Successful community-based strategic planning incorporates capacity building as part of the process to assure that the community-based planning process is institutionalized and remains locally focused. This is important because it enables successful implementation, even when other external forces, such as available resources and political climates, inevitably change. Building lasting community capacity contains four key ingredients: outreach, skill development, fostering relationships, and evaluation.
Different levels of outreach and information are necessary depending on the situation. Key players are provided with information on the benefits of community-based public safety planning and “how-to’s” on its implementation in order to foster support for the effort. Technical professionals who work within the system and the community, for example, will likely need more extensive training on coordination responsibilities; whereas local officials and citizens may only need enough information about the process for them to understand and support it. Different information must be developed for and readily accessible to all involved.
Skill development can be accomplished in a number of different ways. The most common approach is to provide training and technical assistance. This can be done either by SAA staff, if they are well skilled in community-based strategic planning, or by outside contract staff when appropriate.
Training to local communities is best delivered locally. This fosters increased attendance, and sends a signal that the community matters. Further, it is best to involve community stakeholders in shaping the agenda and format for any training or technical assistance needs. This assures it is best suited to local needs. Communities decide how training and technical assistance is administered to meet the needs of their jurisdiction – how detailed the training is, how much follow on technical assistance is needed, etc. Often, skills required for trainers may include:
Knowledge of a broad array of public policy issues such as housing, transportation, criminal justice, and how they contribute to the public safety problems defined by the community.
Arbitration and mediation skills.
General strategic planning expertise and experience.
An ability to understand who the “key players” in a community are and ensuring that they are a part of the coordination effort.
Community engagement skills focusing on partnerships.
An understanding that legal and community factors are unique and will vary from state to state, city-to-city, community to community.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), for example, has made a significant investment in the skill and capacity building of its counties participating in the Communities That Care (CTC) program, which couples a risk-focused, delinquency prevention approach with community-based planning. In order to ensure that all communities who wanted to implement the CTC approach had the capacity to do so, the PCCD contracted with the state’s Center on Juvenile Justice Training and Research (CJJTR) to “train trainers” on the CTC approach. Specifically, the CJJTR has selected participants from 10 CTC sites to undertake a yearlong “trainer apprentice” program, which will certify them as CTC trainers in Pennsylvania.
Capacity for planning at the community level can be more easily sustained when the relationships are there to continue the lessons learned in training and technical assistance. To do so, it is important to create channels of clear, consistent, and ongoing communication among government agencies and the community to ensure each element is working in tandem to advance the goals of community-based planning. As a key part of this effort, it will be important to improve or clarify existing intergovernmental and community relationships. Often, key new insights are gained by reaching out to individuals or agencies that have not had a place at the table in traditional justice planning efforts. Deliberate outreach should be part of every stage of community-based planning; state leadership and prioritization on this issue ensures that the communications channels are created and maintained.
As with intergovernmental relations, communication of this nature may require reaching out to agencies and groups that have traditionally not been a part of decision making or planning on criminal justice issues. It also will require a long-term commitment to this type of collaboration and the resulting planning process.
Investing in Evaluation and Ongoing Learning
Evaluation is key to answering the question, are we accomplishing what we set out to do?” For community-based strategic planning, the capacity to sustain success hinges on the ability to ask and answer that question. Investing in skills to do so is an important element of success. (See the section on Research & Evaluation).
Whatever the objective – juvenile justice, counter-terrorism, target hardening, crime control, offender reentry, or using limited resources more wisely – the process should allow the participants to continually ask themselves “are we doing what we set out to do, and are we doing it well?” Ideally, in cases where the answer to those questions is not a resounding “yes,” there will be enough flexibility to modify the approach to accommodate necessary changes so that goals may be met.
Federal agencies concerned with education, public health, and law and justice are disseminating information about research and “what works” that is being coordinated into a body of knowledge that is usable by the field. Distilling effective programs into easily understandable program descriptions that provide information on their replication and implementation is an effective way to market research and successful programs for incorporation into community planning efforts.