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Learn what a proposal for change means; why, by whom, and when such a proposal might be developed; and how to go about creating one.


  • What do we mean by developing a proposal for change?

  • Why develop a proposal for change?

  • Who should develop a proposal for change?

  • When should you develop a proposal for change?

  • How do you develop a proposal for change?

As the economy got worse, Pratt City was feeling the pinch. There were shuttered storefronts on Main Street, and factories were laying off workers. More and more homeless people were visible, sleeping in the park and under the bridge. With winter coming, the plight of the homeless was looming larger and larger in the consciousness of members of the Pratt City Community Coalition. Most local officials and politicians were ignoring the situation. A few were threatening to give the homeless one-way bus tickets to Sun Belt cities. No one really knew what to do about the issue, and many preferred not to think about it.

The Coalition wasn't sure what to do, either, but its members didn't propose sitting on their hands while people froze to death under the bridge, or were packed onto buses for Phoenix. They knew that an advocacy effort for the homeless had a better chance of success if they had specific solutions to recommend, so they decided to develop a plan to confront homelessness in Pratt City.

The Coalition formed a core planning committee made up of representatives of agencies that worked with the homeless population. The committee then added to itself, by recruiting other concerned community members (including a woman who had run a homeless shelter in another city), some key local officials, and people who were themselves homeless. After studying the situation from a number of different angles - some members of the committee looked at the research, some inventoried local resources, others talked to officials and organizations in similar towns who had dealt with the problem, still others interviewed members of the homeless population - the committee came up with a multi-pronged approach to addressing both the current issue and the long-term causes of homelessness in Pratt City, and presented it to the public through the media and a presentation at a Town Council meeting.

With the help of the officials on the committee, the proposal received wide support from both the community and town government. As a result, no one froze to death that winter, and Pratt City was on its way to the plan's goal of "No one forgotten and alone, no one without a safe and adequate place to live."

This Chapter is about encouraging citizens to participate in advocacy, and about providing education - for both advocates and the targets of advocacy - about the issues at hand. One way to do both is to involve the community in creating a proposal for changing a troublesome situation or addressing the root causes of an issue of concern. In this section, we'll discuss just what that means; why, by whom, and when such a proposal might be developed; and how to go about it. Later in the section, we'll return to Pratt City, and show just how the committee developed its homeless proposal.

What do we mean by developing a proposal for change?

When you're advocating for change - whether that means addressing an issue with a community intervention, establishing a new policy, stopping something negative from happening, or changing the way the community thinks and acts - it's not enough to point out what's wrong or could be improved: you have an obligation, when it's possible, to present better alternatives. That's what a proposal for change is: your suggestions (or demands) for change, and for how that change can be brought about.

Your proposal might be in the form of a long-term plan, an intervention, a policy change - whatever is necessary to bring about the result you're concerned with. In an advocacy context, it almost always makes sense to have something specific to advocate for, rather than just to demand action from policy makers or the community.

By developing your proposal before anyone else does, you can set the boundaries of the discussion on the issue or problem - its definition, its context, and its range of reasonable resolutions. Moreover, a proposal for change is more likely to be successful if it comes from people who actually know the field and the issue - including members of the target population - than from policy makers who don't have as much familiarity with them, and who may be more interested in the political than in the practical and human implications of their solution.

Developing such a proposal spans a range of possibilities. You may believe you already know what needs to be proposed, and simply have to set it down in a logical and usable form. You may have the information to determine how to effect the needed change, but may still have to analyze it to decide what actually needs to be done. Or you may have to start from scratch, because neither you nor anyone else fully understands the situation.

Depending upon the needs of the situation, some of the most common forms a proposal for change might take include:

  • A plan for an intervention, or a series of interventions. This is the kind of proposal described in the introduction to this section, where a community issue needs a resolution. Rather than simply advocating for policy makers to find an answer - or letting the issue reach crisis proportions - a community group can devise and advocate for its own solution. This may take the form of a single intervention, or several simultaneous interventions, to deal with a specific problem or situation. Or it may encompass a series of interventions over time, in an effort to affect the root causes of the issue.
  • Legislation. The change you're seeking may take the form of new or revised laws. Sometimes legislation is not the specific goal, but can help bring about the change you're looking for, and should therefore be part of your proposal.

If you're seeking legislative action, one of the best ways to make sure that a bill or legislative policy statement says what you want it to is to draft it yourself. This course of action has more than one advantage to it:

  • Legislators and aides are often grateful if you offer to take on the chore of drafting legislation about your issue. It gives them something to start with, and relieves them of the necessity of constantly referring back to you with questions. It also saves them a considerable amount of work. While some legislators, as you might expect, prefer that they or their staffs actually draft any legislation they're planning to sponsor, you can still make suggestions about specific language, issues that should be covered, or actions a bill might mandate. The legislator may or may not accept your recommendations, but she certainly won't accept them if they're not offered.
  • If you draft legislation, you can include in it everything reasonable to create the desired change. You're much more apt to get most of what you want if you start with something that represents the ideal. Then, you can compromise by dropping the least crucial parts of your proposal. If you start with a legislator's draft, there may be little room for negotiation without dropping essential elements of the legislation.
  • Legislation you draft is more likely to be effective than legislation drafted by a legislator or aide who knows far less about both the field and the issue than you do.

Don't assume that a legislator will simply adopt what you've drafted. She has to consider the opinions of her colleagues and constituents, her position with the leadership, the amount of money available, etc. There will be negotiations, not always based on fact or knowledge on the legislator's part. If you understand her position, you can negotiate more effectively. While you and others in the community may have been dealing with this issue for years, legislators have too much information to digest to be familiar with all but a very few areas. They depend on the opinions of colleagues, aides, and others for the rest. Unless he's chosen to focus on it, the chances that any legislator will know more than the person next to you in the elevator about a particular issue are small.

  • A proposal for expanding or refocusing existing services. The mechanism for change may already exist in the form of community health or human services, but those services may lack resources to meet the need, or may be bypassing potential participants. Your proposal may be for increased funding, a change in policy, or some other means of building capacity so that the community resources that already exist can be used to bring about the desired change.
  • A long-range strategic plan that addresses both the symptoms and the causes of a problem. If you see the issue as one that can't be easily resolved with a single intervention or policy change, it might be time to develop a long-range strategic plan. Such a plan would include vision and mission statements, to define your end result and the focus of your effort to achieve it; the objectives you hope to reach, and when you hope to reach them; the strategies you'll use to get there; and an action plan to carry out those strategies.

Why develop a proposal for change?

Developing a proposal for change may be a difficult and time-consuming process. Nonetheless, there are numerous good reasons for undertaking it, including:

You're more credible and in a stronger position if you can offer solutions to a problem, rather than merely pointing out what's wrong. Identifying problems is much easier than solving them. If you're willing and able to come up with solutions, you - and your solutions - are more likely to be taken seriously.

You almost undoubtedly know more about the issue, the field, and the community than policy makers do. The chances are that you've had experience working with the issue, are in contact with others who've done the same, are aware of research in the field, and have some idea of what's worked elsewhere. Most policy makers are either politicians or generic "experts" who have academic or public service credentials, but little practical experience at the street level (or "water" or "ground" level, in the case of environmental issues). When it comes to specific health and community issues, they are likely to have only the most general knowledge to bring to the situation.

You can draw on local people and resources that policy makers wouldn't think to consult or use. You're familiar with members of the target population and the community at large who know the history of the community, understand the relationships, how the issue in question has played out over time, what has been attempted before, and what happened as a result, all of which can be crucial in devising a plan that will work. In addition, you know the community resources - the effective organizations, the key opinion leaders, the institutions, the funding sources - that can make change possible.

You establish your group as the authority on the issue. Once you're in that position, policy makers and the public will see you as the people to consult when the issue comes up, and will take your recommendations seriously. It puts you in a much stronger position as an advocate.

You have an investment in the community that policy makers don't have. No matter whether you live in the community or just work there, the success of your proposal will mean far more to you and to people you care about than it will to policy makers. They'll never take the time and effort you will, nor the care to ensure the proposal's effectiveness and its fit with the issue and the community.

If you develop the proposal yourself, you can include everything you believe is necessary to meet the needs of the community. The best way to make sure that a proposal contains all the important elements is to create it yourself. You may have to compromise on some of them to make the proposal "saleable", but you'll still be closer to an ideal than you would be likely to get otherwise.

Presenting your own proposal helps to educate the public to appropriate avenues for change, and to enlist them as advocates. If your proposal is easily understood and logical, and you can explain clearly why it will work, people will support it. Once the public is behind a reasonable plan, policy makers usually follow.

If the proposal is generated locally, especially if it's developed through a participatory process, it gives the community ownership of it. That means they'll support it and work to make it successful.

Your proposal defines the issue and frames the debate about it. As mentioned earlier, by issuing a proposal that views the issue or policy in a particular way, you can set the limits of discussion about it. This assures that the issue or policy is approached from an appropriate angle, and that important elements leading to change aren't lost in the shuffle.

Who should participate in developing a proposal for change?

Although who should actually work on a proposal for change depends to some extent on the situation, the Community Tool Box generally favors a participatory process, because it leads to better decisions and to community ownership and support of the final plan. This means assembling a team that includes representatives from all relevant sectors of the community.


These include any groups or specific individuals directly affected by or involved in carrying out the substance of the proposal. Some of those might be:

  • A target population.
  • Health and human service agencies and their staffs.
  • Agencies and officials expected to take part in carrying out the plan - police, schools, hospitals or clinics, environmental organizations, etc.

Community activists.

People who've worked for change on this and/or other issues, and have demonstrated their commitment to the community.

Local officials.

They may be the policy makers themselves, or they may have some say over funding or other aspects of any eventual intervention. Whatever the situation, they have influence and it makes sense to include them.

Community members and groups who'll be indirectly affected.

These might include parents, seniors, landowners, environmentalists, or even the whole community.

Experts and researchers in the field.

These folks can be tremendously helpful in fleshing out the details of a proposal, and they can also add to the credibility of the final result.

Policy makers.

If you include policy makers on your planning team, your proposal is much more likely to be accepted. In addition, they'll end up with knowledge of the local situation and the issue that they didn't have before, which can improve future policy-making for your community and others.

When should you develop a proposal for change?

The material below assumes that a proposal for change - i.e., having some idea of what needs to be done - is always necessary before entering on an action, and that's usually true. Keep in mind, however, that sometimes action needs to be taken for its own sake, and a plan for change may develop out of that action. If it's suddenly announced that a wilderness area will be turned into an industrial site or that a historic building is about to torn down, it may be necessary to protest first and develop proposals later.

In general, you should work on a proposal for change whenever change is necessary. It's almost always best to have your own plan to advocate for, rather than waiting for someone else to come up with a solution to your problem or a way out of your circumstances. There are, however, times when it's particularly important to be able to suggest a course of action.

At the beginning of an advocacy campaign. It's always better to advocate for something specific, rather than against something, or for a generic "change." You'll look better and more credible, and you'll be advocating for something you believe will work.

At the start of a legislative campaign. If you have proposed legislation to present to legislators, you've done a lot of their work already. In general, legislators are appreciative when you take the time to draft language for bills or regulations.

If you're working with one or more legislators on legislation, you should be sure to confer with him or them before anything - verbal or printed - goes out to other legislators or to the public. It's a matter of courtesy and protocol - legislators can be annoyed if they feel they're being used or taken advantage of - and practical as well. Before you draft or say anything, and before anything is presented to anyone other than him, discuss it with the legislator, so there will be no surprises in either direction. He'll know what you have in mind and what you've said, and you'll know if there's anything he finds unacceptable.

Another type of legislative effort may be centered on the budget process. In that situation, rather than a piece of legislation, your proposal will take the form of a proposed budget for your issue, backed up with as many hard numbers as you can find. You should be able to inform legislators about the number of people or situations that need to be affected by change, what it will cost for each, what other expenses are necessary to make the system work, etc. The budget numbers you give them must be legitimized by what the money will buy (and that information should be both accurate and reasonable), or legislators won't pay attention.

When there's an obvious problem, but no obvious solution. It makes far more sense to find the best solution yourself, before someone else - perhaps someone without your knowledge and experience, and without any commitment to participatory planning - comes up with something that isn't right for the situation or the community.

When policy makers or funders have indicated that they're about to address an issue or a particular area. Because they're not close enough to the issue, policy makers and funders may come up with ideas that aren't appropriate in your community or your field. Sometimes their plans hinder, rather than help, those actually doing the work. If they have your proposal to start from - a proposal that considers all possible factors, identifies possible unintended consequences, and makes clear what the community needs are - the process is more likely to produce a workable plan for change.

When potentially bad solutions are being proposed. Whether the proposal is by another group or by policy makers or funders themselves, if it's probably going to cause more problems than it solves, it's time to take action. Simply protesting that a proposal is bad isn't enough: you have to have a clear (and better) alternative to advocate for.

During, or leading up to, an election. As has often been mentioned in the Community Tool Box, politicians are most attentive when an election is at stake. It's one of the best times to present your ideas, and to suggest issues they might take on in the next session. If your concern is a hot-button issue, you may even find your proposal, or parts of it, being touted as part of the politician's vision.

When the public, or a segment of the public, wants a problem solved or an issue attended to. The weight of public opinion, whether local or state- or nationwide, can often spur policy makers to action. It creates the situation of #4 above, and yields both the opportunity and the necessity for devising and presenting a plan for change.

How do you develop a proposal for change?

Once you've decided to develop and present a plan for change, how do you go about it? The material that follows outlines a process you can follow that should stand you in good stead.

Assemble a team to develop your proposal. As explained above, the Community Tool Box suggests a participatory approach, which means that your team should include stakeholder groups, activists, experts, officials and other policy makers, etc.

If you include folks from all these groups, be aware that some of them may not have had experience in doing this kind of thing before, or even of participating in meetings. It's extremely important to provide some training and ongoing support for anyone in this category - members of a target population, youth, etc.

Some ways to provide this training and support include pairing experienced and inexperienced members of the group, providing training at the beginning of the process, and spending extra time with the people in question, explaining and encouraging, as the process goes on. It is also important to actively solicit their participation in meetings; make sure that they're provided with and understand any information that others in the group are likely to have, so that the group doesn't split into "professional" and "nonprofessional" factions; and to encourage and facilitate the building of personal connections among all members of the group.

The Pratt City Community Coalition started by setting up a core committee to come up with a proposal. The six initial members, mostly from organizations that dealt with homelessness and the homeless - the food bank, the survival center, the town's one small shelter (housed in a church), an HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment program - recruited homeless people, town officials, a mental health worker, and others to bring the total committee membership to 14. Each committee member was assigned a partner, so that those with less experience would be supported, but not singled out.

Do your research, as necessary. Make sure you've examined all the necessary aspects of the issue. (You probably won't need to address all, or even most, of the research areas below: you may know most of what you need to know already, or many areas simply may not be appropriate to your proposal or situation.)

Important potential areas to research include:

  • The history and politics of the community, and the history and politics of the issue in the community.
  • All the current policy and law that pertains to the issue. That includes both formal and informal policy, the state of funding, who in government or the private sector is responsible for oversight, etc.
  • The roles played by various groups, corporations, agencies, etc. in the current situation.
  • Best practices, and what's worked elsewhere.
  • Any relevant research results and theory about the issue.
  • The opinions and experiences of others in the field.
  • The opinions of the community.

The Pratt City committee assigned research tasks that were appropriate to the issue and to the skills of those who carried them out. The two homeless people on the committee and an HIV/AIDS program staffer interviewed other homeless folks about their needs and situations. A university professor and a program director with a doctorate reviewed recent academic research, while agency staff members and one of the public officials talked to people and organizations in other towns around the state to determine what they were doing, and whether it was working. Another public official contacted legislators to find out whether the state had any planned legislation that concerned the homeless issue.

The minister and others on the committee tried to take the pulse of the community on the issue. Had there been a problem in Pratt City with homelessness at other times? What happened then? Did people see that homelessness was currently a problem? What did they think should be done about it? Were they frightened of homeless people? Sympathetic? Were they willing to do something themselves?

Others looked at services and resources in the community that were already available. What other resources were needed to expand these services, and how much more could they do without more resources?

The committee set a short deadline for research to be finished. By the time that deadline arrived, they had a picture of the issue and some ideas about what needed to be done.

Using your research, analyze the issue. Once you have all the information your research has produced, you have to use it to determine what to propose. Analyzing your research means figuring out what it tells you about the issue you're concerned with, and what the implications are for your proposal for change.

Some questions you might ask in the course of your analysis:

  • Is the issue at hand the real issue, or is it just a symptom of something larger?
  • If it is a symptom, can you address it without dealing with the larger issue also, or instead? Do you have, or can you find, the resources to do that? Is it an issue so large that it makes no sense to tackle it directly?

Many familiar social ills - hunger, homelessness, some forms of crime - are symptoms, for instance, of poverty. Eliminating poverty is beyond the reach of most community advocates, but addressing some of its symptoms may not be. And addressing those symptoms may, in fact, eliminate poverty for some individuals. The larger issue may have to wait for another "Great Society" program.

The root cause of an issue may not be larger than the issue itself, but may be so important that the issue cannot be resolved without attending to it. The root cause of unemployment among single parents may be a lack of safe and affordable child care, for instance. Job training and other employment-related services may do nothing to address the issue unless child care is also provided.

  • Are there community resources already in place to deal with this issue, and can they be included as part of your proposal? Do you in fact need a new plan or policy, or do you just need increased funding to better use the resources that already exist?
  • What's the least you can do to deal with the issue effectively (i.e., either resolve it permanently, or create a system to keep it under control, if that's the best possible solution)? In general, the less complex the solution and the necessary action, the better, for several reasons: It will cost less to fund; it will be less intrusive, and inconvenience fewer people; it will contain fewer elements that could go wrong; and if something does go wrong, it's generally easier to fix.
  • What will the community support? Do you need community support for your plan to succeed? Community support is always desirable, but it may not always be necessary.

Looking at their information, the committee found several striking things. First, many of the homeless people weren't individuals, but families. Second, many were working at low-wage jobs, and simply couldn't afford housing. A significant number of the homeless were chronically mentally ill, and had no place to go when the state mental hospital was closed. Perhaps the most significant finding about the homeless population was their lack of connection to others in the community - no extended families, no friends, no faith community, no safety net of relationships to fall back on when they had no place to go. This last was a feature of the academic research as well.

Pratt City's citizens understood that there was a problem, and wanted to help. Faith communities and others offered space for shelters, and the YMCA thought it could run a meals program if someone could come up with food and some funding. Many citizens offered volunteer time in a number of capacities.

What seemed to work in other communities was a combination of immediate and long-term services. The immediate services saw to the need for food, shelter, and clothing; the long-term concerned affordable housing, support networks, and education so that people wouldn't find themselves homeless again.

Develop your proposal. Based on your research, your analysis, and the experience and expertise of your planning group, now it's time to come up with your actual proposal for change.

The first step is to decide on the best possible outcome. What would the community/country/world look like if this issue were resolved in the best possible way?

The best possible outcome is not necessarily the same as the ideal outcome. You may already know that it's not possible to fund the ideal outcome fully, or that the issue is so large that the ideal resolution would take generations or centuries. (Everyone agrees that world peace is an ideal, but it's not likely that we can make it happen any time soon.) You may be under time pressure, if the issue is one that puts lives at stake, such as a deadly epidemic, or a rash of domestic violence. The best possible outcome is the best you can hope to do, given the realities of the community, available resources, time limits, and the nature of the issue.

Start with your desired outcome, and generate ways to reach it. The work you've done so far should help you understand the nature of the core issue, and alert you to other issues that must be addressed as well if the core issue is to be resolved. Be as specific as possible about what each step entails, so that you can work out exactly what has to happen by when.

There are other ways to work out how to reach your goal: brainstorming, adapting a best practice, and adopting another community's or organization's solution just as it is are three, for instance. You may long ago have worked out what needs to happen, and simply have to tweak it a little to get rid of any potential problems and rough edges. If you're starting from scratch, working backwards is a particularly good method. Start with your goal, determine the step that will get you directly to it, then figure out the step that will get you to that next-to-last step, all the way back to where you are now. That process will help you identify sticking points, and point out if you'll need a multi-pronged approach to get where you're going. It's certainly not the only way, but it's one that often works well.

Examine the barriers and disadvantages, including possible unintended consequences, of the approach you've chosen. Look at these in terms of the target population, those implementing change, the community, and policy makers and funders. All are important in the ultimate success of your plan.

Line out the action steps you'll need to take in order to make your proposal work. Be as specific as possible about exactly what will need to be done at each stage.

Determine who will do what under this proposal. Who will fund it? Who will implement it, and carry out each of the action steps? Who will oversee it? Who will conduct evaluations and suggest adjustments?

Who will be accountable for the operation and outcomes of what's proposed, and to whom will they be accountable?

Create a reasonable timeline for the proposal. It should allow enough time so that it can actually work, and should include benchmarks (checkpoints along the path to the final goal) with their own timelines, and a projected endpoint, if that's appropriate, for the whole proposal.

Many kinds of change don't have an endpoint. If the issue is childcare for working parents, for example, you might consider the endpoint the point at which safe, affordable childcare is available to any parent who needs it. But even when that point is reached, childcare still must be provided indefinitely.

The Pratt City committee felt it now knew what was necessary: Homeless people had to be sheltered or otherwise protected through the coming cold winter, and they also had to be offered the opportunity for permanent housing, and connection to a support network.

To address the health and safety of the homeless population, the committee decided to both advocate for more shelters and propose the creation of a volunteer program to distribute hot food and blankets nightly, and to help those who couldn't or wouldn't take advantage of a shelter to build their own shelters, so that no one would freeze to death.

The need for permanent affordable housing encompassed both the creation of more affordable housing, and helping the homeless gain the financial, organizational, and personal skills to find and keep housing once it was available. To create housing, the committee proposed an advocacy effort to subsidize new affordable housing units, as well as the rehabilitation of abandoned buildings (acquired by the town by tax foreclosure) through the use of "sweat equity" - the labor of those who would eventually occupy the buildings. The committee also conceived an intervention in the form of a course all shelter residents could take that would help them with all aspects of finding and keeping affordable housing - financial management, job readiness and training, career planning, conflict resolution, etc. This part of the proposal included additional services for the homeless mentally ill, which provided them with mental health care, help and monitoring in taking medication, and other support.

The final part of the committee's proposal was a mentoring program, in which each homeless individual or family would be paired with a community volunteer who would be a friend and emergency support person, and would also help his partner construct his own network of friends, neighbors, agencies, and the like.

Various members of the committee agreed to take responsibility for the advocacy, or in some cases - the food, blanket, and shelter volunteer program, for instance - for the actual carrying out of aspects of the proposal. A friend of a businessman on the committee came up with a slogan - "No one forgotten and alone; no one without a safe and adequate place to live." - and a logo of a house with a family in it.

Create a plan for maintaining change.

As you might infer from the box above about the endpoints of change, every proposal for change should include a plan for maintaining that change over the long term. No matter how well thought out it is, no matter how good a job you do in advocating for its adoption, and no matter how successful your proposal is initially, it has to be nurtured indefinitely if it's to be really successful.

The committee decided that, regardless of what happened with its proposal, it would stay together, both to make sure that all the homeless in Pratt City made it through the winter safely, and to continue to advocate for change throughout the year, so that there would not need to be an emergency response to homelessness each fall. They agreed that they would keep advocating until all the elements of their proposal had been addressed.

Present and advocate for your proposal as early as possible.

The ideal situation is that your plan will be the baseline for whatever's actually adopted. As a result, you need to get people thinking about it as early in the effort as possible. That means presenting it to policy makers and the public, alerting the media, publishing it on a website, and using whatever other methods are necessary to get the information out.

Through members of the committee - specifically the minister, whose church membership included both the editor of the Pratt City News and the station manager at WPKV-TV, and one of the public officials, a member of the Town Council - the proposal was given media coverage immediately, and was the subject of a carefully-prepared presentation at a Town Council meeting (the businessman's friend - the owner of an ad agency - helped again). Committee members also used their own networks - local agencies and organizations, communities of faith, service clubs, etc. - to publicize their proposal, and to trumpet the need for a change in the way homelessness was addressed in Pratt City.

Plan to continue working for as long as it takes to get your proposal adopted.

In some cases, you may be able to present a proposal in the course of an advocacy campaign, bring the campaign to a successful conclusion in a relatively short time, and have the proposal adopted. In others, however, you may have to go back many times before anyone will listen. Successful advocacy, however, is about persistence. A campaign may have to be viewed as a series of initiatives over a period of years, rather than a month-long blitz. You have to be prepared to hang in there until the job is done.

The committee was prepared to keep working indefinitely until all aspects of the plan had in some way become reality. Most of its members also realized that, even then, their job would not be done. They might disband as a committee, but they knew they would have to keep watch to make sure that the services and programs that grew out of their proposal would continue to be available, and that homelessness was never again a serious issue for Pratt City.

In Summary

When you're advocating for change, it's almost always best to have a specific proposal to advocate for. The best way to come up with a proposal for change is to develop it yourself through a participatory process. By presenting your own proposal, you can forestall well-meaning but uninformed proposals from policy makers and others, or counter unfortunate proposals that have already been made. Your proposal can set the tone and boundaries of discussion over the issue, and make sure that necessary elements of change are included in whatever is finally adopted. It also establishes your group as one to be reckoned with - the experts on the issue - and thereby gives you greater leverage as an advocate.

If you can, use a participatory process - one that involves all stakeholders (particularly members of a target population, if that's relevant) and any other significant individuals or groups affected by or concerned with the issue at hand. Such a process will confer credibility and community ownership on your proposal, and make it more acceptable to everyone. It will also increase the chances that the proposal you create will actually work, because it draws on the knowledge and experience of a broad range of people.

The timing of a proposal can be important. If you're aiming at legislators or other officials, then the start of a legislative advocacy campaign, an election, or an annual budget process may be crucial times for developing and presenting proposals for change. Other times include those when the issue is in the public consciousness, either because it has reached a crisis, or because policy makers have turned their attention to it (often the same thing).

Actually developing a proposal that will be effective follows a logical process. Assemble your planning team, using participatory principles where possible; do your research; analyze the issue; design your actual proposal; create a plan for maintaining change once it's achieved; present and advocate for your proposal early and often; and expect to have to continue working to get it accepted over the long term, and to maintain it after that.

Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resource

How to Write a Change Proposal is a step-by-step guide to writing a proposal for change with examples at the bottom of the page.

Nine Steps to Writing a Proposal is an online worksheet that can be used to ensure all of the necessary elements and factors of a proposal are included.

Proposing a Policy Change provides an online PowerPoint that gives steps for developing a new policy and proposing it.

A Proposal to Change the Political Strategy is an article written by Romina Picolotti that provides a proposal to change the political strategy for climate negotiations in developing countries.

UNICEF Advocacy Proposal Example – This is a detailed advocacy proposal for protecting vulnerable children, women, and youth in the Pacific put together by UNICEF.

An audio slide presentation by Dr. Alisa Cooperon “Writing Proposal Arguments.” This is a lesson from a freshman composition course at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona (U.S.) geared toward a specific assignment, but contains some helpful information on conceptualizing and structuring a proposal for change.