A Collaboration Incubator

Action Planning

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Agree on actions plans—consisting of goals, strategies, activities, a timeline, and set of responsibilities—to provide basic guidelines for how desired outcomes will be achieved.

The vision and community values of the previous stage form the foundation for work done in this stage. The action planning process involves laying out a roadmap for how and when goals will be achieved and, significantly, who will be responsible for carrying out the actions and ensuring that the responsibility has been accepted. Creating a timeline helps to prioritize the strategies and activities; including measures of success provides a mechanism to assess progress.

By the end of this stage, the group will deliver:

  • Goals and short-term, mid-term, and long-term strategies for achieving them
  • A completed plan, with associated action plans and documents
  • Memoranda of Agreement with agencies/entities responsible for Stage 8-Execution
  • A list of group members who will help monitor execution

This type of collaboration uses planning as a valuable means to an end — taking action to implement the plan.

  • Establish one or more broad goals to address the issue.
    • Review with the group any parameters that will impact goal setting (e.g., to be accomplished within five years, or to work within a specific geographic area).
    • Based on the parameters, vision, and community values, brainstorm broad goal statements of what should be achieved within the next few years (for example, 3–5 years).
    • Consider each suggested goal and determine if it falls within stated parameters, comports with community values, and helps to achieve the vision.
  • Develop criteria to guide the selection of strategies.
    • Determine what criteria should be used to screen the strategies. These could be related to availability of funding, timing, political support and viability, cultural appropriateness, opportunity to gain community support, etc.
    • Determine if all criteria should have equal weight. The criteria and the weight given to each become the “screen” for each strategy.
  • For each goal, create one or more strategies.
    • Brainstorm possible strategies to achieve each goal. Strategies can be short-term (within 1 year, for example), mid-term (e.g., 1–2 years), or longer term (within the period of the plan). This can be done in the large group, or smaller work groups can each be asked to develop strategies related to one goal.
    • Review the suggested strategies. Determine if any should be grouped together to avoid redundancy or be reworded for clarity.
    • Consider each strategy in relation to the criteria and screen out those that don’t meet the criteria.
    • Prioritize the list to narrow it down to those that are the most viable and achievable despite being challenging, and create a final list of goals and strategies.
    • If appropriate, seek input from a few key leaders (such as possible plan implementers or funders) on the goals and strategies selected. Consider their input to determine whether any revision to the goals and strategies is needed.
  • Create an action plan for each strategy based on the vision and community values established in Stage 6 and the goals created in this stage.
    • Work with the group to develop action plans that offer detailed guidance for how the strategy will be addressed, including: the specific activities and the timeline to accomplish each activity, the agency or position responsible for the activity, overall resources needed for the strategy, other people or groups to involve, and measures of success.
    • Create a format to periodically assess and report progress. Is the strategy working? What are the results? What challenges have emerged? (See Reporting Template in Stage 8-Execution.) If appropriate, seek input on the draft action plans from key agencies or entities that may have a role in execution. Revise the action plans as needed.
    • Encourage the creation of Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) to formalize the acceptance of responsibility for implementing components of the action plan. Determine if formal approval (e.g., by agency directors or nonprofit boards of directors) is needed to accept implementation responsibilities.
  • Prepare a final document summarizing the process and outcomes.
    • Develop a written summary for the convener and funders regarding what has been accomplished, what was learned, and what the process for execution will be.
    • Disseminate copies of the final plan to the collaboration group, funders, implementing agencies and organizations, and relevant elected officials and community leaders.
    • In accordance with the communications plan, there might be public and constituent presentations (with comment periods), media releases, website posting, email notices to distributions lists, adoption by a legislative body by resolution or ordinance, etc.
    • Plan a group celebration that might include a debriefing of the planning and collaboration process.
    • Determine who should be involved in Stage 8-Execution. Invite the members selected to be part of the group assigned to monitoring execution.
    • Solicit funders for additional support for execution, if needed.
  • The difference between a goal and a strategy is not always clearly understood.
    A goal is a broad statement of what should be achieved during the plan. A strategy is the approach that will be used to achieve the goal; there may be either one or multiple strategies per goal and be either short term (e.g., within one year) or longer term (within three years). Before getting into action planning, define terms like these to make sure all participants are clear.
  • Those who are likely to be involved in the execution stage do not always participate in the action planning and may disagree with the product developed.
    The involvement of those who will execute the plan is vital — those groups cannot be obligated to carry out activities they have not agreed to undertake. They should be asked to take a leadership role in creating the plan or at least the portions of the plan they will implement.
  • In an effort to avoid serious disagreement, the goals and strategies end up being vague.
    The more specific the actions can be, the greater clarity they will give to those who will be involved with implementation.
  • Measurements of success can be difficult to identify.
    Try to look for measures that already exist and can help show success. Be careful that the action plan doesn’t propose massive research to gather success data — unless that is its intended purpose.
  • Action plans require linear thinking — moving from step to step. Some people have trouble thinking in this way and resist structure.
    This can be a tough one and at times relies on the expertise of the facilitator to package the information presented by the group into the action plan format. There are multiple formats that might work better for a particular group. It is not the format that’s important; it’s the completeness and clarity of the information.
  • Too many strategies can be overwhelming.
    Avoid having too many strategies; you will need an action plan for each and every one. Encourage the group to be strategic in their selection. Which strategies will help lead to change or “move the needle” the most?
  • Action planning can be hard work and not as fun as the exploration and education.
    Find ways to keep people engaged during the action planning so they don’t lose interest. This may include soliciting feedback from constituencies on the plans being developed or working in small groups on specific plans.
  • The action plan is completed but no one steps forward to execute it.
    Well before the plan is complete, work should begin on confirming commitments from groups or agencies to execute all or portions of the plan. It is often helpful to develop a Memorandum of Agreement to formalize the commitments.
  • It may be helpful to review draft goals and strategies with leaders of implementing agencies or other key leaders for feedback and to secure early buy-in for the action plan being developed.
  • A completed action plan with measurements of success and a process for reporting progress is often helpful in securing funding for implementation, if it has not already been secured. It also helps to ensure accountability and reduce confusion about who will be doing what.
  • If the timing is not yet right for those agencies to take on the responsibility of the plan, it may be necessary for the collaboration incubator to take on the execution of specific tasks until an agency is identified or the activities have been completed.
  • A celebration at the conclusion of the plan can be used to thank those involved, solidify support for and involvement in the collaboration group during execution, and transition to a revamped collaboration group if there are to be changes in group membership.

Kauai Planning & Action Alliance (KPAA) and the County of Kauai partnered to create a drug plan to combat the problem of crystal methamphetamine. The effort was carried out by four committees — drug prevention, drug treatment, law enforcement, and community integration — and a coordinating committee (the “Drug Action Team”).

Based on the problems identified and the vision created, goals, objectives, and very specific action plans for each committee were developed for a three-year period. Goals and objectives were prioritized based upon what could be accomplished or at least reasonably started in a three-year period.

For each objective there was an action plan. Committee members provided input for the action plan, including: specific activities to be accomplished over the course of the plan; the timeline for each activity; designation of a lead group or individual (by position not by name) for each activity; resources needed; determination of other groups needed to support the objective; and measures of success to determine progress toward meeting the objective.

As the consultant completed the drafts of each section, they were shared with the relevant committee for feedback and for acceptance at the next meeting.

The plan that was created had to be accepted by the county administration. The participation of the county’s Anti-Drug Coordinator during the planning process helped ensure the plan’s acceptance. If the Anti-Drug Coordinator questioned a recommendation during the process, he would raise the objection at the meeting and another solution was found. Fortunately, this seldom occurred.

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