by F. Ellen Netting, Mary Katherine O'Connor, and David P. Fauri; Hoboken, New Jersey, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2008, 296 pages, $62
Dr. Pattillo is a member of New Horizons Community Service Board, Columbus, Georgia.
Over the years, I have planned numerous mental health and substance abuse treatment programs. I learned program planning on the job, having never studied it (perhaps not even discussed it) in graduate school. This book is the first reading I have done on the subject, and I found it both interesting and helpful. In my world, planning time has generally been very short and is accompanied by a long list of things that must be achieved. In recent years, this list has expanded to include the use of evidence-based treatments and the demand that managed care requirements be efficiently navigated. I found this book helpful in giving structure and organization to my thinking about program planning, prioritizing my goals in planning, and decreasing wasted planning time. Comparative Approaches to Program Planning recognizes the delicate balance of planning programs that are accessible and acceptable to the participant while maintaining a focus on accountability.
Authors Netting, O'Connor, and Fauri summarize the history of program planning theory in a manner that is not too extensive and provide a detailed look at the primary types of program planning: rational versus interpretive. The authors' view that both types of planning can be useful and the examples of situations where each is the best choice are practical and helpful. The authors provide tables offering quick summaries of the differences between the types of planning.
The book is divided into six chapters, plus a glossary and index. Initially, a rather extensive discussion of linear and circular reasoning is presented, followed by a chapter addressing programs versus projects and their relationships to organizations or groups. Chapters 3 and 4 focus on various approaches to program planning. Chapter 5 discusses "knowing when to use which planning approach," and Chapter 6 considers diversity and cultural competence in planning. I found the emphasis placed on the challenges of accountability, measuring results, and accessibility the most interesting and for me the most potentially useful. I only wished for a chapter on coping with major disruptions in the planning process, for example, changes in funding, mandates, and timelines. Information on keeping stakeholders and participants involved and assisting them in adjusting to the changes would have been interesting.
Overall I found Comparative Approaches to Program Planning informative. Although the three authors share a background in social work education, this book is helpful across professions to anyone tasked with planning programs to provide human services.