Capturing qualitative factors in a planning cycle

Problem: From April 2014 through to November 2014 we provided analysis to the Operational Analysis Team based at NATO HQ in The Hague to support the inclusion of qualitative considerations into a planning cycle. Many important aspects of a planning cycle cannot be measured numerically – for example training and long term objectives. However, such aspects should be given due consideration within evidence based decision making and planning. Developing a methodology to include qualitative aspects generated an audit trail of where each qualitative aspect was identified and defined, before being effectively captured for review and consideration within the planning cycle. Ultimately, this enabled a comparison to be made between the aims and objectives of the planning cycle and a comprehensive assessment of the current situation.

Approach: Our work was undertaken in three distinct phases:

  • Review of previous consideration of qualitative aspects;
  • Study and extract additional qualitative aspects included within all other available data sources; and
  • Collation of identified qualitative aspects within a bespoke tool.

Our initial role was to review all previously captured qualitative aspects used within a planning cycle. This involved examining a range of data sources, liaising with those involved in the planning cycle and gaining an understanding of the breadth of qualitative aspects which could be included. The result was the development of a methodology for the capture of additional qualitative aspects within the planning cycle. By applying the developed methodology to all available data sources we identified new qualitative aspects for consideration and inclusion within the planning cycle. Each aspect had a clear audit trail, definition and links to the main areas of interest. All collated qualitative aspects were presented within a bespoke tool.

Methodology: We developed a bespoke tool which enabled the identification of the qualitative aspects of interest through key factors, such as where the aspect was first acknowledged.   Identifying the qualitative aspects to be included was undertaken through a range of techniques which began with a comprehensive literature survey. Building upon this, text mining was used on a range of electronic data sources. The combination of these approaches ensured that qualitative aspects were identified covering all the main areas of interest. Finally, we designed and facilitated a series of workshops to capture subject matter expert opinion on the qualitative aspects relating to the main areas of the planning cycle. The results of the workshop were used both to identify novel qualitative aspects and to confirm those identified through the approach outlined above. This was particularly important where the available data sources were limited.

Outcome: Following our work those involved in the planning cycle had a bespoke tool which encapsulated all identified qualitative aspects for review and consideration into the decision making process. The finalised tool presented visual summaries of the qualitative aspects of interest as well as the audit trail of the qualitative aspects presented. Thus a comprehensive assessment of the situation of interest was available for use within the planning cycle during this and every other time it is undertaken.

Benefits: Our work with the Operational Analysis Team within NATO enabled them to incorporate a comprehensive set of qualitative aspects into a planning cycle. By considering a wide range of data sources, qualitative aspects relating to all areas of interest such as interoperability, training as well as the overall aims and objectives of the planning cycle were identified. The identification and inclusion of qualitative aspects is a continually evolving process. Change to areas such as policy and overall technical capability will inevitably impact upon a planning cycle. The methodology developed for the capture and inclusion of qualitative aspects is iterative and can be updated as required between planning cycles. During the planning cycle, a holistic assessment and comparison can be made between the current situation and future aspirations. The work involved developing a close working relationship with staff working on different sites and at all levels of management to ensure they understood and accepted the methodology being used. It was important to present the overall solution clearly, concisely and in a manner which could be easily used by all involved. This was achieved through a series of prototype tools which were iteratively refined based on customer feedback throughout the project.

Contact: Sophie Carr