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Recommendation and Feasibility Reports

Both recommendation reports and feasibility reports make statements about what action should be taken to solve a problem, resolve a dilemma, or undertake a course of action. The main distinction between the two report types is dependent on their positioning in a company’'s decision-making process:

A recommendation report is written when several courses of action seem possible, while a feasibility report is done after a tentative decision has been reached.

Thus when a decision needs to be made about a product or course of action, the recommendation report suggests criteria for a good decision from among a number of alternatives, The feasibility report, on the other hand, suggests criteria to determine whether a particular course of action is reasonable and appropriate.

Take the actions of a regional commission searching for county park sites as an example. Early on in the commission’'s work, the group will entertain a number of alternatives for park sites. They will develop criteria (e.g., number of residents, distance from other parks, cost of land, safety, natural attractions, availability, and so on) and search for sites that meet those criteria. It is during this period that the commission may entertain a recommendation report that evaluates potential sites according to the commission’'s criteria.

Later, when the commission settles on a tentative site, it will usually employ a consultant to develop a feasibility report that tests the suitability of the one favored sitefor park development. This feasibility report will still reach a recommendation to proceed with action or to halt action.To reach that recommendation, it will consider carefully the more technical criteria and focus on any problem criteria. It will also take a wider view of the development as a way to anticipate any roadblocks. The feasibility study will usually look at road improvements needed, costs of land and land improvements, utility easements, ground water toxicity, suitability of site for public recreational needs, and so on. The feasibility report written for this situation will be a formal report, and (if done by a consultant) it will include a presentation at a public meeting.

Audiences for These Reports

In the ideal reporting situation, the audiences for these reports are decision-makers who will read them because they consider solutions to organizational problems. In this ideal readers’' world, target readers will approach the report types quite differently. Recommendation reports are written before a decision is reached (and thus it may seem the writer has more input into decision making). Feasibility studies, by contrast, seem often written to assure decision-makers that their initial decisions are workable and sound.

But these ideal reader situations do not often reflect realistic reporting situations. First of all, the government and most professional organizations, use the term "recommendation" as an advocacy term. Recommendation reports are written to advocate a particular change in public policy, and they seldom address the range of alternatives that textbooks prescribe, nor do they maintain an analytic distance from the activity of recommending. Instead, these advocacy reports focus on building rationales for their acceptance. Second, consultants and sales forces often develop recommendation and feasibility reports that openly advocate solutions that are most advantageous to their interests: We expect a consultant to suggest extra work, but he/she may also recommend a solution that does not seem that costly (although it will invariably be very profitable to him or her personally).

Because of the varied "agendas" forwarded in recommendation (and feasibility) reports, decision-makers are often skeptical of recommendations that are not well substantiated by research. As the stakes rise, so too should the backing provided for these important readers who are likely to read with caution. One can be sure, however, that they will read with care because both recommendation and feasibility reports address organizational problems.

Organization and Formatting

A general plan for recommendation and feasibility reports suggests that they are similar in organization. As is true of most reports, both begin with an introduction that identifies the organizational problem, tells the scope of the report and how it will function. Most then state the recommendations for action, though some organizations will vary that pattern by stating recommendations after each section or at the end.

The body of the reports starts similarly as they both need to discuss the criteria for solutions and the background that makes these criteria appropriate. Both usually have a grid that summarizes the ratings alternatives received on each criteria. Then the reports diverge a bit as the goal of the recommendation report is to present all the reasonable alternatives for action and to examine their fit with the criteria, while the feasibility study is more focused on examining the one solution it addresses in detail. Both report types offer a conclusion and then supporting references and data.

How much supporting documentation they offer depends on the scope of the decision. For instance, if the reporting situation handles recommendations for purchasing office equipment, the report will likely be written as a memo and the supporting data will be brief. If the report addresses site selection for a low-income housing project, the report will likely be organized as a formal report and include extensive supporting documentation.

Recommendation Report

Introduction

  • Organization problem
  • This report’'s scope and approach
  • Recommendations

Discussion of Alternatives

  • Background
  • Criteria used for evaluation
  • Application of criteria to each of the alternatives
  • Rationale for recommendations forwarded



Conclusion and Recommendations

[References]

[Supporting Documents]

Feasibility Report

Introduction

  • Organization problem
  • This report’'s scope and approach
  • Recommendation

Discussion of Each Component that Comprises Feasibility

  • Background on criteria
  • Application of each criterion to the proposed solution
  • Rationale for decision about feasibility



Conclusion and Recommendations

[References]

[Supporting Documents]

Structuring the Discussion

An important organizational decision for recommendation reports is how to organize the discussion of alternatives. Should you organize by alternatives or by criteria? Actually, the organization of the discussions should fit its situation. Normally, to reach a good decision, one considers a number of alternatives by comparing their performance using certain criteria. As a preliminary to writing (and perhaps you will put this in the report), you might map your judgments as in the following example:

Alternatives

Criteria
 
A
B
C
1
good
ok
good
2
good
ok
ok
3
ok
ok
weak
4
weak
weak
good

The charting of your ratings for alternatives A, B, and C suggests several points about your recommendation: First, alternatives A and C seem to have performed better than B (A and C have two "good" ratings and B has none); second, the decision between A and C depends on the importance of criteria 2, 3, and 4 (if 2 and 3 are more important, then A; if 4 is more important, then C).

How do you structure your explanation about the alternatives? The obvious patterns are:

Discussion Organized by Alternatives
Alternative A

Criterion 1
Criterion 2
Criterion 3
Criterion 4

Alternative B

Criterion 1
Criterion 2
Criterion 3
Criterion 4

Alternative C

Criterion 1
Criterion 2
Criterion 3
Criterion 4

Discussion Organized by Criteria

Criterion 1

Alternative A
Alternative B
Alternative C

Criterion 2

Alternative A
Alternative B
Alternative C

Criterion 3

Alternative A
Alternative B
Alternative C

Criterion 4

Alternative A
Alternative B
Alternative C

In this example, your organization plan depends on the answers to two questions:

  1. Do the alternatives have strong identities with the decision-makers? (You follow the alternative pattern unless you support a decision that chooses a less popular alternative.)

  2. Are some of the criteria more important than others? (For example, Alternative A wins if 1 and 2 are most important, C wins if 1 and 4 are most important.)

If your audience has been thinking of the alternatives as distinctive, then alternative by alternative is preferred (in the case above you might switch the order of B and C because the decision seems to be between A and C). The alternative-by-alternative organization plan is also preferred if you will then develop a feasibility study about the winning alternative (as you already have each plan of action discussed in one place).

Stating Recommendations

Another important consideration in both recommendation and feasibility reports is the stating of recommended action. How do you pose your recommendations so that they are actionable, respectful of the decision-makers, and appropriate for the organization?

We suggest you:

Problematic


The report recommends the first alternative.

 

You should buy cars rather than lease them.

 

The first alternative is better than the second one at this time.

Improved

This report recommends that the Area Commission make the Prohetstown Heights site its first priority for park development because of its historic character and reasonably priced land.

Smith, Inc. should buy new autos for its fleet rather than lease them because of the new IRS depreciation regulations.


While an all-digital film exchange is a goal, current costs make it too expensive for the Arena League, and thus we recommend that beta format be used in league film exchange.

A Formatting Example from a Formal Report

Often your recommendations will be structured as formal reports (see, too, the discussion of formal versus informal reports). We can take a report from the Census Bureau as an example of a formal recommendation report. This report examines the question of whether to adjust the census data using a formula developed to correct for undercounting, a move that would have affected redistricting.

[title page]

Report of the Executive Steering Committee for Accuracy and Coverage Evaluation Policy

Recommendation Concerning the Methodology
to be Used in Producing the Tabulations of Population
Reported to States and Localities
Pursuant to 13 U.S.C. 141 (c)

March 1, 2001

[preliminary pages]

Recommendations

[2 unnumbered pages that may have been used as a handout—says ESCAP cannot recommend an adjustment to raw census data]

Executive Summary

[3 pages that give the report in a capsule]

Table of Contents

[2 pages —lists headings and two levels of subheadings]

[major sections of report]

Introduction

[8 pages —background of the census, the formula developed and the methodology for examining whether to adjust the census data]

Findings

Conduct of Key Operations
[3 pages discussing data quality indicators]

Historical Measures of Census Coverage-Comparison with Demographic Analysis
[3 pages of how census data has been compared with demographic data]

Measures of Census and A. C. E. Quality
[3 pages discussing error]

Other Factors that May Affect Accuracy
[3 more pages on error]

<Additional Issues

[1 page of miscellaneous methodology]

Attachments

You can notice that:

  1. There is a two-page statement of recommendations included after the title page that is not part of the report (perhaps a handout).
  2. The executive summary uses underlining in an interesting way—you could read the underlined sentences and get the gist of the argument.
  3. The introduction begins with a statement of why the report is being written and what it will do.
  4. The introduction includes the background for the report, the reason for tits existence.
  5. Footnotes are placed prominently at the bottoms of pages as a way to draw attention to the intensive research used.
  6. Discussions of history, methodology, return rate, and error, as well as the footnotes, are important to the ethos that the group produces rigorous research.
  7. Report is formatted formally but is not as long as many formal reports (is the length of a journal article).

The insertion of the recommendations as an unaffiliated document (# 1 above) and the underlining in the executive summary (2) suggest that the writers of this report expected to talk readers through the findings and recommendations. The liberal use of explanatory footnotes (5) suggests that the writers felt a need to display their knowledge of research methodologies. The formal trappings may be required by the Census Bureau; if the writers chose these trappings, however, they were probably trying to increase ethos for addressing this controversial topic.

Other Examples Online

You can find many examples of recommendation and feasibility reports on the web. Some of the reports developed by governmental agencies can be found at:

Formal Reports

Census Bureau—report on whether to adjust census data with A.C. E. formula

Research Reports from the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary

Informal Reports

Federal Trade Commission—response to a complaint about paid advertising in search engines
http://www.ftc.gov/os/closings/staff/commercialalertletter.htm

Reports Formatted for Web or for General Public

US Fire Administration Wildland Fire Operations Risk Management

After Enron: Improving Boards in Canada

Osteoporosis Screening Recommendations

Report of the Surgeon General on Mental Health

Recommendation Reports intended to Promote Policy

American Bar Association—recommending plain language use for regulation writing

US Housing and Urban Development Agency Report on how people use HUD’s programs

1.4.2.7

 


 




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