Priorités/planning stratégique

What is strategic and operational planning for NPMs?

A strategic plan is a policy document that sets out the key changes that NPMs would like to see over a defined period, generally over several years. Strategic plans ask the question: where do we want to go?

An operational plan is a dynamic document that translates the strategies of the NPM into specific activities, usually covering a one-year period. Operational plans ask the question: what are we going to do to get there?

Strategic and operational planning is part of an NPM’s ‘theory of change’ – which is a way for NPMs to picture what it wants to change and how. These plans help showing the links between NPM’s day to day work, (visiting places of detention) and its overall goals.

Why is strategic and operational planning important for NPMs?

NPMs have broad mandates, within which they need to find focus. Strategic planning, through identifying priorities and objectives can help NPMs focus, make choices and maximise resources. For new NPMs, it may be hard to immediately define the changes they would like to see, or the main goals they would like to achieve.

Planning does not have to only relate to changes in places of deprivation of liberty (for example: “to reduce the overuse of pre-trial detention”). Indeed, newly established NPMs may wish to focus much of their initial plan on internal development and capacity building (for example, building a strong and stable institution with staff who have the expertise they need), before being able to focus on goals that relate to making change in detention.

Planning helps to focus the energy of the team by ensuring that everyone working for the NPM knows what they are doing and why it is important. The process of planning also helps to establish agreement and understanding within the NPM around the mandate, identity, objectives, activities and results, which makes teams both stronger and more effective.

Strategic plans are also important externally to the institution, as a way of communicating to stakeholders what the NPM is trying to achieve and how. This way, it helps the NPM to ensure that everyone involved in torture prevention understands their unique role and contribution, as well as gather agreement on possible joint thematic areas of work.

Operational plans are also often the basis on which the NPM can define its budget and necessary resources.




Who should be involved in NPM planning processes?

Developing its strategic and operational plans should be an inclusive process, ideally involving the whole NPM team. An external advisory group or larger group of stakeholders might also be involved at the initial risk and objective identification phase, as well as in consultations on the final draft. Nevertheless the final decisions about what is in both strategic and operational plans should rest with the NPM leadership. This includes when the NPM is part of a larger institution, such as a National Human Rights Institution.

For the majority of NPMs, which are either ombuds institutions or national human rights commissions, or are part of multiple body NPMs, it may be useful to develop the NPM strategic plan in synergy with other departments. For ombuds institutions or national human rights commissions, the NPM strategic plan will ideally be aligned with or form part of an overall institutional plan that is developed at the same time. While the NPM should have autonomy to decide on its objectives and activities, these should nevertheless fit within the overall objectives of the institution and development might usefully include relevant NHRI staff, including from the planning and evaluation department, for example. This might also be a useful time to consider cross-cutting themes on which the institution as a whole would like to focus.

In the case of multiple bodies NPMs, it may be useful – although quite complex – to have a single strategic plan. This could help to maximise resources and ensure cohesion among the different institutions. In this case, it is essential to allow sufficient time so that all the participating institutions have buy in, even if the process is led by one of the institutions.

In some cases, NPMs are assisted throughout the process by external consultants who can help facilitate the process. It is important to underline, however, that strategic plans that are entirely sub-contracted or developed by external consultants (or that do not reflect the agreed objectives of the NPM team itself) are unlikely to be successfully implemented, as they will likely lack sufficient ownership from the team.

Finally, ongoing internal communications are essential to the success of any planning process. NPMs should thus make sure they set aside sufficient time throughout the lifetime of a plan for team meetings and discussions, so that everyone understands what is planned and how it contributes to the NPM’s objectives.


What are the key elements that may be included in a strategic plan?

While a number of different models are possible, NPM strategic plans may include most if not all of the following elements.

  • The mission and vision of the NPM.
  • The principles and values that guide the NPM and its working methods, including, for example, a human rights based approach, the do no harm principle, and the OPCAT spirit of dialogue.
  • The mandate of the NPM, as set forth in the OPCAT and in the NPM’s legal basis.
  • The strategic objectives of the NPM, based on an analysis of the situation, including the key risks of torture and ill-treatment and problems that the NPM has identified. The NPM is unlikely to be able to deal with all of them in one strategic planning period, so this section should also include the NPM’s reasoning for why it decided to focus on some issues in particular.

What are the key elements that may be included in an operational plan?

Again, while NPMs can adapt the structure and content of their operational plans to suit their needs, some or all of the following information may be useful to include:

  • The planned activities for the year, including any thematic objectives (including both places of detention and issues related to deprivation of liberty), based on those identified in the strategic plan. This might include: number and types of visits (including number of days of visits); planned reports; dialogue; training; and other activities. This section should ideally be organised by main goals, so that the link between each activity and the relevant strategic goal is clear.
  • Division of tasks and responsibilities.
  • Timelines and important intermediate steps (milestones) for each activity.
  • A section on monitoring and evaluation, with key indicators for monitoring progress throughout the year.
  • Budget

NPMs should also include room for flexibility, in order to be able to adapt and respond to new and unexpected events.

How can NPMs develop a strategic plan?

Strategic and operational planning processes often follow a series of stages, with the strategic plan being developed first, followed by the operational plans that are needed to put it into effect. Depending on their situation and institutional development, NPMs may follow these stages in a different order, and some of them not at all.

Internal organisational analysis. During this stage, NPMs may ask themselves the following questions: what is their internal capacity? where are there gaps in terms of human or financial resources? How those gaps can be filled in order to more effectively carry out its mandate and achieve its strategic objectives?

Analysis of risks and of needs. During this stage, the NPM may ask itself, and consult its partners about the following: what are the most important risks and root causes of torture and ill-treatment in the country in which we operate? Responding to this question might involve mapping the different places of deprivation of liberty in the country, convening discussions among relevant experts, and examining the reports of relevant international or regional experts, including, for example, the Committee against Torture. This analysis may form a useful baseline, which the NPM can later use to measure progress.

Definition of objectives or strategic goals, taking into account its mandate, powers and resources. While the vision and mission are likely to be broad statements, the NPM’s objectives or strategic goals are what it thinks that it can achieve within the strategic planning period. They thus need to be realistic and mindful of the factors outside the NPM’s control that will have an impact on its ability to put them into practice (for example, the existence of political will to change law and policy).

Throughout the planning process, engagement with civil society organisations and other oversight institutions may be useful and contribute to later success in implementation. This includes consulting at the initial stages, in order to ensure that the objectives respond to the most important risks in detention. It might also include consulting with a smaller advisory group during the drafting stage, such as NPM’s advisory councils where they exist


How can NPMs develop an operational plan on the basis of their strategy?

Once an NPM has developed its strategic plan, the next step is to put it into practice. This is done through an operational plan. Each element of the operational plan should be aimed at helping the NPM to achieve a specific objective of the strategic plan. Operational plans are thus often internal documents to the institution, and their main audience are NPM team members.

To develop an operational plan, NPMs may start first breaking down their strategic plan into one-year (or shorter) objectives. Then they may think about the different activities or interventions that will help them to achieve these objectives.  These might be visits to places of detention, dialogue with the authorities, training and capacity building, educational activities, legal and policy advice, or other things.

It is important to keep in mind that the operational plan should be simple and easy to understand. The more complicated they are, the less likely it is that the NPM team will understand and follow them. This might mean choosing a number of key activities (according to their capacities) that will help the NPM to reach its objectives that year. As with the strategic plan, each of these activities will ideally be accompanied by some milestones or intermediate steps that will help NPMs to know whether the institution is on track to achieving them.

When should NPMs develop their first strategic and operational plan?

When and what type of strategic and operational plan is needed will depend on the model and stage of institutional development of each NPM.

For new NPMs it might be difficult to develop a comprehensive strategic plan immediately after establishment. Time is likely to be required for the new institution to map the place of deprivation of liberty that fall within its mandate, as well as to do the research and consultations required to understand where the risks of torture and ill-treatment are to be found, and thus where the NPM should focus its attention.

It might be useful in such cases for the NPM to first adopt a preliminary plan for its first period of operation, covering between 12 to 18 months. The following aspects could be included: the first visits it plans to do, any training and capacity building, and publication of the first annual report. Within this preliminary period, the NPM can then set aside time to develop a more comprehensive strategy, based on the steps outlined above. This kind of preliminary plan should make sure to include sufficient time for institutional development and staff training.

For NPMs that form part of larger institutions, such as ombuds institutions or national human rights commissions, it might be necessary to develop a shorter initial plan, particularly in cases where the NPM is set up in the middle of an existing strategic plan. This initial plan can then later be replaced by a more comprehensive and longer-term plan that is properly integrated into the overall institution’s planning process, once the current cycle comes to an end.

How can NPMs evaluate their strategy?

From the beginning, it may also be important for NPM’s to consider how they will evaluate their progress, both during and after the plan comes to an end. This means setting objectives or goals that are specific and clear. For some, more complex, objectives this might also mean breaking them down into sub-objectives or milestones, which can be more easily measured. The key question for NPM’s when thinking about evaluation of each objective is: how will we know if this happened? This might include considering indicators Measurement and evaluation is much more likely to be achievable and useful if NPMs consider it from the beginning of the planning process. This is particularly because developing indicators is a great way to assess whether the objectives in the plan are specific and achievable. Trying to come up with indicators for broad and imprecise objectives once the plan is already adopted, is likely to be a frustrating and difficult experience. Throughout the year, the NPM may wish to also make time for regular review meetings, to ensure that the organization is on track to achieving its objectives.

Because evaluation is a key element of planning (before, during and afterwards), they also provide an opportunity to reflect and change course, based on changing conditions, new information, or the realisation that current actions or strategies are not working as predicted.