequent implementation problemsespecially problems involving external partners or the local community.

While it is important for the initiative to have the support of the organization responsible for its implementation, it is equally important to win the support of the specific people tasked with delivering the initiative. In the context of implementing POP initiatives, it is desirable that the people needed to implement responses feel some sense of ownership of the action plan. 5 You can cultivate a sense of ownership in key people by providing them with opportunities to influence the project's direction, such that they feel they are not merely implementing somebody else's plan, but implementing their own. Conversely, a lack of input by key people at meaningful project stages can lead to their lack of commitment to implementation. 6

Ideally, the same people should remain actively involved throughout a project, from initial problem identification to analysis to response development to response implementation to assessment. Ideally, those who spearheaded the problem analysis would have the capacity and desire to put their resultant plan into action.

In some cases, action plans are developed without the input or commitment of those who will be tasked with putting the plan into action, such as professional grant writers, whose role is to bid for external funding. This obviously can have a detrimental effect on winning ownership for an initiative if it is felt that the solution to the problem is imposed on those tasked with carrying it out.

Where it is impossible for the lead problem analysts to implement the action plan, the next best possibility is for the plan to be officially assigned to one or more people who will be held accountable for carrying it out. When responsibility for implementing an action plan is neither assumed nor assigned, the plan typically lies dormant.

The lead researchers of the earliest POP initiative examining the problem of drinking drivers concluded that the failure to fully implement the recommendations for action arising out of the inquiry were largely attributable to the fact that no one person within the police agency had or was given responsibility for doing so. 7 By contrast, the recommendations for action that emerged out of the same researchers' analysis of a second problemrepeat sex offenderswere promptly and effectively implemented owing largely to the fact that a police lieutenant was tasked with doing so. 8

A sense of ownership of a response plan is unlikely to be created merely by assigning it to someone, or by providing extrinsic motivations such as financial reward. For example, where police officers or others agree to carry out certain assignments principally because there is overtime compensation to be earned from doing so, it is often the case that the commitment to carrying out the plan as originally designed is weakened.

External Support

Just as internal support is essential to successfully implement a response, so too is external support. There are potentially a number of sources from which you might obtain external support.

Partner-Organization Support

In some cases, you can implement responses without requiring external organizations support or cooperation, using the police agencys internal skills and expertise. However, increasingly, multifaceted initiatives involve working with other partner organizations, drawing on their particular mandate and expertise to complete aspects of the required work. 9

In engaging with partner organizations whose support is essential, it is important to take into account the culture, perspective, objectives, and performance indicators under which the organizations operate. 10 Partnership-working is likely to be most successful where there is mutual benefit from engaging in an initiative. Therefore, you must understand how an external organization is likely to receive involvement in a given response and, where necessary, sell the benefits of involvement in their own terms. Indeed, responses are more likely to be implemented if the people and organizations tasked with implementation feel they are competent to carry out the activity, one that fits their conception of what they or their organization should be doing. For example, police are more likely to conduct criminal law enforcement activities because such activities fit squarely within the scope of police competence and self-image. They are likely to be more reluctant to engage in other sorts of tasks, such as providing social services. So, too, with other agencies. The Boston Gun Project, which comprised an interagency task force, appears to have apportioned the various tasks that were part of its overall response plan in accordance with the participating agencies' respective competencies and self-images. The police engaged in enforcement crackdowns, the clergy and gang outreach workers offered aid to gang members, probation officers supervised their clients, prosecutors prosecuted crimes, and so forth. Responses were faithfully implemented perhaps in part because no agencies or people were asked to stretch their conventional sense of their own function. 11

In other circumstances, an organization may undertake an initiative without taking into account the existence of other organizations delivering similar interventions in a similar area. In the United Kingdom, police target-hardening of burglary victims homes, undertaken under the auspices of the Home Office-funded Reducing Burglary Initiative, sometimes conflicted with the work of local charities that were target-hardening the homes of vulnerable people (including burglary victims) in the same areas. It is therefore useful to consider who else is undertaking similar interventions for the same target area/group and to engage them in participating in the initiative, rather than setting up new structures that end up competing for the same intervention recipients. 12

Local Community Support

Response plans that enjoy grassroots community support tend to be more likely to be implemented than those without it because you can convert such support into political influence, which can mobilize resources and action. Indianapolis police could sustain an intensive effort to stop vehicles, search for guns, and investigate suspicious drivers and occupants in a predominantly minority community owing in large part to police preparatory work to gain community understanding of and support for the initiative. 13

Before implementing a response plan, you should consult with those community members whom the action will most affect. This may include active forms of consultation, such as community meetings and meetings with key community representatives, and more passive forms of consultation, such as letters to local community members informing them of the response plan. The response plans effectiveness may depend in part on this consultation. 14

Media Support

When media coverage of an initiative presents the police agency in a favorable light, it can provide a substantial boost to response implementation in several ways:

  • by increasing public understanding of and support for the course of action recommended;
  • by shaming and holding to account certain parties deemed responsible for contributing to the problem, or parties deemed not to be cooperating in the effort to remediate the problem;
  • by keeping the problem in key officials consciousness until it is properly addressed;
  • by providing a reasonably objective assessment of the case the organization is making for new responses to the problem; and
  • by encouraging staff in the implementing organization through the intrinsic satisfaction of positive publicity and recognition.

Media coverage, however, is not universally supportive of initiatives to address particular problems and can, in fact, thwart them. When Lauderhill, Fla., police filed a nuisance abatement action against a commercial property owner as a means of controlling an open-air drug market operating on the property, local newspaper coverage was hostile to the police action, adopting the editorial view that only drug dealers and buyers should be held responsible for the drug market, not the property owner, and further questioning police motives. Although the adverse media coverage did not ultimately hinder the legal action, it did weaken public support for it. 15


Leadership associated with the project is key, both in terms of the person taking an initiative forward and in terms of the implementing organization as a whole. Where individual project leadership is concerned, it is often cited as one of the factors influencing response implementation. 16 Indeed, it often seems that a strong leader can make a success of even the weakest of responses due to his or her diligence, persistence, and perseverance in the implementation process. These people schedule and lead meetings, perform the tasks they have agreed to and hold others accountable for doing the same, and generally do whatever is necessary to keep the project a priority concern. These people often exercise a degree of leadership not commonly expected of their rank and position. They press ahead unless made to stop. This highlights the importance of carefully selecting a project leader. It should not simply be a matter of who can spare the time, but rather who is best for the job, preferably with a track record for delivering on past projects.

Where organizational leadership is concerned, response implementation can be assisted by strong senior management leadership. This can provide support and encouragement for a project, as well as address high-level problems should the need arise. It can also be beneficial where high-level policy changes are involved. This was exemplified when the Fremont, Calif., police chief spearheaded his agency initiative to change its response to burglar alarms. In the face of strong alarm-industry opposition, the chief pressed the case for a policy change by carefully presenting his agencys internal analysis of its response to burglar alarms to alarm owners, elected officials, and the public at large. 17

In police agencies in which initiative is not encouraged among the lower ranks, POP projects can fail because the higher-ranking executive officers on whom project leadership depends can become easily distracted by other pressing concerns. The lack of engagement by high-ranking officers at critical junctures in the project can mean that the project achieves less than it might otherwise.

Good senior management leadership should also help to create an organizational attitude in which failure is acceptable, but where failing to try isnt. Organizations with a strong blame culture will stifle innovation and creativity by making staff wary of trying something new, for fear of being seen to fail.


Good communication is essential with all parties involved in a project. From the outset, all parties should be aware of what is expected from them, and differences of opinion should be addressed early on, before they adversely affect peoples relationships.

Communication associated with an initiative needs to be multidirectional and possibly involve different messages for different groups. Those with whom communication should be undertaken include

  • internal colleagues and management,
  • project staff,
  • partner organizations,
  • response recipients, and
  • the wider community.


From the outset of a response, it is important to have in mind the resources available to complete an initiative. All responses will be subject to four key constraints: time, costs, other resources, and quality. Where time is concerned, there will usually be a deadline by which the response is expected to be completed. Costs refer to the financial expenditure or hard cash associated with the implementation. In many responses, some cash must be expended in the process. Other resources refer to the myriad other things that an organization can bring to a response. These will include staff time, office space and equipment, vehicles, etc. These are often viewed as free from the organizational perspective, but are subject to an opportunity costif they were not devoted to implementing this response, they could be used for other purposes. Quality refers to how the response is completed and how thoroughly a job is done.

From a resourceallocation perspective, there will be tradeoffs among these four constraints. For example, a job may be completed in a shorter time if more other resources are devoted to it. Alternatively, a response may be completed at a lower cost by reducing the quality of the work that is acceptable. From the outset of implementation, it will be important to keep in mind each of these constraints, which will reflect the resources available.

While initiatives are often provided with time and other resources, there is often a problem with accessing working capital required to pay for the project's running costs. This could be because there are insufficient funds available or the administrative mechanisms that govern public organizations expenditures stifle the ability to make timely purchases. An evaluation of the U.K.s Arson Control Forums New Projects Initiative found that while the funding had allowed local fire and rescue services to recruit arson task forces, some couldn't implement initiatives due to a lack of funds. 18 By contrast, some of the arson task forces leveraged in significant additional funding from partner agencies by offering some funding themselves.


There are a number of issues associated with staffing that need to be addressed from the outset. These include

  • specialized assignments,
  • staff quality, and
  • recruitment and retention.

Each of these is discussed in turn below.

Specialized Assignments

Creating a specialized assignment to address a problem appears to increase the likelihood that action plans will be implemented. Specialized assignments might be in the form of special task forces, specialized units, detachments, and other similar arrangements. The specialization of the assignment might be either to the particular problem or to some sort of problemsolving unit within which the people assigned can choose problems to address and concentrate their work on them. Among the most successful POP initiatives, one more commonly finds them occurring within the context of specialized rather than generalized assignments.

Typically, specialized assignments provide not only the time and other resources necessary to the task, but also they often yield greater accountability because responsibility for addressing particular problems is more firmly established. Specialized assignments can also prevent staff from being used for other duties by protecting them as a dedicated resource.

Additionally, specialized assignments offer other intangible benefits to the people assuming those assignments: prestige, freedom from ordinary duties, greater autonomy over working conditions, and so forth. To the extent the people value these benefits, they have incentives to ensure that action plans are implemented and that the project appears to be moving forward and producing results.

Staff Quality

In many cases, the staff available to undertake a response may be nonnegotiable, based on who is then available. However, if possible, identify people with relevant skills and experience to implement the initiative. Furthermore, people with a good network of contacts in partner organizations can prove extremely useful, as it can mean the formal lines of communication between agencies can be circumvented, thereby getting the job done more quickly, and possibly with less potential for a refusal to cooperate. In addition, local knowledge of an area and the people that live there can prove useful for dealing with problems on the ground. In short, dont underestimate the importance of informal contacts.

Recruitment and Retention

When current staff are not available and budgets allow, it may be necessary to recruit new project staff. This has frequently been shown to take longer than anticipated, with a recruitment process often taking six to nine months before the candidate starts work. This can have a detrimental impact on an initiatives timing, especially if implementation cannot begin until that staff member is in place.

Many positions will be funded on short-term contracts, and this creates uncertainty for staff funded in this way. One can usually expect a staff member to start looking for a new job six months before the contract termination. This can create problems of continuity if the staff member leaves some months before the end of the project, as there is likely to be insufficient time to recruit a new staff member. In turn, this can affect the degree of implementation that can be completed.

For agencies large enough to justify the cost, it may be preferable to hire and develop permanent support staff who have the necessary knowledge, skills. and abilities for problemoriented projects. The permanent support staff should then be able to manage most projects internally, and even if external aid is needed, the permanent staff can work with the external staff to help ensure continuity.

For a discussion of the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for effective problem analysis and management, see Boba (2003) [PDF].

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 its 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 ones 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.


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 processoriented 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 problemoriented, 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 areas 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 Forums 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 costeffective, yet if a simple arson reduction target had been used, the program would have appeared a failure.


While goals should be outcome and problemfocused, objectives should be output and interventionfocused. 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 highvisibility 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).

Developing the Response

At an early stage in response development, it is likely that one or more responses will emerge as intervention favorites. Indeed, the most suitable response will often appear obvious to those planning implementation. Nevertheless, it is worth asking the following 10 questions about any planned intervention:

See Goldstein (1990: pp. 141-145) [PDF] for further discussion of factors to consider in choosing from among response alternatives.

  1. What is the change mechanism? You may conceive an intervention as consisting of two components-a description of what is to be undertaken (e.g., targethardening, highvisibility patrol), and an explanation of how the intervention is expected to result in the desired outcome. This latter component is known as the mechanism. 22In the problemspecific guides, each responses mechanism is described in the How It Works column of the summary table of responses found in each guides appendix. For example, the mechanism associated with burglar alarms might be to increase the perceived risk of detection for the offender, while an overt propertymarking scheme may reduce the rewards associated with a theft. In specifying the mechanism, there are some simple rules to follow:
    • Keep it realistic. The mechanism should provide a plausible explanation of how you might expect an interventions implementation to reduce a problem. Implausible mechanisms are unlikely to work as expected.
    • Keep it simple. Mechanisms that require a series of events to achieve an outcome are less likely to be successful than those that have a more direct result. For example, installing targethardening in burglaryvictim households has a direct result of making it more difficult to break into the households. By contrast, crime prevention publicity campaigns that extol the virtues of target hardening require a series of events. These include the householders readinghearing the advice, deciding to take action, buying the necessary equipment, and correctly installing it. This provides a series of opportunities for the intervention to fail.
    • Deal with immediate causes first. It is far easier to generate positive results by focusing on the things that can be immediately changed, rather than focusing on problems longterm root causes. This is because there are likely to be many intervening variables that will influence the likelihood of longterm root causes being addressed sufficiently to reduce the problem at hand, and because this is likely to take a long time to show results. Of course, this assumes that we are sufficiently clear about how root causes relate to a problem, and this is seldom the case. For example, one could tackle mobilephone theft by addressing the social inequality that motivates some people to steal from others. Alternatively, one could manufacture mobile phones so that they became inoperable once stolen, and therefore worthless. The former provides an example of a root cause about which little is known and about which it is uncertain how to address. The latter provides an example of a more immediate response.
  2. What evidence is there that the intervention has worked before? Innovative interventions, while likely to bring accolades if effective, are inherently risky. There is a high likelihood that they will not work, which means that the original problem will not be addressed. Therefore, in the first instance, you should consider applying tried and tested measures that have been shown to be effective. There are, potentially, three sources for identifying effective interventionsyour own implementation experience, interventions implemented by others in the organization and by other agencies, and published information (e.g., in academic journals, official reports, and internet sites) on effective interventions. In considering whether to replicate interventions that others have shown to be effective, you should ask the following questions:
    • What was the interventions context? In replicating a project, you can expect to receive only the same outcome as the original project if the context in which you have replicated it is similar to the original context. 23 By context, we mean the environment in which it is implemented, the type of intervention recipient, and the nature of the organizations undertaking the intervention. If these factors differ, you cannot necessarily expect to achieve a similar result. For example, a burglary prevention project that involves target hardening one kind of household won't necessarily be as effective if it is replicated with other types of households, especially if the burglary rates differ or if the modus operandi for the burglaries differ.
    • How precisely was the intervention implemented ? In understanding how an intervention worked, it is important to analyze how it was implemented. Here you must consider the resources devoted to an intervention, the sequence of events associated with the intervention, and any external factor that was thought to have been important in the interventions success (such as the involvement of particular people, or the fact that it followed on from another unrelated intervention that assisted in achieving the outcome). One particular issue to bear in mind is the role of demonstration projects, which tend to be high profile and well resourced. Replications of such projects often do not have either the profile or the resources devoted to them, which can mean the intervention dosage is much reduced and therefore unlikely to achieve the results observed in its original form.
    • How reliable are the stated results? You should critically evaluate the stated intervention results before deciding on replication. There is a tendency to report positive results and ignore negative ones, especially when a report is prepared by the project implementers, who have little to gain from presenting the failures of their own work. It can also be necessary to read between the lines about what brought about a given outcome, as other factors that are not explicitly reported may be responsible for the results.
  3. How difficult will it be to implement the intervention? Interventions that appear complex on paper will nearly always prove even more difficult to implement in practice. You should therefore give preference to interventions that involve
    • simple, welltested processes;
    • a one-time activity, rather than a recurring process or program;
    • actions by one person or a small team, rather than by multiple units or organizations; and
    • limited line management decision-making or senior management authorization.
  4. Does the intervention rely on external partners actions? The more organizations involved in a project, the greater the problems you can expect. 24 This is partly due to the fact that you can exert limited pressure on an external partner to act as you would like, and partly due to different perspectives on the problems priority.
  5. Are regulatory or high-level policy changes required to implement the intervention? Interventions that require changes to laws or changes to official policies can be difficult to implement. They will require significant effort to be expended in lobbying for changes by those in authority, and even if successful, will take considerable time to come to fruition. If you deem such changes necessary, they are best treated as part of a package of measures, with shorterterm interventions that provide quick fixes balanced with longerterm policy changes.
  6. How will the intervention interact with other interventions being implemented in the same area/with the same group? Interventions are seldom undertaken in isolation, and are usually presented as a package of measures to tackle a given problem. Even if you undertake our intervention as a standalone measure, there may be other measures being undertaken with the same target grouparea that may affect the outcomes. It is therefore important to take into consideration the interaction that your intervention may have with others. There are three ways in which interventions could interact: 25
    • Interactive measures comprise interventions designed to work in complementary and cumulative ways. Often there will be an important sequencing of interventions, in which an interventions success is based on the successful implementation of a previous intervention, and in which there is mutual benefit in the two interventions being implemented together.
    • Combined measures comprise measures that work independently of one another. Each measure may be tackling the same problem, but they have no influence on each other, either positively or negatively. This is the most common form of approach, with measures presented as a kind of shopping list and an assumption that the more interventions that can be applied to a problem, the more likely it is to be reduced.
    • Contradictory measures consist of interventions that work against each other, with the successful implementation of ones having a negative impact on the others effectiveness. For example, a covert alarm (in which one might plan to catch an offender in the process of committing a crime) would be counteracted if the premises also received targethardening to prevent the offender from gaining entry (e.g., setting off the alarm).
  7. What will be the stakeholders' reactions to the intervention? You must take stakeholders views into account regarding an interventions success and how others view it. Stakeholders include the project team, others within your organization, external partners, and intervention recipients. There may be political reasons why stakeholders may not necessarily view success in a favorable light, especially if you have addressed a problem that they themselves should have addressed. You also should consider the intervention cost in terms of its effects on relationships with stakeholders. For example, doggedly pursuing an intervention may damage relationships with an external partner, which may have longerterm ramifications for others working with that partner. Alternatively, success in reducing a problem may be achieved at the cost of good community relations. For example, heavyhanded police enforcement could cause public unrest in the community experiencing the problem being addressed.

    See the Response Guide titled The Benefits and Consequences of Police Crackdowns [PDF] for further discussion of this issue.

  8. Will any negative consequences accrue from the intervention? In addition to the damage to relationships noted above, you should carefully consider whether the intervention will have any other negative consequences. Examples of these might include
    • the impact on other measures (such as causing contradictory interventions),
    • the opportunity cost of being unable to address other problems while implementing the current intervention,
    • media reactions to the measures,
    • the displacement of the problem to other areas/times, and
    • changes in modus operandi to more serious forms of crime.
  9. How long will it take for the intervention to show results? You might expect some interventions to have an almost instantaneous effect. For example, increasing high visibility police patrolling is intended to have an immediate (if shortlived) impact on a problem. At the other end of the spectrum, preschool education programs can have an impact on reducing the likelihood of offending, but can take many years to produce results. 26

    It is also important to consider how long it takes to implement the intervention. For example, highvisibility police patrolling takes as long as the patrolling itself. By contrast, the apparently simple intervention of blocking an alley to the rear of houses with a set of gates has been shown to take, on average, a year to complete in the United Kingdom. 27

  10. Can the impact be measured? Ideally, it should be possible to measure whether one has had an impact on the problem to know whether the problem remains and how well the responses worked. However, this is not always the case. For example, in some cases, where multiple interventions have tackled the same problem, it may not be possible to identify which interventions were responsible for the reduction. In other cases, interventions may be undertaken with no clear idea of the scale of the problem to start with and no way of measuring whether the responses have been effective. This was the case in an organized vehiclecrime reduction program undertaken by the U.K. National Criminal Intelligence Service, in which the scale of vehicles stolen for export could not be measured, either before or after intervention. 28

Setting a Realistic Timetable

Once you have selected responses, you should pay careful attention to how long the response implementation will take. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Stakeholders and intervention recipients will expect the implementation to be completed within a specified time.
  • Failure to meet the deadline may reflect poorly on the implementing team and on the organization as a whole.
  • There is an opportunity cost associated with extended implementation periods in that additional time spent on a response will detract from other work that the implementing team could be undertaking.
  • In some cases, there may be a very real financial cost, especially if delays mean that contracted staff or hired equipment needs to be used for a longer period.

Most of us pay little attention to the timetables required for a response, and calculate these in one of two ways. We either pick a time off the top of our head, based on a rough calculation of how long the most salient tasks will take, or we think of a deadline first and then fit the tasks into the available time. From a planning perspective, neither is sufficient, as both allow for the possibility of significant time overruns.

A preferred approach to developing a realistic timetable is to produce a Gantt chart using the following key stage approach:

  1. Identify all of the individual tasks involved in the intervention.
  2. Group these tasks into key stages, based on activities that appear to relate to each other and that, ideally, can be assigned to a single person. While you may have a hundred individual tasks, these may be grouped into, say, a dozen key stages.
  3. Order the stages into a logical sequence showing dependencies between key stages. Look for opportunities for running key stages in parallel, as the more that are run in parallel, the shorter the overall project time. This should result in a project logic diagram. Figure 1 provides a project logic diagram for installing a CCTV system in a parking ramp. Note that there are two points at which key stages are run in parallel. In producing the project logic diagram, you should take into account the following rules:
    • Time flows from left to right.
    • There is no timescale attached at this stage.
    • Place a start box on the left of the sheet.
    • Place a finish box at the end of the sheet.
    • There should be one box for each key stage.
    • Start each key stage with a verb.
    • Do not add durations at this point.
    • Place boxes in order of dependency, debating each one.
    • Validate dependencies by working through the process.
    • Do not take people doing the work into account.
    • Do not add in responsibilities at this stage.
    • Draw in the dependency links with straight arrows.
    • Avoid arrows that cross.
Project logic diagram for installing a CCTV system in a parking ramp
  1. Next, work out how long the tasks associated with the key stage take to complete. Much of this will be estimation, but the principle here is that the sum total of lots of small estimates associated with tasks will be more accurate than attempting to estimate the overall time taken to complete a project. Remember that some of the tasks may be completed in parallel, which will obviously save time in completing the key stage. You should now have an estimate of the time it will take to complete each key stage.
  2. The final stage is to work out the critical path. The project logic diagram shown in Figure 1 has three paths that can be followed between the start and finish. One goes straight through the middle, the second passes through identify funding sources and obtain funding, and the third passes through put up signs about CCTV in operation. The critical path is the one that takes the longest to pass from start to finish. This represents the shortest possible time in which the project can be completed, and will allow you to calculate the deadline by which you can complete the response.
  3. Working this way, you may find that the response takes longer than you had expected. However, having this kind of information allows you to make decisions about how to undertake the response. You may find that you can speed up some key stages by providing more resources to complete it (for example, two people may complete the job faster than one), or by cutting back on the quality on some aspects of the work. Ultimately, you might decide that a response is likely to take too long to complete, and that you should select an alternative response.

The point of undertaking this exercise at the planning stage is that, by taking a little time to work out how long it is likely to take, you can plan how to complete the project more quickly or to change directions before incurring implementation expenses and having to make changes while the response is in progress.

Analyzing Risks

At the planning stage, you should also consider the implementation risks faced in the response. In identifying risks, you should pay particular attention to those that are most closely related to a response (for example, one could highlight and plan for the risk of being hit by a meteorite, but the chances of that happening are slim), and about which one can do something. You should consider risks in terms of both the likelihood of occurrence and the impact they will have on the response, using the risk matrix shown in Figure 2. Pay particular attention to those where the likelihood and risk of occurrence are highest. Risks can also be divided into two kinds-those associated with implementation failure, and those associated with theory failure (for example, the mechanism of change does not operate as expected).

Impact on Project
Likelihood of Occurrence
Low Medium High
Low Low risk Medium risk High risk
Medium Low risk High risk Immediate action
High Medium risk High risk Immediate action

Figure 2. Risk Matrix.

The table below provides an example of a risk analysis undertaken in relation to a project to install a CCTV system. This shows the risks that have been identified, their likelihood of occurrence, their impact, and proposed actions to address them.

Table. Example of a Risk Analysis

Risk Likelihood of Risk Impact of Risk Action to be Taken
The CCTV system does not provide adequate coverage due to a limited number of cameras. Low High In drawing up the specifications, ensure that sufficient camera sites are identified.
The camera pictures resolution is insufficient to identify people. Low Medium Test the cameras resolution before making a final decision on the system.
It proves difficult to maintain the system in the future. Medium Medium Produce a plan for how the system will be maintained and for its associated costs.

Once you have identified risks, you can take a number of approaches to deal with them, including the following:

  • Prevention: You may design a response to prevent a certain risk from occurring, or to prevent that risk from having an adverse impact on the response.
  • Reduction: If you cannot prevent a risk, then it may be possible to reduce the extent to which it occurs, or to limit the impact when it does.
  • Transference: Here the risk is transferred to a third party. For example, an insurance policy is an example of risk transference.
  • Contingency: This involves planning activities that come into action if a particular risk occurs, with a view to overcoming the problems faced.
  • Acceptance: Here you simply continue in the knowledge that there are risks associated with the response, and deal with them as and when they arise.

Producing an Action Plan

As part of the response planning stage, you should draw up an action plan that details what is to be undertaken, how it is to be undertaken, who is to be involved, and over what time periods it will be undertaken. The list below provides an outline of what might be included in this action plan:

  • response title;
  • response goals and objectives;
  • staff involved in delivering the response;
  • start date;
  • end date;
  • description of interventions to be undertaken, and how they will be implemented;
  • outstanding issues that need to be addressed before implementation can start;
  • response outputs;
  • risk assessment and contingency planning associated with each intervention;
  • timetable for each intervention, including planned milestones;
  • overall response costs, broken down by intervention; and
  • projected response cash flow.

The action plan provides an opportunity to share your ideas about how the response will be undertaken, and to identify changes you should make before the implementation process starts. This is an extremely important part of the process, as by sharing the plan, you can obtain buy-in from stakeholders, as well as take on board the perspectives of others who may help to shape a more effective response.

The Implementation Process

The implementation process involves getting the work done. Much of what will be undertaken at this stage will depend on the nature of the selected response. However, there are some generic points that can be made about implementation. Probably the most important point is that implementation should start as soon after the planning has been completed as possible. There are several reasons for this:

  • If a problem exists, it is right that a response should be put into practice as soon as possible to alleviate that problem.
  • The interest and good will generated at the planning stage should not be squandered through implementation delays. Act before stakeholders change their minds!
  • The sooner you start implementing a response, the sooner you will be aware of implementation problems, and therefore the sooner you can address them.

You can view the implementation process as a recurring process, as outlined in Figure 3. Initiatives seldom run smoothly from start to finish as plannedthey nearly always involve changes. Once response implementation has begun, you should monitor it to identify obstacles as they emerge, and to make changes to the response so that the implementation process can continue. This approach should help to prevent implementation failure by helping you to identify problems that need to be addressed at the earliest opportunity and take the necessary action to keep the response on track.

iterative implementation process graphic

Figure 3. Iterative Implementation Process

Monitoring Responses and Identifying Problems

Monitoring is all too often seen as something that is imposed by others external to the implementation process. This is particularly the case where funding is received from external partners who impose their own monitoring systems to ensure their funding is being spent appropriately. In such cases, it is often not unusual for the funding agency's monitoring to be the only form of monitoring undertaken. However, this may not meet the response teams needs as a means of identifying problems and making changes. You should pay careful attention to establishing monitoring systems that will reflect the reality of the implementation process and provide timely and meaningful measures.

The extent to which detailed monitoring systems are required will largely depend on the response leaders level of involvement. If the leader takes a handson approach to delivering the response, then a less detailed form of monitoring will be required than if that person is more removed from the daytoday delivery process.

You should address a number of factors in the monitoring, and these will largely focus on the constraints noted earliertime, costs, other resources, and quality. Issues to consider in monitoring include the following:

  • The delivery deadline. Probably the most common area for problems to emerge is in terms of slippage in the delivery deadline, which can occur in a multitude of ways. You should monitor this carefully to ensure the response remains on track, or to revise expectations about how long the delivery will take to complete.
  • The response costs. With finite resources, you will need to ensure that the available funding is spent as planned, and that costs do not rise above that which can be managed within the initiative.
  • The staff time devoted to the response. Pay attention to the amount of time that staff are devoting to a project, to ensure they are not working excessive hours and there are sufficient staff to complete the task within the available time.
  • Blockages and brakes on the implementation process. Sometimes a response can be delayed due to a problem in the implementation process. This can be a blockage to delivery, such as when an external partner fails to undertake tasks that are essential to the next implementation stage, or a brake to delivery, such as when essential tasks take longer than anticipated. This may require examining each stage of the implementation process to identify whether blockages and brakes can be eliminated, circumvented, or fixed.
  • Adverse reactions to the response. Responses can lead to adverse reactions from stakeholders, including others in your organization, partner organizations, response recipients, and the local community. Part of the response implementation process will be to manage relationships with key stakeholders to ensure they are kept on side, and to be receptive to the concerns they may have about the way in which a response is being undertaken.
  • Unintended consequences. Regardless of the planning that is undertaken, sometimes there are unexpected and unintended consequences that result from the response. Where these consequences are negative (such as displacing the problem), consider how to address them with the existing resources. Some unintended consequences can be acceptable if the positive gain from the response outweighs the negative aspects. For example, there is seldom 100 percent geographic displacement resulting from a response, and this means there will still be a net gain from the response.
  • The impact on the original problem. Determine whether the response is addressing the problem it set out to tackle. Obviously, for many responses there will be lag in terms of impact following intervention, which may make it difficult to judge effectiveness during the implementation process. However, where an impact is expected within the life of the implementation yet no impact is observed, it may be necessary to reconsider the intervention selected or to examine whether there are ways of increasing its effectiveness.

See ProblemSolving Tools Guide No. 1 [PDF], Assessing Responses to Problems, for an indepth discussion of measuring the impact of responses on problems.

Making Changes

Making some changes in the response plan is to be expected. If problems exist, then you should address them promptly. There are two routes to making changes, which depend on the nature of the problems that are experiencedreplanning and redesigning:

  • Replanning is the most common form of change resulting from a response. This will result from problems such as time delays, cost overruns, and system blockages. They require immediate decisions to be made to "tweak" the system to get the implementation back on track. They require you to revisit the original plan and work out how to make modifications to ensure the response is completed as expected. Indeed, this will be part of the normal process of response implementation, in which monitoring identifies problems you must address, which in turn results in replanning of the response so that implementation can continue.
  • Redesigning involves more fundamental changes, but is far less common than replanning. This may be necessary if it becomes clear that a planned response is simply unworkable, or where there are negative outcomes that far outweigh the likely positive achievements. Under these circumstances, it may be necessary to halt the response implementation and return to the drawing board, selecting alternative interventions that might be more feasibleeffective. This should not be viewed as a negative process. Indeed, it is more acceptable to accept that the response is not working and start the process again, than to ignore the response failure and continue with the implementation process regardless of whether it will resolve the problem.

Exit Strategies

Once you have completed the response implementation, consider what will happen afterwards. In some cases, interventions require no followup activity, and the problem is resolved with no further action required. In other cases, it is necessary to plan what will happen to interventions once the response ceases. There are a number of ways to exit from responses:

  • Closure. Sometimes it will be necessary to stop intervention. In these cases, you should consider whether intervention can be abruptly halted, or whether it is necessary to slowly wind down activity and exit gradually.
  • Continued project work. In some cases, you may decide to have the existing team continue to operate the response in its current format. This represents a nochange situation, although you should recognize that such an approach will probably not be sustainable in the long term. This kind of solution is common where additional project funding is obtained to continue the response implementation.
  • Handover to partners. It may be possible to hand over the project work for continuation by an external partner who agrees to operate the response similarly to the original approach.
  • Mainstreaming. This is perhaps more aspired to than achieved, but in some cases it is possible to translate a response originally undertaken in a project format into an organizations routine and mainstream activity.

In considering the exit strategy to pursue, you should address a number of questions:

  • Has the original problem the response addressed been sufficiently preventedreducedremoved?
  • What is likely to happen to the problem once the response stops? Do you expect it to reappear?
  • What will be the stakeholders' views toward stopping the response?
  • If continued response is necessary, can the organization support it financially/politically? Are there other organizations that would be willingable to undertake the response? Would stakeholders accept implementation by these other organizations?

The Learning Process

The final stage in the implementation process is the learning process that you should associate with responses. The SARA methodologys assessment stage usually focuses on understanding the extent to which the response has addressed the problem, so that this can be fed into subsequent scanning and analysis. It is, however, important to capture the learning from the response stage for future implementation. The process of implementing interventions usually brings with it a great deal of knowledge and experience, which will be transferable to either other assignments, or to implementing the same responses in other contexts. All too often, this knowledge and experience resides with the response teams individual members and is not shared with the wider organization. This means that organizational memory about particular interventions can be short, and there can be danger that mistakes made in implementation are repeated time again because the response knowledge is not disseminated.

Consider therefore finding ways of extending the knowledge gained from implementing responses to others within the organization. This may be through debriefing sessions with response staff, presentations, or processoriented evaluations of the responses. Regardless of the approach taken, you should attempt to add to the working knowledge of interventions in future responses.


1 See, for example, Skogan et al. (2000) [Full text]; Scott (2000) [Full text]; Goldstein (1990); Sparrow (1988); Laycock and Farrell (2003) [Full text]; Greene (1998); Rosenbaum (1994); Grinder (2000); Eck and Spelman (1987).

2 Goldstein (1990); Eck and Spelman (1987); Capowich and Roehl (1994); Scott (2000) [Full text].

3Goldstein (1990).

4See, also, Scott (2006).

5Bullock, Farrell, and Tilley (2002) , citing Read and Tilley (2000). [Full text]

6Long et al. (2002).

7Goldstein and Susmilch (1982). [Full Text]

8Goldstein and Susmilch (1982). [Full Text]

9Eck and Spelman (1987).

10Laycock and Tilley (1995).

11Kennedy, Braga, and Piehl (2001). [Full text]

12Hamilton-Smith (2004). [Full text]

13McGarrell, Chermak, and Weiss (2002). [Full text]

14Sutton (1996) [Full text].

15Lauderhill Police Department (1996). [Full text]

16Skogan et al. (2000) [Full text].

17Aguirre (2005).

18Brown et al. (2005).

19Brown (2006). [Abstract only]

20Goldstein and Susmilch (1982). [Full Text]

21Brown et al. (2005).

22Pawson and Tilley (1997).

23Pawson and Tilley (1997).

24Larson (1980).

25Tilley et al. (1999) [Full text].

26 See, for example, Schweinhart and Weikart (1993).

27Johnson and Loxley (2001). [Full text]

28Brown and Clarke (2004). [Abstract only]


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