So if you’ve read more than just a few of my blog entries you’ll know that there a certain theme to my writing.  So it won’t come as a surprise to regular readers that when it comes to programme design I’ve got some clear ideas about how it should be done, based on how I’ve done it and how I’ve seen it done in other organisations.

© Yuri_Arcurs / iStock

© Yuri_Arcurs / iStock

Getting programme design right is crucial.  It’s central to what we do, and getting it wrong has life-changing consequences for our beneficiaries.  So, drawing on my own experience and the examples I’ve seen on my travels, I’ve put together a few rules for programme design that you can use to design better interventions.

  1. Always ask your beneficiaries and stakeholders what they need
  2. Does your programme match with your organisation’s long term goal?
  3. Can you sell it to beneficiaries and to donors?
  4. Your operational team has to deliver this?
  5. Flexibility is crucial

Always ask your beneficiaries and stakeholders what they need: Its about the beneficiaries.  So rather than design a programme that you or another agency think the beneficiaries need, ask the people that you serve what they need and design your intervention with them in mind.  Test it with them first and often during the design process.

Does your programme match with your organisation’s long term goal?  Sounds obvious, but always check that your programme is actually moving your organisation closer to its stated long term objective, rather than being a vanity project or something that will distract from the organisational focus (you’d be surprised often this actually happens).

Can you sell it to beneficiaries and to donors?  Of course if your beneficiaries have been involved in the design of the programme, they are more likely to participate in the programme when it rolls out.  However, make sure your marketing and fundraising team can sell it, both to the community and beneficiaries, but also to other stakeholders and finally to donors.  And I don’t mean sell it to any donor who comes along – donor priorities have to match with your organisation’s priorities or else the donor is likely to pull you away from your long term objective.

Your operational team has to deliver this?  You might need some contract staff to help deliver the project, but it is better that your core operational team are able to deliver your programme within their current work loads.  This supports better institutional knowledge retention, better learning and better communication.  But sometimes a newbie is just the kick that the organisation needs, so don’t disregard them entirely.

Flexibility is crucial  So you’ve done all the planning and consultation and involved the beneficiaries, but the results are still not what you expected.  How easy will it be to make changes to the programme and change tack to improve the results.  Often this is restricted by donor requirements and organisational strategy documents.  Don’t be fooled by either.  Flexibility and the ability to respond to changes in your context is the difference between success and failure.

There are of course other things to keep in mind when designing programmes, but I’ve taken for granted that you will include good and regular M&E, value for money, etc.  You will won’t you?

What do you think of these five rules?  Could you stick to them? Have you got any key rules or guidelines that you use to design programmes?


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