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Introduction to Planning

What is in this guide

  1. What do you use planning and evaluation for?
  2. Important things to know about planning and evaluation
  • Specific challenges non-profit organisations face with planning.
  • Common problems arising from ineffective approaches to planning.
  1. How to approach planning - Six key ways to ensure that planning is useful and contributes to effective results.
  2. How to plan - Eight Basic planning steps.

  1. What do you use planning and evaluation for?

Planning and evaluation are vital for organisations. Planning is a process of deciding in advance where we want to get to (our goal) and how we will get there. Evaluation enables us to assess how well we are doing and to learn from this.

This guide is written for non-profit organisations that play a developmental or service role. Planning and evaluation are particularly important for these organisations because they exist to make a significant contribution to society:

Why is planning important?

  1. It helps us to identify our goals clearly. It makes us decide clearly and concretely what we need to do to have the effect on society that we want.
  2. It helps us make sure that we all understand our goal and what we need to do to reach it by involving everyone in the planning process.
  3. It makes us all work in a goal-oriented way rather than in a loose or ad-hoc way where we just respond to issues and crises with no clear plan or goal.
  4. Planning helps us see in advance those things that can help us achieve our goal and those things that can prevent us from achieving our goal and work out what to do about them.
  5. Planning helps us to be accountable for what we do.
  6. Planning helps us decide how best to use our resources (people, time, money, information, equipment) so that they make the most significant contribution to achieving our goal.
  7. Planning lays the basis for us to assess and evaluate our achievements effectively.

Why is evaluation important?

  1. Evaluation helps the whole organisation to identify how we could improve what we are achieving, take action to build on successes and avoid repeating failures.
  2. Effective evaluation enables us to use what we have learned from our experience to improve what we are achieving.
  1. Important things to know about planning and evaluation

The diagram above seems to make planning a simple question of working out how we get from where we are now to where we want to be. It seems as simple as using a road map to move from one place to another. That is fine if you know exactly where you are and where you want to be and you have a reliable map of the roads you must take to get there. If you have these things, an adequate means of transport and you use your map, you can simply set off. Although knowing where we are, where we need to be and how to get there are the basic things we need to know to plan effectively, planning for organisations that aim to promote development or deliver a service is seldom as easy as this.

  1. Specific challenges non-profit organisations face with planning – the context of planning

"The value of our contribution to society often relates to people, especially in the NGO sector. For example, the extent to which people acquire greater economic or political access to power; gain in confidence or awareness, or are enabled to struggle for rights, access or justice.”
(Olive Publications (1998), Ideas for a Change, Part 3.)

The following are specific challenges that most development or service organisations face that make careful planning and how we do our planning very important:

  1. Common problems arising from ineffective planning

These challenges often mean that the plans developed are not very useful and effective. The following are some of the common problems experienced:

The following guidelines are intended to help non-profit organisations to meet the challenges we face and to develop plans that effectively assist us to make a positive contribution to our society. There are two parts to the guidelines:

  1. How to ensure planning is useful and contributes to effective results

There are six main issues that are important to remember about how planning is done. These will help you make sure your planning meets the challenges outlined above, avoids common problems and that your plans are useful and effective.

You can click on the heading of part 3 or on any of the sub-headings in this section if you want to read more about the topic. This includes examples, practical ideas and more advice and guidance. You will find an example of the approach using an organisation we have called Molayezo at the end of this guide.

  1. Planning and evaluation must be participative. Everyone who must make a key contribution to the work of the organisation should be included. There are two key reasons for this. Firstly, it enables you to draw on different ideas and experience to make better decisions. Secondly, it allows you to build commitment to these decisions by including all those who will need to contribute to the successful implementation of the planning decisions. Participation will ensure that everyone fully understands the strategy and plans and are committed to achieving the decisions that have been made. You will need to identify and analyse all key stakeholders that can affect whether you achieve your purpose and decide whether and how they should be included.

click on the heading for information on how to ensure the right amount of involvement in the planning process. Guidance on how to do a stakeholder analysis is available in the section on Preparing to plan.

  1. Planning and evaluation must be systematic. You have to ensure you have thought through and agreed on all key issues before moving on to the next step. For example, you need to be clear about the results you intend to achieve before you start making decisions about what action you will take. Non-profit organisations exist to make a difference to society, not just to do things. Everything you do must be relevant to the results you intend to achieve. You may also sometimes need to move back to previous steps in the planning process, if the later planning suggests you need to rethink some earlier decisions. For example, you may realise that the action you would need to be able to take is not realistic. This may lead you to decide that you will have to alter your decisions about what results you can realistically expect to achieve. Effective planning seldom moves in one straight line but this does not mean it should not be systematic.

click here for information on how to plan systematically including an introduction to the Logical Framework Approach (LFA). The guidelines on how to achieve each of the basic planning steps outlined in the next section are based on this approach.

  1. All planning should be strategic. This means that you should use your planning processes to find the best ways of making a difference and the best approach to doing this. All possible alternatives should be examined, not just the ones we are comfortable with. Effective planning lays the basis for ongoing strategic thinking and action from everyone who will contribute to achieving your organisation’s purpose. All decisions and action and all use of resources need to make the most strategic contribution to achieving the purpose you have agreed on.

click on the heading for information on how to plan strategically including how to link organisational strategy to programme and project planning systematically using the Logical Framework Approach (LFA).

  1. Planning must include agreements about how and when you will evaluate progress and achievements. You will need to make decisions about what you will use to tell you if you are making progress or have achieved your purpose. You will also need to agree on where you will get the information and when you will evaluate, how and who should be involved.

click on the heading for information on how to plan for evaluation.

  1. Effective planning requires a major commitment from everyone in the organisation. Planning can take time; it can seem messy and frustrating. But, studies show that one of the key factors in effective planning is how committed the organisation and the people are to the planning process. A further key factor here is that enough time should be given to planning effectively – it will save you time later.

click on the heading for information about preparing to plan in order to ensure commitment to the planning process at the beginning of the basic planning steps.

  1. Planning and evaluation must be thought of as a cycle of learning and improvement, not a straight line from A to B. We must continually evaluate what we are achieving and use our learning to develop more effective ways of achieving our goals.

click on the heading for information about how to use the planning cycle for ongoing learning and improvement.

click here for an example of how Molayezo used this approach to planning. This example shows how they linked organisational strategy to programme and project planning. (The example is in a separate file )

  1. How to plan – 8 basic planning steps

This section outlines a basic planning process that may be used for many different kinds of planning – developing strategy, or programme and project planning. Section 3 above has outlined an approach, based on the Logical Framework Approach, which can help you ensure that your planning process is effective. This section uses this approach to suggest useful basic steps for planning and to provide advice on how to achieve each step effectively. The previous section should also help you adapt the basic planning steps to different kinds of planning (developing organisational strategy, programme plans or project plans).

More detailed advice on all steps is available if you click on the overall heading. You can also access advice on any specific step by clicking on the heading for that step. If the approach or some of the terms used are not clear, you might need to go back and look at some of the detailed guidelines linked to the approach explained in Section 3 above.

The basic planning steps

The following are the basic steps that are useful in almost any kind of planning process. This process should be used as part of the cycle of planning that enables ongoing learning and improvement. (See how to use the planning cycle for ongoing learning and improvement above.)

Each step is explained in more detail below.

click on the heading of this section to get the complete guide for how to use the basic planning steps. This is based on the approach outlined in the previous section. If you only want further advice on a particular step, ideas on how to tackle each of the steps are available if you click on the heading for each of the steps.

These steps can be adapted to use for specific planning purposes. Your decision about what kind of planning process you need will tell you how much time you must set aside, who should be involved, how and at what point. (See the guidelines on how to plan strategically for some ideas on different kinds of planning.)

Step 1 - Preparing to plan – ensuring commitment

It is important to prepare well for any planning process. As we noted in the detailed guidelines on the approach to planning in the section above, planning should not be seen as something you do before you start on the real work, but as part of " the real work" itself. It takes up time, energy and other resources. It plays a crucial role in laying the basis for effective ongoing thinking, action and achievement. We also noted that involvement and participation are of vital importance to effective planning processes. We need to prepare effectively for planning to ensure we get the kind of involvement and participation we need. We must actively build commitment to the planning process so that people are willing to give the time, energy and resources necessary for effective planning. One of the mistakes many non-profit organisations make is to underestimate the amount of time and commitment necessary for effective planning. This commitment will need to come from staff and all other stakeholders whose participation we decide is necessary to enable successful implementation and results.

Once you have made these decisions, built a commitment to participate and prepared everyone who must participate to do so effectively, you are ready to start the actual planning process.

click on the heading for more information and ideas on how to prepare to plan and analyse stakeholder involvement. Also click on Planning and evaluation must be participative (above) for ideas on how to ensure the right amount of involvement in the planning process. Also click on how to plan systematically (above) for ideas and an example of what a systematic plan involves – this will help you understand what is involved in the planning steps and the kinds of issues you will need to consider. Click on how to plan strategically for an explanation of different kinds of planning (organisational strategy, programme and project planning).

Step 2 – Analyse the situation and needs

This step involves collecting and analysing information you will need to decide on a goal and a purpose that is:

You will need enough information to enable you to answer the following questions through careful analysis:

This step in the planning process lays the basis for the rest of the planning process. The process of building a deeper understanding of the problem, the situation, and your organisation is important for both the staff of your organisation and your target community. It lays the basis for shared understanding, more effective decisions and a commitment to strategic action. You will draw on the thinking done at this step as the basis for your decisions in all the later steps.

In the next steps, you will make important decisions when you choose:

  1. Your goal – a clear statement of the long term change you would like to see. This is usually not something you can achieve alone, but is an important change that will improve the lives of your target community. This is the long-term goal your organisation decides it must contribute to bringing about. Clarifying this broad goal helps to keep the rest of your planning focused on what will make a real contribution to change, even if it is only a part of a bigger and longer-term change.
  2. Your purpose – your organisation’s contribution to the goal – this should be a clear statement of what your organisation commits itself to achieve. This must be something that will make an important contribution to the achievement of the goal. But, it must also be something your organisation can realistically achieve on its own.
  3. Your objectives – specific statements of what has to be achieved [results] by your organisation to reach the organisation’s purpose.
  4. Your activities – clear decisions about who will do what and by when in order to achieve each objective.

Each of these decisions builds on your earlier decisions, but all of them depend on how well you have done the analysis. The analysis helps you ensure that your goal, purpose, objectives and activities are relevant, useful and realistic.

The next step is to decide on a goal and purpose that is relevant to the needs of your target group but also realistic in the context. The needs analysis will assist you to ensure that this decision about the future situation you wish to bring about is based on a deeper understanding of the problem and its causes and effects.

click on the heading for more information and ideas on how to analyse the situation and needs. This includes advice on what a target community is; how to collect relevant and reliable information; analyse problems; analyse stakeholders in relation to the problem; and analyse your organisation.

Step 3 – Prioritise and select the Goal and Purpose

Deciding on a goal is important because this tells you what change in people’s lives you hope to contribute to bringing about. A goal is a clear statement of the future situation you would like to come about. Goals are usually longer-term aims that your organisation cannot hope to bring about alone but will make a significant contribution to helping bring about. They tell us why we do what we do. Goals are also the final basis on which you evaluate what you have achieved. When you are developing a strategy for your organisation, this is a very important strategic decision. It is the vision of what you would like to see that will guide everything else you do. All further programme or project planning must be relevant to helping bring this about.

Once we know what your goal is, you need to decide on the purpose of your organisation – why do we exist and what contribution will we make to achieving the goal? The purpose is a clear and concrete statement of what you undertake to achieve. The purpose should be something you can realistically achieve as a result of your work. Agreeing a purpose is making a clear commitment to achieving this result.

[If you are developing an organisational strategy, the purpose explains why your organisation exists, its mission. In programme or project plans, the purpose must state what that programme or project will achieve. This should be based on the overall strategic goal and purpose of the organisation as a whole as agreed in the organisation’s strategy.]

In this step you will use your needs analysis to decide:

It is important to remember that you are making choices when you decide on a goal and purpose. These choices need to be strategic (carefully selected from the alternatives as the most useful) as they will affect all of your further planning. They also need to be as clear as possible so that they are a record of agreement that can guide your further decisions and actions and be used as a basis for assessing what you are achieving. In the next step you will be deciding on clear specific objectives that will enable you to achieve your goal.

click the heading for more information and advice on how to choose and write a clear goal and purpose. If you need more information on the difference between a goal and a purpose, the meaning of external conditions or on the planning framework we are using, click on the heading Planning must be systematic above. If you need more information on the difference between organisational strategy, programme and project plans and how you can link them, click on Planning must be strategic above.

Step 4 – Develop Clear Specific Objectives

Objectives are concrete results you need to achieve in order to reach the purpose. Objectives should be as clear and specific as possible. They should state the result you aim to achieve, not what you will do to achieve it. This helps you to focus on what the effect of your work should be, not only on your activities. It also allows you to evaluate what was achieved in terms of changes in the real world, not just what you did. Objectives should be more specific and concrete than your purpose and should be relevant to achieving your purpose.

In this step you will use your needs analysis and your agreed goal and purpose to decide:

Once you have clear, specific and agreed objectives, you are ready to begin planning the actions you will take to achieve them. The goal, purpose and objectives are the foundations of this process. You will need to decide on the best strategy for achieving each objective.

click the heading for more information and advice on how to develop clear, specific objectives.

Step 5 – Identify Alternative Strategies and Select the Most Effective Strategy

This step involves trying to find the best way of achieving your objectives. Strategy is the choice we make about the best approach to getting something done. This is a very important step. It enables us to avoid just assuming that there is a right way of getting something done and forces us to look at alternatives that we may not have considered properly before. This is very important if you want to find new and more effective ways of doing things. Just doing things the way you always do them, may not be strategic. You won’t know unless you deliberately think of other options and test them out with open minds. The biggest mistakes and waste in development work are made by organisations that do not keep testing their thinking to come up with better and more relevant strategies.

In this step, you will use the deeper understanding of the problem and stakeholder needs developed in your needs analysis to decide:

Once you have agreed realistic and effective strategies for achieving each of your objectives, you are ready to start planning to implement them by developing activity plans.

click on the heading for more information and advice on how to identify and alternative strategies and select the most effective strategy for achieving your objectives.

Step 6 – Plan implementation

This step involves detailed planning about how you will implement the strategies you have decided on.

You will use the decisions about the most effective strategy to achieve each objective to decide:

You are now ready to finalise your plan by planning for evaluation. The plans you make in the next step about when you will evaluate, who will be involved and how you will collect the information you need, should then be added to the implementation plan you have just drawn up as part of the activities.

click on the heading for more information and advice on how to plan for implementation. This includes a form you can use to summarise your implementation plans.

Step 7 – Plan for evaluation

This step involves planning how you will evaluate your progress and what has been successfully achieved. This needs to be done at the planning stage so that it can guide implementation by ensuring a clear record of agreements about what successful achievement means. It helps to clarify the plans by making sure that everyone understands what you intend to achieve in the same way. It also ensures you have a clear and agreed basis for assessing what was actually achieved and your progress along the way. If you have followed the systematic approach to planning outlined in the earlier section, you will already have a very useful basis for monitoring your progress and evaluating your achievements.

In this step you will use your needs analysis and overall plan to finally decide:

Once you have made these decisions, you have completed the planning process. Now, all that is needed is to summarise your plan in a neat, clear, easy-to-use form so that it is a useful record and guide for all those who will play a part in implementing it successfully.

click on the heading for more information on how to plan for evaluation. This includes ideas on how to use criteria and indicators of successful achievement.

Step 8 - Summarise your plan

It is useful to summarise your plan as you go along and to keep circulating it to everyone along with a summary of the discussion after you complete each step. This will mean you have a clear record of your decisions at each step, which you can use in the next step.

If you have done this all the way along and are using the Logical Framework Approach outlined in the section on how to plan systematically, you should have a useful record of your discussions that you can use to:

See the section on how to plan systematically for a summary format you can use to summarise your plans.

Introduction to planning      |     An approach to planning      |     Case Study:Example of planning      
How to plan - eight planning steps      |     Facilitating A planning workshop

Planning Index


Meeting skills   |   Inputs and verbal reports   |   Executive portfolios   |   Conflict management
Planning   |   Understanding your constituency   |   Recruiting membersGuide to Constitutions
Guide to the Nonprofit Organisations Act  |  Legal structures commonly used   
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