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Section 9. Community Action Guide: Framework for Addressing Community Goals and Problems

  • What is action planning?

  • How does action planning help a community?

  • Why is action planning important?

  • When should you create an action plan?

  • What are the components of an action plan framework?

Have you had the motivation to mobilize your community to address a problem that affects the local population, but just not known how to begin? You might wonder; “How do I investigate the problem?”, “Whom do I involve in the strategies to address the problem?”, “How do I successfully facilitate a group of diverse representatives from a community to reach consensus about a common vision and the actions that will turn ideas into results?”

This tool has the answers to these and other important questions. It will prepare you to lead your community in action planning.

What is action planning?

The overall goal of action planning is to increase your community’s ability to work together to affect conditions and outcomes that matter to its residents—and to do so both over time and across issues of interest.

As your community works towards a broad vision of health for all, creating supportive conditions for change requires comprehensive efforts among diverse sectors of the community. These include health organizations, faith communities, schools, and businesses. Representatives of each sector come together to form a community coalition. Your community coalition can strive to influence systems changes—programs, policies, and practices that can enhance the community’s capacity to be a healthy environment.

A community coalition initiates its work by generating an action plan.

An action plan outlines what should happen to achieve the vision for a healthy community. Desirable changes and proposed activities (action steps), timelines, and assignment of accountability provide a detailed road map for collaborators to follow.

How does action planning help a community?

Regardless of the complexity of the problem at hand within your community, action planning helps you:

  • Understand the community’s perception of both the issue at hand and its potential solutions
  • Assure inclusive and integrated participation across community sectors in the planning process
  • Build consensus on what can and should be done based on the community’s unique assets and needs
  • Specify concrete ways in which members of the community coalition can take action

The list above describes how an action plan helps a community’s sectors and residents within those sectors work together to achieve a common vision. This tool will address each item and provide guidance for your action planning work that lies ahead.

Why is action planning important?

Proper planning of any initiative is critical for yielding the best results or outcomes possible. An action plan, while a significant investment of time and energy, can be an effective tool that grounds all collaborators with a common purpose. Developing an action plan is a critical first step toward ensuring project success.

An action plan assures that:

  • No detail is overlooked
  • Proposed action steps are feasible and/or realistic
  • Collaborators follow through with their commitments
  • Measurable activities are documented and evaluated

Overall, action planning is important because it provides a reference point with a detailed time line and assignment of accountability for accomplishing tasks along the path to making a difference.

Research findings of the Work Group for Community Health and Development suggest that there are a number of factors that appear to have a positive effect on rates of community and system change—and one of those includes action planning:

  • Analyzing Information About the Problem, Goals, and Factors Affecting Them
  • Establishing Your Group's Vision and Mission
  • Defining Organizational Structure and Operating Mechanisms
  • Developing a Framework or Model of Change
  • Developing and Using Strategic and Action Plans
  • Arranging for Community Mobilizers
  • Developing Leadership
  • Implementing Effective Interventions
  • Assuring Technical Assistance
  • Documenting Progress and Using Feedback
  • Making Outcomes Matter
  • Sustaining the Work

When should you create an action plan?

Ideally, you should develop an action plan within the first six to twelve months of the start of an initiative or organization. Once an action plan is generated, it should be revisited frequently (e.g., as often as monthly but at least annually) so it can be modified to meet the changing needs of your community.

What are the components of an action plan framework?

While some issues may be universal (for example, mental health issues), each community will have different assets and barriers for improving conditions for its residents. Therefore, each community’s intervention strategy for influencing programs, policies, and practices will be unique. However, a series of steps—a framework—helps guide the process of community action and change within the context of a community’s unique needs.

If you approach the action planning process as a manageable series of steps, you can take charge and help your community coalition work through each one with confidence.

Determine what people and sectors of the community to involve

As you begin your action planning process, you will need to accomplish three things:

  • Document the problem or issue with information and statistics
  • Learn more about your community
  • Involve community members

How do you go about accomplishing these steps?

Listen to the community about issues and options. Conduct focus groups and public forums to obtain information about perceived issues and solutions within the community.

The key pieces of information you should gather in each listening session or focus group include:

  • The perceived problem or issue
  • Perceived barriers or resistance to addressing the issue
  • Resources for change
  • Recommend solutions and alternatives
  • Current and past initiatives to address the problem or issue

Gather data to document the problem. In addition to hearing the community perspective on problems or goals related to the issue at hand, it is important to document the issue using existing information sources.

  • "What are the issues related to the problem/topic in your community?"
  • "What are the consequences of these issues?"
  • "Who is affected?"
  • "How are they affected?"
  • "Are these issues of widespread concern?"

While the information that you collect can answer the questions above, remember that it will also play a key role in helping you determine how effective your group was in addressing the problem. You will use these baseline data—data that document the extent of the problem prior to implementation of your initiative—for comparison with data that document the extent of the problem after implementation of your initiative.

Listed below are helpful data sources that you may want to investigate. Keep in mind that not all of them will be relevant to your particular issue or problem.

  • State or county health department data
  • State social services department data
  • Hospital admissions and exit records
  • Police records
  • Chamber of commerce data
  • Nonprofit service agency data
  • School district data
  • Information from your local reference librarian
  • Data from specialized local, statewide, or national organizations

Also see federal websites such as:

Become aware of local resources and past and current efforts: If current efforts targeting your issue exist, think of ways in which they can become more effective via support, advocacy or other means.  Consider the following:

  • Do current efforts have a parallel vision?
  • How many people are they serving?
  • Do the services and program meet local needs?

Particularly if pre-existing initiatives had a similiar mission and failed, seek to understand why and apply those lessons learned to your action planning.  You might gain valuable insight by talking with the agency or group with the failed initiative.

Involve key officials and grassroots leaders in a planning group: While you may easily identify key officials, service providers, or representatives from relevant agencies, extend the boundaries of your planning coalition to be as inclusive as possible. Remember that your planning group should reflect the diversity of the local community.

Your group might use interviews with both key officials and key grassroots leaders to answer the following questions:

  • Who can make things happen on this issue?
  • What individuals are in a position to create (or block!) change?
  • What contact people within the initiative would be most successful in getting those key officials to become involved?
  • What neighborhoods and ethnic and cultural communities are particularly affected by this issue?
  • What individuals and groups make things happen in these neighborhoods?
  • What contact people within the initiative would be most successful in involving members of these neighborhoods?

Convene a planning group

Once you identify and include interested participants for the planning group, publicize planning sessions to assure that they are open to all group members. As facilitator, you should extend additional courtesies to planning group members, such as starting and ending meetings on time, using an agenda, and covering items in as little time as possible. Other responsibilities that you might have as a facilitator include:

Managing conflict. The richness of diverse views represented within your planning group may also lead to conflict among members. group leaders may need to elevate discussions to a higher level on which there may be a basis for agreement. Leaders can also remind group members of the shared vision as a means of fostering discussion on a common gound.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Planned Approach to Community Health (PATCH) documentation includes suggestions for reaching consensus in group meetings:

  • Avoid the “one best way” attitude, and opt for that which reflects the best collective judgment of the group
  • Avoid “either/or” thinking; often the best solution combines several approaches
  • A majority vote may not always be the best solution. When participants give and take, several viewpoints can be combined.
  • Healthy conflict may actually help participants reach a consensus; do not end conflict prematurely.
  • Problems are best solved when all participants try to communicate and listen.

Conflict resolution is the process of settling disagreements among group members. The CDC recommends trying one of four approaches to resolve conflicts about goals, plans, activities, or procedures:

  • Avoidance: While this can be a temporary solution, particularly if a conflict does not seem important enough to discuss, be sure to reassess the problem at a later date.
  • Accommodation: Use tact and discretion to ask participants to yield or conform to the positions of others.
  • Compromise: When a consensus cannot be reached, compromise may be the only solution. With compromise, everyone both wins and gives up something.
  • Collaboration: While this may be the best approach, reserve it for issues of greatest importance. Collaboration requires all group members to acknowledge the conflict, consider many possible solutions and the consequences of each, and select the alternatives that best meet the needs of the group.

Creating a supportive context for planning and action. Several aspects of your community group can influence the element of support in the planning environment. They are: leadership, size and structure, organization, and diversity and integration.

  • Leadership – Although a single person may accept overall responsibility, effective organizations usually have a number of leaders who work with constituents to fulfill the group’s mission. Leaders should have a clear vision and the capacity for listening and relating to others in the group.
  • Size and Structure – A maximum group size of 15 is recommended. If this seems prohibitive given the number of persons interested in participation, you can also structure smaller groups such as “task forces” for specific functions within the action plan.
  • Organization – If your planning group or surrounding community is particularly large, you may want to allocate work to subcommittees for each sector of the community to be involved (e.g., health organizations, businesses, schools). If your planning group or surrounding community is relatively small, the group might work as a whole to accomplish action planning.
  • Diversity and Integration – Include all types of participants: persons in positions of authority, grassroots leaders, and local residents with experience.

Offering ongoing encouragement. Throughout the planning process, let group members know when they are doing a good job. Positive feedback is very important—especially when people are volunteering their time and energy.

If you find it challenging or intimidating to facilitate planning sessions in which diverse ideas and opinions are spoken, try applying some of the information below to your situation. Having a “plan” for effective facilitation will help you yield the most positive outcomes and best ideas from your planning meetings.

Tips for Group Facilitation

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Planned Approach to Community Health (PATCH) documentation offers the following suggestions for facilitating meetings:

  • Create an environment conducive to communication by seating participants around small tables or in semicircles.
  • Make participation an expectation; ask questions frequently and use open-ended questions to encourage thought and participation.
  • Create opportunities for participants to work in teams.
  • Give small assignments in advance, and ask participants to come to meetings prepared to share their work.
  • Encourage participants to evaluate the group’s working dynamic and offer solutions to improving interaction if needed.
  • Talk with quiet participants during breaks, and help them express their ideas and share their thoughts with the group.
  • Use flip charts or overhead transparencies to record comments, but face participants while writing or ask someone else to do it.
  • Suggest the “next step” if a meeting seems to be stagnating.
  • Walk around to gain attention, but look directly at participants.
  • Expect to make some mistakes! Acknowledge them, correct them, and move on.

Lead brainstorming sessions. Brainstorming is a problem-solving technique that encourages all members of a group to contribute ideas. You may find this technique of idea generation particularly helpful in the early phases of action planning. There are three common approaches to brainstorming:

  • Freewheeling: Participants randomly call out suggestions, which are then recorded on a flip chart. Some group members may dominate in this setting.
  • Round robin: Each member is called upon for a suggestion in turn, and ideas are recorded on a flip chart. This is a more organized approach and prevents domination of the session by only a few individuals.
  • Slip: Each member submits anonymous suggestions on a slip of paper, and ideas are then recorded on a flip chart.

CDC suggests that a group facilitator follow these guidelines for a brainstorming meeting:

  • Explain all rules at the beginning of the session. Those are:
    • No critical remarks allowed; evaluation comes later
    • Give the thought only; explanation comes later
    • Give only one idea at a time
    • Adding to or improving on someone else’s idea is appropriate
  • Give all participants a chance to share ideas.
  • Ask one or two people to record ideas.
  • Keep a lively tempo to the process.
  • Praise the quantity versus quality of ideas.

Convening and facilitating a planning group for a common vision, mission, or purpose can be challenging yet rewarding. Participation of diverse individuals can require skilled facilitation. However, you can successfully facilitate a group meeting by applying the guidelines presented above. The more meetings you lead throughout the action planning process, the more confident you will become!

Develop an action plan to address proposed changes

Your planning meetings, brainstorming sessions, and other group discussions will yield an extensive compilation of great ideas (and maybe some that are not so great!).

What do you do with all of that information? How do you sort through the pile of rocks to find the gems?

First, you will need to distill the many ideas and voices into a common vision and mission. Next, you will need to refine the relevant ideas into objectives with corresponding strategies and actions.

As you distill the large number of ideas into a common vision, the VMOSA process (vision, mission, objectives, strategies, and action) will help your planning group develop a blueprint for moving from dreams to actions to positive outcomes for your community. VMOSA gives both direction and structure to your initiative. The five components of VMOSA should be completed in the order in which they are presented here.

Vision

Your planning group needs a vision statement to serve as a unifying statement for your effort, help communicate you goals and attract participants, remind participants of the desired outcome, and guide important decisions. The vision statement should be a few short phrases or a sentence. Catchy phrases such as "Healthy teens," "Safe streets, safe neighborhoods" and "Education for all" illustrate the common characteristics of a vision statement.

Craft a vision statement that is:

  • Understood and shared by members of the community
  • Broad enough to include a diverse variety of perspectives
  • Inspiring and uplifting
  • Easy to communicate

Mission

Your planning group’s mission statement will be more specific than the vision. As the next step in the action planning process, it expresses the "what and how" of your effort, describing what your group is going to do to make your vision a reality. An example of a mission statement: "Our mission is to develop a safe and healthy neighborhood through collaborative planning, community action, and policy advocacy."

While your vision statement inspires people to dream, your mission statement should inspire them to action.

Create your mission statement to be:

  • Concise
  • Outcome-oriented
  • Inclusive

Objectives

Objectives are the specific, measurable steps that will help you achieve your mission. Develop objectives that are SMART+C: specific, measurable, achievable (eventually), relevant to your mission, and timed (with a date for completion). The +C reminds you to add another important quality to your goals: make them challenging!

Strategies

Strategies explain how your group will reach its objectives.

Broad strategies for change include:

  • Advocacy
  • Coalition building
  • Community development
  • Education
  • Networking
  • Policy or legislative change.

The big picture

Charting a logical pathway for community and system change: A key question to ask as your group formulates strategies is, “What combination of changes in programs, policies, and practices are necessary to make a difference with the mission of promoting health for all?” Your group will want to take inventory of potential community and system changes for addressing the problem or issue of interest. To do this, sort your “inventory” of ideas and objectives generated via the planning group into five specific strategy categories:

  • Providing information and enhancing skill
  • Altering incentives and disincentives
  • Modifying access, barriers, and opportunities
  • Enhancing services and support
  • Modifying policies and practices

To facilitate the process of thinking about how ideas fit most logically together, you may want to draft a one page flowchart that forms pathways leading logically to widespread behavior change and elimination or reduction of the problem to be addressed. You might want to think of this flow chart as a way to double check for any gaps that may remain despite your extensive planning and discussion up to this point. Furthermore, as you look at the pathways and linkages along the way to change, the visual representation may prompt you to think of potential resources and barriers for accomplishing objectives. These noted resources and barriers will be applied to the development of action steps—the last piece of your action plan (to be discussed in the next section).

Determining strategies within your community’s context

Once your planning group has a clear vision and mission and has chosen community and system changes to be sought, you will have the foundation for making informed decisions regarding types of strategies to implement. The information below is a guide to talking through the development of strategies as they relate to the priorities and desired changes in the context of your community.

When developing strategies to accompany your objectives, consider the following factors:

  • Population levels to be affected
  • Universal versus targeted outreach
  • Personal and environmental factors
  • Which community sectors can benefit from and contribute to efforts
  • Behavioral strategies to be used.

The levels to be targeted (individuals vs. families and kinship groups vs. organizations and sectors vs. broader systems).

Whether the strategy will be universal (e.g., include all of those who may be at risk or may benefit) or targeted (e.g., targets those who may be at greater risk for the problem):

  • Universal example: targeting all men ages 40 and over in the community regarding the importance of prostate cancer screening.
  • Targeted example: targeting all men ages 40 and over in the community with a family history of prostate cancer.

The personal and environmental factors to be addressed by the initiative:

  • Personal factors: knowledge, beliefs, skills, education and training, experience, cultural norms and practices, social status, cognitive or physical abilities, gender, age.
  • Environmental factors: social support, available resources and services, barriers (including financial, physical, and communication), social approval, policies, environmental hazards, living conditions, poverty.

Individuals who can most benefit and contribute and how they can be reached or involved in the effort.

  • Targets of change - those who may at particular risk for the issue and those whose actions (or omission of actions) contribute to the problem.
  • Agents of change - those who may be in a position to (and have a responsibility to) contribute to the solution or initiative (includes targets of change)
  • Community sectors through which targets and agents of change can be reached or involved

The behavioral strategies to be used. Approaches may include:

  • Providing information and enhancing skills – (e.g., conduct a social marketing campaign to educate citizens about the issue or problem)
  • Modifying barriers, access, and opportunities – (e.g., increase availability of affordable childcare for those entering the workforce.
  • Enhancing services and supports – (e.g., increase the number of public health centers that provide dental care.
  • Changing incentives and disincentives that affect the issue – (e.g., encourage housing developers and property owners to redevelop scattered sites as mixed income developments through tax abatements)
  • Modifying policies and broader systems that affect the issue – (e.g., require that businesses provide time off for an adequate number of prenatal doctor visits)

For each strategy, consider what programs, policies, and/or practices should be created or modified. Make a list, keeping in mind how they work together to address the problem or goal. And finally, review your planning group’s strategies for:

  • Consistency with the overall vision, mission, and objectives
  • Goodness of fit with the resources and opportunities available
  • Anticipated resistance and barriers and how they can be minimized
  • Whether those who are affected will actually be reached
  • Whether those who can contribute will be involved

Building consensus on proposed strategies for change
Once you think that the strategies are finalized and in place, you will want to build consensus on proposed changes within your planning group. Keeping in mind the fact that multiple sectors of the community are represented in the planning group, you should complete two types of review:

  • Review proposed changes for each sector
    • Taken together, do these proposed changes maximize this sector’s contribution to the mission
    • What other changes in programs, policies, or practices could or should be made in this sector
  • Review proposed changes for all sectors taken together
    • Would all changes, taken together, be sufficient to reduce the problem?
    • What other changes in programs, policies, or practices could or should be made within the community or system?
  • Furthermore, to help attract and preserve commitments on behalf of the sectors represented in your planning group, you should build consensus on the changes to be sought by asking:
    • “Is this proposed change important to the mission?”
    • “Is this proposed change feasible?”

You can even put these two questions into a survey format and create a table for planning group members to respond to. Before administering the survey, set criteria for which sought changes will be kept or eliminated with a ranking score system.

You can see below that a sample ranking system ranging from ‘1’ for “Not at All [Important or Feasible]” to ‘5’ for “Very [Important or Feasible]” has been used. We suggest that you set criteria of an average value of 3 or higher for a proposed change to be retained.

Proposed Change How important is it to... How feasible is it to...
  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5
  1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5

How do you calculate the average ranking score using a scale like the one in the table above?

Example:

For a proposed change, 20 planning group members select one of the score values in their response. Of those, you have:

  • 10 responding “3”
  • 4 responding “2”
  • 6 responding “4”

Given the suggested criteria of an average ranking of 3 or higher, will you keep or toss the proposed change?

Step 1. 10(3) + 4(2) + 6(4) = 62
Step 2. 62 / 20 responses = an average ranking of 3.1
Step 3. Based on the scoring criteria, you determine to keep the proposed change since the overall consensus via the survey is 3.1.

What is most important about the process demonstrated above is that each group member participates in the consensus vote on each proposed change. And when you are finished, your community will be armed with a targeted action plan that has the approval of all community sector representatives.

The Grande Finale – The Complete Action Plan!

By now, you have come a long way in your action planning process. You have gathered information, involved key community members, outlined a vision, mission, objectives, and developed appropriate strategies for your community. In this final step of action plan development, you will specify in detail who will do what, by when, to make what changes happen. The action plan will also note the resources needed, potential barriers or resistance, and collaborators or communication lines that need to be active. You can rely on this plan to know what actions you should take day by day.

Action Step Criteria

Your action plan will consist of numerous action steps needed to bring about change in the community. Each action step should outline:

  • What actions or changes will occur
  • Who will carry out those changes
  • By when the changes will take place, and for how long
  • What resources are needed to carry out proposed changes
  • Communication (who should know what?)

Drafting Action Steps

Action steps are similar to well-written objectives in their structure and content, but include some additional information. First, let’s start by looking at how to draft a strong objective. Then, we will take it one step further and write a comparable action step. You may already be working from objectives in a funded grant proposal. If that is the case, you have a time saving, solid foundation for your action steps.

The best action steps have several characteristics in common with well-written objectives. Those parallel characteristics are:

  • Specific. That is, they tell how much (e.g., 40 %) of what is to be achieved (e.g., what behavior of whom or what outcome) by when (e.g., by 2010)?
  • Measurable. Information concerning the objective can be collected, detected, or obtained from records (at least potentially).
  • Achievable. Not only are the objectives themselves possible, it is likely that your organization will be able to pull them off.
  • Relevant to the mission. Your organization has a clear understanding of how these objectives fit in with the overall vision and mission of the group.
  • Timed. Your organization has developed a timeline (a portion of which is made clear in the objectives) by which they will be achieved.
  • Challenging. They stretch the group to set its aims on significant improvements that are important to members of the community.

Example: Your community is working to establish on-site childcare for community health clinic clients by the year 2010. Based on the desired systems change, here is a sample action statement: “By June 2009, all necessary regulatory permits will be obtained.”

Now, let’s take this information and generate a complete action step. In addition to the criteria for well-written objectives, action steps address resources needed, anticipated barriers, and a communication plan. Now we will complete the five action step criteria (what, who, by when, what resources, and communication) using the sample, “By June 2009. . . “

Criteria 1: What actions or changes will occur?

    All necessary regulatory permits will be obtained [for the on site provision of child care for health clinic clients.

Criteria 2: Who will carry out those changes?

    Danelda Jackson and Tom Glinn, staff of the community health clinic

Criteria 3: By when will the changes take place, and for how long?

    2009, in order to open in 2010. They will be renewed annually after that.

Criteria 4: What resources are needed to carry out the proposed changes? (For example, resources may be material, financial, or temporal).

Contractors

What potential barriers might affect this action step? Barriers to success might include:

  • Faltering commitment on behalf of collaborators
  • Key individuals or groups opposing efforts
  • Lack of sustained interest in the initiative at the community level
  • Simultaneous events such as economic downturn or parallel or competing initiatives
  • City staff may resist providing a permit because it may appear to intensify the use of the clinic site.

Criteria 5: Communication (who should be informed about these actions?)

    Clinic staff and patrons and community residents should be made aware of the availability of on site child care at the clinic.

Note: You may find it most helpful to set up a template for a table in a word processing program so you can efficiently record each action step generated by your planning group. The table below has been filled in with the criteria and sample information listed above.

Action Step Action By Whom By When Resources/Support Needed Potential Barriers/Resistance Communication
By June 2009, all necessary regulatory permits will be obtained. All necessary regulatory permits will be obtained from childcare licensing agency, city government, etc. Danelda Jackson and Tom Glinn, clinic staff June 2009 in order to open in 2010 Contractors City staff may resist providing a permit because it may appear to intensify the use of the clinic site. Clinic staff and patrons and community residents should be made aware of the availability of on site child care at the clinic.

Review your action plan for completeness

Once the planning process is complete, be sure to obtain review and approval of the final action plan from all group members.

Assess the action plan for:

  • Comprehensiveness
  • Clarity
  • Feasibility
  • Timeliness
  • Flexibility

Remember that the action plan will be revisited from time to time for modifications, as a community’s needs change. However, ultimately, this “blueprint for action” will be used over time, across sectors of the community, and across issues of interest. Therefore, strive to make it a powerful tool for community change.

Follow Through

Your completed action plan may contain many action steps. And while you will have mapped those out carefully along a timeline, you will probably have action steps that should occur simultaneously. Furthermore, you may sense a need to prioritize the order in which you execute action steps that are supposed to take place in the first six months of your initiative.

You may find it easier to determine that ordering or prioritization strategy if you ask the following questions:

  • Which changes are the most important or key to the initiative's objectives?
  • Which changes would inspire and encourage participants and build credibility within the community?
  • Which changes need to be completed before others can? For example, some changes may require other changes and relationships to be established.
  • Which changes are easier or quicker? Could completing them give the planning group’s members a sense of success?

Part of following through with proposed action steps will be the task of maintaining collaborator commitment and interest. An invaluable approach to fostering this working relationship is communication: communication about timelines, upcoming planning meetings, progress, results, intermediary feedback, etc.

Communicate progress

Communication is paramount to continued support and commitment within all sectors of the community. Continue to hold planning group meetings and additional public forum meetings, making sure to publicize these appropriately via local newspapers, email listservs, etc. Communicate with all relevant audiences, and let them know how their feedback was used to modify the action plan when relevant. You may want to refer back to the “communication” column of your action step table to make sure that you have corresponded with all people who need to know about the status of a particular action step.

It is best to include a communication plan in your action plan, and regularly share information about progress and outcomes relevant to the initiative. And the best means of having sound information to report is an evaluation plan.

Document progress

After you have worked so hard to plan and implement action steps, your community group will most certainly want a means of measuring progress towards the vision. It is important to evaluate your initiative toward that end.

The purpose of evaluation is to document and measure the completion or success of action steps. From your action planning group’s perspective:

  • Evaluation may help you clarify action steps so they are measurable.
  • Documentation and evaluation help you continually refine your program. Remember—an action plan is an ever-changing blueprint that can be modified according to community needs. If evaluation of action steps reveals successes, failures, or other lessons learned, that information should be applied to future planning cycles or revision of the overall action plan.
  • Evaluation data provide information about the relative costs and effort for tasks so activity and budget adjustments can be made as needed.

It is important to include evaluation components as you develop your action plan versus as you implement it. Be sure that your action plan details how information will be collected, analyzed, and communicated. Because the action plan will be implemented over a long period of time, you may want to document intermediary accomplishments on a monthly basis. Such cumulative records help you identify trends in rates of community and system change over a number of years

Celebrate progress and revisit/renew the action plan

Even the most effective initiatives can benefit from reflection on their accomplishments. Therefore, you should review your action plan as frequently as needed, but at least annually. Arrange for ongoing review and discussion of group progress and proposed changes in the action plan. And, when new and important changes occur (e.g., a long-awaited policy change by a major employer), celebrate them.

Overall, focus on “small wins” versus creating “the perfect program.” This approach will:

  • Reward outcomes versus actions
  • Provide multiple opportunities for celebration
  • Allow coalition partners to work together by asking each other to do their part while not demanding that everyone be locked into a single course of action
  • Provide a sensitive measure of progress that can be monitored periodically to support improvement and accountability

Throughout evaluation of progress, celebration of progress, and renewal of the action plan as the community environment changes over time, maintain this key perspective:

Your community coalition is a catalyst for change, helping to bring about a series of community and system changes related to the mission, rather than simply the delivery of a single program or service. While evaluation has its place in all initiatives, try to focus more on contribution rather than attribution as your community implements its action plan.

In summary

Action planning includes:

  • Convening a planning group in your community that consists of:
    • Key officials
    • Grassroots leaders
    • Representatives of key sectors
    • Representatives from all parts of the community, including diverse ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic groups
  • Listening to the community
  • Documenting problems that affect healthy youth development
  • Identifying risk and protective factors
  • Developing a framework for action
  • Becoming aware of local resources and efforts
  • Refining your group's vision, mission, objections, and strategies
  • Refining your group' s choice of targets and agents of change
  • Determining what community sectors should be involved in the solution
  • Developing a tentative list of changes to be sought in each sector
  • Building consensus on proposed changes
  • Outlining action steps for proposed changes
  • Documenting progress on bringing about community and system changes
  • Renewing your group' s efforts along the way

When you complete these activities, celebrate (for now)  You have developed a blueprint for action.

Regardless of the complexity of the problem at hand within your community, action planning helps you:

  • Understand the community’s perception of both the issue at hand and its potential solutions.
  • Assure inclusive and integrated participation across community sectors in the planning process.
  • Build consensus on what can and should be done based on the community’s unique assets and needs.
  • Specify concrete ways in which members of the community coalition can take action.

Myles Horton, the late founder of the Highlander Center, talked about "making the road by walking." The work of transforming communities and systems to promote healthy youth development will be made by joining with local people who care enough to make needed changes. As we do this important work, we realize that we walk the path of those before us. And, eventually, with those who will carry on this cause after we are gone.

Contributor 
Sarah Pfau

Print Resources

Fawcett, S., Carson, V., Collie, V., Bremby, R., and Raymer, K. (May 2000). Promoting Health for All: An Action Planning Guide for Improving Access and Eliminating Disparities in Community Health. KU Work Group on Health Promotion & Community Development, Lawrence, Kansas.

Francisco, V., Holt, C., Swenson, J., and Fawcett, S. (November 2002). Youth Development: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives. KU Work Group on Health Promotion & Community Development, Lawrence, Kansas.

Puddy, R., Fawcett, S., and Francisco, V. (July 2002). Promoting Child Well-Being: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives. KU Work Group on Health Promotion & Community Development, Lawrence, Kansas.

Tarlov, A.R. and St. Peter, R. (2000). The Society and Population Health Reader: A State and Community Perspective. New York: The New Press. Chapter Four: Fawcett, S., Francisco, V., Hyra, D., Paine-Andrews, A., Shultz, J., Russos, S., Fisher, J., and Evensen, P. Building Healthy Communities.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Planned Approach to Community Health: Guide for the Local Coordinator. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

Online Resources

Reducing Risk for Chronic Disease: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives

Promoting Health for All: Improving Access and Eliminating Disparities in Community Health

Promoting Healthy Living and Preventing Chronic Disease: An Action Planning Guide for Communities

Preventing Adolescent Substance Abuse: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives

Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives

Preventing Youth Violence: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives

Youth Development: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives

Promoting Child Well-Being: An Action Planning Guide for Community-Based Initiatives

Promoting Urban Neighborhood Development: An Action Planning Guide for Improving Housing, Jobs, Education, Safety and Health, and Human Development

Work Group Evaluation Handbook

Concerns Report Handbook: Planning for Community Health