Implementation Project Assessment: A New Tool For Implementing Community Plans

PAS Memo 120

By Benjamin Hitchings, FAICP, Philip Berke


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Planners often put tremendous effort into crafting thoughtful plans that reflect the views of diverse stakeholders, but then they struggle with implementation. Academic research reveals a key reason for this: implementation elements in plans are frequently weak or nonexistent. Tables of recommended strategies and initiatives are often simply laundry lists of ideas — some on target, but others infeasible for the community in which they are being proposed. Lists of projects may far outstrip agency resources, often with no guidance on which measures are priorities, and plans frequently provide little to no direction on how to take the next steps forward. How do we avoid these pitfalls?

This PAS Memo presents the implementation project assessment, a three-step process for identifying the right implementation strategies to advance the plan in a way that is workable for the sponsor organization and its partners. The process begins by identifying potential actions for plan implementation. The second step consists of systematically vetting each potential implementation project to ensure alignment with the community's needs and the sponsor organization's capabilities and resources. In the third step, this draft list of vetted projects is shared with community stakeholders for review, feedback, and prioritization, resulting in a table of targeted short-term actions presented in a stand-alone document to help turn the plan from vision into reality.

Read this PAS Memo to learn how you can use this approach to move successfully from planning to implementation and help deliver lasting improvements to your community.


Page Count
Date Published
May 1, 2024
Adobe PDF
American Planning Association

About the Authors

Benjamin Hitchings, FAICP
Ben Hitchings, FAICP, CZO, is the Principal of Green Heron Planning, LLC and a member of the APA Board of Directors. He is a Past President of the N.C. Chapter of the American Planning Association (APA-NC) and a Fellow at the UNC School of Government. Ben has 30 years of experience working on planning issues. He is the former Planning Director for the Town of Chapel Hill and the Town of Morrisville, N.C., and has managed and developed award-winning plans at the local and regional level. He is a co-author of the APA PAS Report titled Smart Cities: Integrating Technology, Community, and Nature (2021), and the Triangle Trends Report: Tracking Disruption (2022) published by the Triangle J Council of Governments. In his planning practice, he focuses on emerging issues, innovative plans and codes, and catalyzing effective plan implementation.

Philip Berke
Philip R. Berke is a Research Professor, Department of City & Regional Planning, University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill. Berke’s research centers on community resilience to hazards and climate change with a focus on theory, methods and metrics of community planning and implementation. He is the lead co-author of an internationally recognized book, Urban Land Use Planning (5th Edition), which focuses on integrating principles of sustainable communities into urban form, and co-author of a book, Natural Hazard Mitigation: Recasting Disaster Policy and Planning, which was selected as one of the “100 Essential Books in Planning” of the 20th century by the American Planning Association Centennial Great Books. Two of his publications have received the Best Article Award and one an Honorable Mention Award from the American Planning Association. He received the National Research Council/National Academies of Sciences Service Award, the Faculty Award for Excellence in Doctoral Student Mentoring from the UNC-Chapel Hill Graduate School, and Outstanding Alumni Award from Texas A&M University, College of Architecture. He recently served on the technical advisor board for the Louisiana's Master Plan for Coastal Protection and Restoration Plan. He is Senior Editor, Oxford University Encyclopedia of Water Resources Management and Climate Policy, Oxford University Press.