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Section 7. Identifying Action Steps in Bringing About Community and System Change

  • What is an action step?

  • Why should you identify action steps?

  • When should you determine action steps?

  • How do you identify action steps?

Identifying action steps from your action plan is essential for acheiving your organization's goals. Determining action steps helps your group members find practical ways to reach your group's objectives and focus on the details necessary to succeed. This section provides a guide for developing action steps in order to increase the efficiency of your organization.

What is an action step?

An action step refers to the specific efforts that are made to reach the goals your agency has set. Action steps are the exact details of your action plan. They should be concrete and comprehensive, and each action step should explain:

  • What will occur
  • How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur
  • Who will carry out these actions
  • When these actions will take place, and for how long
  • What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out the proposed actions

Taken together, your defined action steps comprise your group's action plan.

Why should you identify action steps?

Anticipating the future makes us feel in control, right? That's the major reason why identifying action steps is important. You can get prepared for what your next step should be. Other reasons are:

  • To concentrate on the details that must occur to succeed in your mission
  • To decide on workable ways to reach your goals
  • To allow a large number of people to think in a structured way about the future of your coalition
  • To save time, energy, and resources in the long run: a well structured, thought -out action plan will make things much easier for you

When should you determine action steps?

You should determine your action steps after you have decided what changes you want to occur. You probably do this anyway, at least on a casual level; you decide what changes you want to see occur, and then you decide how to go about making them. These "hows" are your action steps.

Ideally, they will be thoughtfully, officially decided upon early in the life of your organization, and then updated every year or two as your group grows and changes. Even if your organization has been around for a while, though, and doesn't have defined action steps yet, it's never too late to decide on them, since we hope you're going to be around for a long time!

How do you identify action steps?

Determine what your group, as a whole and individually, is really good at. Are you great at fund raising? Do you have a member who happens to write for the local paper? Brainstorm all the possible strengths of your group, no matter how off the wall they might seem. (You never know when an award-winning tuba player will be just what you need!)

Brainstorm different, specific ways that these strengths can be used to carry out the changes that you have decided upon.

For example, if your organization is trying to bring about increased access to contraceptives for area youth, you might send your best politician to area drug stores to ask to pharmacists to provide contraception in a confidential way. Then, ask the graphic artist in your group to design a card with the names of the pharmacies that will do so.

Consider the possible barriers to implementing your proposed changes, and possible ways to remove these barriers. Some questions you might ask yourselves include:

  • Do we have enough money to carry out your proposed action steps? (Are there any grants we can apply for?)
  • Do we have enough manpower? (Can we recruit more volunteers?)
  • Do we have enough time to carry out these changes?
  • Are these action steps things people can get excited about?
  • What kind of opposition can we expect if we put our plan into effect? Are there ways to get around it?

For instance, in the example given above dealing with contraceptives, pharmacists might be worried that their name next to the slogan, "Get your condoms here!" might hurt their business. A card that just had the names and phone numbers of your agency and of their establishments, however, might calm these fears and give the pharmacies some free, welcome publicity.

Brainstorm different ways (your action steps) to go about implementing the proposed changes in each sector that you have chosen. Be sure to have someone take good notes! Again, make sure each action step includes:

  • What will occur
  • How much, or to what extent, these actions will occur
  • Who will carry out these changes
  • When these changes will take place, and for how long
  • What resources (such as money and staff) are needed to carry out these changes

Example: The RTR Coalition

One action step might include increasing publicity about contraception and unwanted pregnancy at the local high school.

  • What action or change will occur: Hanging posters, displays, and other information about contraception and the facts about unwanted pregnancy in the hallways of the local high school.
  • How much, or to what extent, this action will occur: The posters and other information will become a permanent part of the high school. Posters and information will be regularly changed as new materials become available.
  • Who will carry it out: A sub-committee comprised of parents, teachers, students, and coalition members will be responsible for maintaining the displays. The coalition as a whole will work towards finding funding to purchase the materials. Several coalition members will be responsible for researching and ordering the materials.
  • When will it take place, and for how long: The coalition will try to have posters hanging and displays visible within six months of implementing the action step.
  • What resources are needed to carry out the step: The coalition will try to approach the school district to request funding for the project. Otherwise, the coalition will seek funding from other sources such as foundations to finance the program. To make the process as clear as possible, members of the coalition should account for each point of each action step. Then, with written goals in hand, you will have the concrete steps you need to take in order to implement your plan.

Determine a final list of action steps for each community sector from the ideas that came from your brainstorming. Try to determine lists that are feasible, effective, and comprehensive.

Example:

Some strategies for preventing child abuse and neglect (from the Work Group for Community Health and Development's Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: An Action Planning Guide for Building a Caring Community), listed by community sector:

Changes in the schools:

  • Provide training on anger management and stress reduction techniques for parents.
  • Require classes in prevention of child abuse and neglect for renewal of teacher certification and for school nurses.
  • Provide space and supervision on school facilities for weekend, after-school, and vacation activities for children.

Changes in health organizations:

  • Provide health care credits for parents who participate in child abuse and neglect workshops.
  • Provide training for health professionals on screening for abuse and neglect.
  • Develop specific and comprehensive policies regarding mandatory reporting.

Changes in businesses and work sites:

  • Offer workshops on stress relief and anger management to employees.
  • Offer training on parenting skills, including prenatal and infant care.
  • Provide flexible work schedule to accommodate parents' schedules.

Changes in government and social services:

  • Provide tax incentives to parents who participate in child abuse prevention activities, such as classes on parenting skills
  • Develop comprehensive laws regarding perpetrators of child abuse and neglect
  • Increase protection for all victims of domestic violence through specific policies and access to shelters.

Changes in community organizations:

  • Provide a community board that lists job openings, daycare, and important community dates and events.
  • Provide help in obtaining public or legal assistance for families in need.
  • Increase the number of agencies and organizations that conduct parenting classes.

Changes in religious organizations:

  • Create a network among ministers to discuss strategies for preventing abuse and neglect.
  • Provide counseling and follow-up with people who feel at risk for abusing a loved one.
  • Distribute inserts for church bulletins on the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

Pat yourself on the back for getting all your planning done, take a deep breath, and go do what you've said you are going to!

Online Resources

Concerns Report Handbook: Planning for Community Health

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

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

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

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

Promoting Child Well-Being: 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

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

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

Work Group Evaluation Handbook

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

Organizations:

Kansas Association of Nonprofit Organizations
P.O. Box 780227
400 North Woodlawn, Suite 212
Wichita, KS 67278-0227
(316) 685-3790
Fax (316) 686-1133

Center for Creative Leadership
P.O. Box 26300
Greensboro, N.C. 27438-6300
(919) 288-3999

Print Resources

Barry, B. (1984). Strategic planning workbook for nonprofit organizations. St. Paul, MN: Amherst H. Wilder Foundation.

Berkowitz, W.  (1982). Community impact: creating grassroots change in hard times. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing.

Bryson, J.  (1991). Getting started on strategic planning: what it's all about and how it can strengthen public and nonprofit organizations. Audiotape. Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Fawcett, S., Paine, A., Francisco, V., Richter, K., Lewis, R., Harris, K., Williams, E., & Fischer, J. L., in collaboration with Vincent, M. L. & Johnson, C. G. (1992). Preventing adolescent pregnancy: an action planning guide for community-based initiatives. Lawrence, KS: Work Group on Health Promotion and Community Development, University of Kansas.

Fawcett, S., Claassen, L., Thurman, T., Whitney, H., & Cheng, H. (1996). Preventing child abuse and neglect: an action planning guide for building a caring community. Lawrence, KS: Work Group on Health Promotion and Community Development, University of Kansas.

Lord, R. (1989). The nonprofit problem solver. New York, NY: Praeger.

Olenick, A., & Olenick, P. (1991). A nonprofit organization manual. New York, NY: The Foundation Center.

Unterman, I., & Davis, R. (1984). Strategic management of not-for-profit organizations. New York, NY: CBS Educational and Professional Publishing.

Wolf, T. (1990). Managing a nonprofit organization. New York, NY: Prentice Hall.