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Prepare to Assess Your Plan

To prepare for assessing a general plan, we recommend that you follow this step-by-step guide for identifying community health needs and goals, locating the plan, getting familiar with its organization, identifying goals written into the plan, and bookmarking content you’ll want to refer back to.

Step 1: Identify the goal(s) of your assessment

Step 2: Locate the plan(s) you intend to assess

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the plan's organization

Step 4: Identify relevant health and equity goals, objectives, and policies

Step 5: Make relevant content in your plan easy to find

When you're finished here, you'll be all set to start assessing your plan!

Step 1: Identify the goal(s) of your assessment

To get the most out of your assessment, you'll first want to articulate the community health needs and goals of the comprehensive plan.

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Step 2: Locate the plan(s) you intend to assess

Identify the comprehensive plan you will assess. Start by searching for the plan online using the city and plan name. If you cannot locate the plan online, call the city’s office or department in charge of planning and development (e.g., Planning Department, Development Services, or Community Development).

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Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the plan's organization

Review the plan’s introduction or executive summary. This section will provide an overview of the overall plan vision, often by presenting “guiding principles.” This section also usually describes the legal authority of the plan. States differ in how they view the legal weight or status of comprehensive plans. In some states, plans carry the weight of law; in others, they are guidance documents.

Many states establish specific topics, or “elements,” that a plan must address. Elements are like chapters of a plan. The same topic or element may have different names in different plans (e.g., “circulation” versus “transportation”).

Review and familiarize yourself with the elements listed in the table of contents of your plan to help you identify where information on different topics might be located. In particular, note if the plan includes a health element (e.g., Health and Wellness Element, Healthy Communities Element, etc.). If such an element exists, it is likely that many policies relevant to the HCPAT review will be included there.

Here's an example of a comprehensive plan table of contents from the City of Sunnyvale, CA:

Chapter 1: Introduction

  • Overview of General Plan organization and topics

Chapter 2: Community Vision

  • Sunnyvale History
  • Community Conditions
  • Assets and Issues
  • Citywide Vision Goals
  • Balanced Goals
  • Looking Forward

Chapter 3: Land Use and Transportation (state-mandated Land Use, Open Space and Circulation Element, transportation section)

  • Land Use
  • Transportation
  • Economy
  • Open Space

Chapter 4: Community Character

  • Design
  • Heritage Preservation
  • Library
  • Arts
  • Recreation

Chapter 5: Housing (state-mandated Housing Element)


Chapter 6: Safety and Noise (state-mandated Safety and Noise Element)

  • Hazard and Disaster Preparedness
  • Policy, Fire and Emergency Services
  • Noise

Chapter 7: Environmental Management

  • Water Supply
  • Wastewater Collection and Treatment
  • Urban Runoff
  • Air Quality
  • Solid Waste


Each element will likely contain a series of goals, objectives, and/or policies, which articulate the following:

  • Goals: Broad or general outcomes that will be achieved through the implementation of the plan, which can be supported by an evidence-based rationale.
  • Objectives: More specific than goals, objectives describe an (ideally measurable) end state.
  • Policies: Statements that set out specific standards and guidelines to inform decisions made by city staff, the planning commission, and local elected officials on an ongoing basis.

Familiarize yourself with how the goals, objectives, and/or policies are presented throughout the plan. Often, the plan will use different numbering systems, font sizes, and/or color coding to visually distinguish goals, objectives, and policies. The formatting will help you quickly categorize the type of language for review.




  • LT-5.1a. Maintain and update a functional classification of the street system. (Previously LUTE Action Strategy C3.1.1)
  • LT-5.1b Monitor the operation and performance of the street system by establishing a routine data collection program and by conducting special data collection as the need arises. (Previously LUTE Action Strategy C3.1.2)
  • LT-5.1c Require roadway and signal improvements for development projects to minimize decline of existing levels of service. (Previously LUTE Action Strategy C3.1.3)

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Step 4: Identify relevant goals, objectives, and policies

Plans are frequently very long documents. You may choose to read the plan cover-to-cover, but there are faster ways to identify the parts that are the most important to achieve your health goals! The following examples are quick ways to identify what’s important:

  • Identify relevant goals, objectives, and/or policies by searching for the following keywords or terms related to your domain (search electronically if you can; skim the plan if you cannot).
    • Complete Streets: streetscape, walkability, bikeability, transit/pedestrian/bike-friendly, connectivity, pedestrian, bicycle, alternative transportation, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), traffic/trip reduction, transportation demand management (TDM), parking, safety, safe routes to school, green streets.
    • Complete Neighborhoods: smart growth, infill, transit-oriented-development (TOD), affordable housing, mixed-use, mixed-income, park, recreation, open space, alcohol, tobacco, safety, school.
    • Healthy Food Systems: food, agricultural preservation, local food, urban agriculture, urban farm, garden, compost, chicken, bee, urban livestock, farmers’ market, farmstand, corner store, grocery, supermarket, nutrition.
    • Environmental Health: air pollution, air quality, vehicle emissions, heat island, smokefree, brownfield, contamination, infill, toxic, sensitive use, water quality, water access, water pollution, stormwater, runoff, disease, noise pollution, climate change, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, energy efficiency, alternative energy, sustainability, conservation.
  • Focus on plan elements that are most relevant to your topic of analysis, but remember there may be goals, objectives, and/or policies that are relevant to your analysis in any of the comprehensive plan elements.
    • Complete Streets: land use and circulation (transportation) elements.
    • Complete Neighborhoods: land use, circulation, open space, and housing elements.
    • Healthy Food Systems: land use, conservation, and open space elements.
    • Environmental Health: land use, conservation, noise, safety, and air quality elements.
    • Other optional elements that are common and may be relevant include: community design/development, equity, resiliency, sustainability, climate change, and water quality.
  • Note if the plan uses the following metrics or action items -- we've provided an example for each. These will be helpful to understand how the plan will be implemented.
    • Standards/Targets: Specific numerical targets that define a desirable level or value of an indicator (Standards can also serve as policies). 


      The citizens working group that assisted in developing this element concluded (by consensus) that the current Oklahoma City bus system is inadequate to serve the needs of the citizens who are transit dependent and is inadequate to attract choice riders.

    • Indicators/Baselines/Benchmarks: Measurable ways to assess progress toward a goal. A baseline provides a current measurement of a given indicator against which future progress can be measured; a benchmark sets a target for an indicator upon implementation of the plan’s goals and policies. 

      "Currently, about two percent of residents are chronically or periodically homeless. Implementation of this plan will strive to reduce this figure by at least half."

    • Plans/Programs/Actions: Governmental acts taken in pursuit of a goal. 

      "Housing affordability will be promoted by flexible zoning, such as mixed use zoning, planned unit development options; zoning incentives such as bonus density for providing housing in a certain price range; and by facilitating creation of accessory housing in certain neighborhoods."

  • Determine whether the plan promotes health equity by employing strategies, such as:

    • Establishes policies to ensure that health-promoting infrastructure and services reach under-resourced people and groups (e.g., strengthen affordable housing requirements around transit hubs).
    • Includes health equity metrics in benchmarks/targets/standards (e.g. double the number of housing units set aside for people with HIV/AIDS within 10 years).
    • Sets timelines that consider the needs of populations or neighborhoods that bear the brunt of health inequities (e.g., installs crosswalks near senior centers before installing new crosswalks in business districts).

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Step 5: Make relevant content in your plan easy to find

Mark pages, highlight content, or prepare a summary of relevant goals, objectives, and policies. Your plan assessment will be easier and quicker if it is easy to find and reference relevant content throughout the plan as you use the tool.

You may also want to print out the questions for hard copies to work with offline, and upload the data later. Print buttons can be found at the bottom of each domain page.

When you've completed this step, you're ready to start assessing your plan!

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