SMART Planning – tips for practitioners

Case reviews have regularly raised concerns about planning e.g. lack of focus, plans not reflecting identified concerns, over optimism and disguised compliance. Case audits, feedback from front-line practitioners and Ofsted inspections have focused on this and have identified similar issues and concerns.

SMART planning is a way of working which helps practitioners and service users to address any needs they may have and then develop plans that are clear and address any identified risks and needs.

Using SMART planning can help practitioners avoid drift and lack of progress – it allows for plans to be reviewed regularly ensuring the best outcomes for all.

The development of a plan is the responsibility of everyone involved – practitioners and service users. It should draw upon the resources available to both the practitioners and service users, including their skills, expertise and knowledge. It is particularly important to have the right practitioners contributing with a specific understanding of their own services- they should feel able, and committed, to challenging each other about aspects of plans that they feel are not SMART.

SMART planning does not replace any current policies or procedures – most of the work we already do should be SMART, so it should not be a big change, but it may be necessary to review current plans.

What does SMART stand for?

SMART stands for ‘Specific’, ‘Measurable’, ‘Agreed’, ‘Realistic’ and ‘Timely’

The most common errors that are made in SMART plans are statements that are:

  • vague
  • action not outcome based
  • not evidence based and measurable
  • unachievable.

Specific – all parts of the plan should be as exact and detailed as possible.

For example, the objectives of a particular drug service could include the number of sessions, what drug tests are required and what the goals of the intervention are. This enables practitioners and service users to clearly understand what the concerns are and what is expected of them. The plan should also be exact about who is responsible for what aspects of the plan (a named professional or family member); how often they should meet (frequency and date of next review); and date when they would be expected to have the work completed.

  • Who, What, Where, Why, Which?

Measurable – all parts of the plan should be measurable.

This enables both practitioners and service users to be clear about progress made and quickly identify when a plan is not working. Some aspects of the plan will be more easily measured than others. For example, information about a child’s attendance at medical appointments will be numerically recorded and easily evidenced. Concerns about a child’s emotional well-being would need consideration about how best to establish if progress was being made. This may involve planned structured time spent with the child and/or observations of their interactions with peer group in order to evaluate and measure progress.

The views of the child and young person should also be obtained. However, self-reporting by parents or non-professionals as the only proof of progress is not a safe way of saying that an objective has been met and should be used with other information.

  • How much or many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?
  • Is the data measurable?

Agreed – plans should be signed by adults, families and children so that agreement by all is clearly recorded.

Plans are most likely to succeed when agreed by both practitioners and service users. Therefore, we should be aiming for plans that are signed by adults, parents and children so that agreement is clearly recorded. We should take into account a child or young person’s wishes and feelings and try to ensure that they are included and agree throughout the planning process. This aspect of SMART planning particularly underpins the commitment to Restorative Practice (working with not to or for others) and helps people to find creative solutions to issues that are affecting them that avoid blame, retribution and punishment.

Professional agreement, commitment and ownership to the plan are essential to achieving successful outcomes for all. Agreement should not, however, be seen as a passive process and it is important for all professionals to offer constructive challenge when planning. If any aspects of a plan are not agreed then this should also be recorded and the implications for this non-agreement would need to be considered in the overall assessment of risk and likelihood of achieving change.

  • Have all of the people involved in the plan had their say and signed it?

Realistic – plans should be realistic and based upon what we know and understand of the family and the needs of the child, young person or adult.

For example, it would not be realistic (or indeed safe) to expect an adult, parent or carer with long term alcohol misuse issues to suddenly stop drinking. This aspect of the plan would need to be carefully developed with the input of a specialist worker who could best inform the meeting of what would be realistic in a particular case. In this case it may be invited a specialist worker to help the adult, parent or carer understand that they have alcohol misuse issues and to create a personalised plan.

  • Is this achievable and possible for the people involved?

Timely – All aspects of plans should contain realistic timescales (with dates) with some being broken down into stages to make them more achievable.

All aspects of plans should contain realistic timescales with some being broken down into stages to make them more achievable. Each plan should reflect the specific risks identified and needs of each child. It is more likely that children and young people will disengage with services if they feel that planned work and commitments made by agencies are not kept or if plans do not relate to their specific needs wishes and feelings.

  • When should the item be completed? Is this appropriate and realistic for the people involved in the plan? Can you say who is doing each item with set deadlines?

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