1.3 What is action planning?

When two or three people, or a larger group, meet together to discuss a problem or an issue they have identified, it is because they have decided that something needs to change. Similarly, an individual working alone may decide they want to see something change and can think about how this change should be made. As soon as we begin to think about what needs to change, we think about how the change can be made and we also think about who can make the change happen. When we think about these things, whether we know it or not, we are making plans. As humans, we do this informally all the time. When something is of particular importance, then we can think about the actions we want to take in a more structured way. The process of developing actions is called action planning.

An action plan is a list of key tasks that need to be undertaken to achieve a particular goal or bring about a particular change. Action plans differ from to-do lists because they focus on a single goal. An action plan states what needs to be done, by when and by whom.

Action planning is the process used to develop an action plan. It includes identifying the issue or problem clearly, developing specific and measurable actions, involving others and clarifying responsibilities.

In all action planning, the most important point to consider at the start of the process is the objective. What is the change you are trying to make? An objective can be defined as the specific result, goal or change you want to achieve. It is important to develop objectives that are:

  • Specific: The objective should be well-defined and clearly understood by anyone with a basic knowledge of the work area.
  • Measurable: It must be possible to know with certainty, if and when the goal has been achieved.
  • Achievable: There must be agreement amongst all the stakeholders involved that the goal is within reach.
  • Realistic: There needs to be sufficient knowledge, skills, resources and time to achieve the objective.
  • Timely: There should be enough time to achieve the objective with the resources that are available and a clear end point.

These are known as SMART objective because in English the first letter of each bullet point spells the word 'SMART'.

Action plans can be developed for changes you want to see happen at any level from the immediate community to the international level. For example:

  • a.Many children in your community suffer illness as a result of poor sanitation and water-borne diseases. Many parents lack awareness or knowledge of how to prevent these illnesses. You introduce a plan to provide children with information and practical guidance on how to make water safer. You then support them to take these messages out to the local community and participate in clean-up activities within local villages.
  • b.At the East Africa Conference on Child Marriage, held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in June 2013, representatives from 20 organisations met to discuss the harmful effect of child marriage, which they described as ‘a neglected human rights violation’. Girls and young women affected by child marriage also attended the conference. The participants identified eight key actions that they believed would safeguard children’s rights and welfare, including enacting laws that establish a minimum age of 18 for marriage of both men and women, and enforcement of these laws. The participants recognise that their action plan is ambitious and that they cannot achieve the actions alone. Others, including governments, have the power to make some of these actions a reality.

We will return to the importance of involving others later in this study session, but for now you can note that the bigger the change you are aiming to bring about, the more people you will need to involve to make it happen.

1.2 Learning outcomes

Understanding action planning as part of a process