This section will provide a basic outline of what you need to do before you start any work on the ground. Putting an initial framework or plan in place can help identify and deal with any issues you may come across, clarify your aims and objectives and will help when you are fundraising.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you begin to formulate the plan:
- What are the aims of the project? (what are you trying to achieve?)
- What are the objectives? (what do you need to do and when do you need to do it?)
- What are the outcomes? (what will be the results of this project be?)
- What are the outputs? (what practical things will you need to do to achieve objectives?)
- Who are the target group/ beneficiaries (who will the project benefit?)
- What are the inputs (what resources do you need to for the project, inc. the budget?)
- How will you know if you have achieved the outcomes? (what criteria/ performance indicators will you use to judge the project's success?)
- How will you collect this information? (what methods of data collection will you use to gather this information - surveys/questionnaires/visitor count etc.?)
- Will the use of the land involve any legal issues (ownership or permissions) - please see legal section for more information
- Where will the funding come from? - this is something we will address in far greater detail in the making it happen section but this link will take you to a page with a list of potential funders and their contact details.
This may all come together at the second meeting or it may take wider consultation but it is crucial for the project's future progression that you clarify as much as possible at this early stage. If you haven't already consulted with community more widely it's important to do so, you can find out more about it in the Consultations section.
It is always worth recording the initial plan and then, at each stage of progression, using it to ensure everything is moving forward as expected.
Identify your stakeholders
A 'stakeholder' is simply a person or organisation with a vested interest or concern in your project.
Your project will potentially have several different stakeholders with different interests and requirements. This will be dependent on the size and the scope of your project and could involve anyone from schools and youth clubs, right up to local government, contractors and beyond.
At the moment it will be sufficient to see what people or groups will be affected/involved in the project and log this information. You can then think about how you are going to engage with them. Will you need to contact the local authority? Who is the project affecting in the community? Will you need contractors?
If you can identify the stakeholders at this planning stage it will enable you to get an idea of the project timeline and clarify when and how you are going to engage with each respective group.
Confirm your goals
After the initial meeting and setting up of the group, you are hopefully feeling more confident about the whole process and have some specific aims and objectives that the project will be working towards. Please remember at this point we are just clarifying everything and planning how we are going to achieve this.
At each subsequent meeting it is worth reiterating these aims and objectives to ensure that everyone is still pulling in the same direction – it will also help you assess progress.
Identify resources and constraints
Before you begin the physical aspect of your project, it is important to identify the strengths and limitations within your group and the project in general.
Money: What costs will the project incur and where will the funds come from to cover them? How the money is going to be spent is crucial to securing funding and planning the framework and timeline of the project. Find out more in the Financial issues section.
People: Your group may have the skills and experience needed to deliver much of the project unaided. Other tasks though, may require professional assistance. It is important to know your limitations in terms of what you can deliver so that you can begin to look at what help you will need and who could provide it. Find out more in the Roles and responsibilities section.
Risks: There are several things that could hold up, or even completely stop, your project. You must give careful consideration to areas where this could apply. Lack of permissions and poor timing in particular can negatively impact the delivery of your project. No-one wants to dedicate months of time and effort to a project only for it to be quashed at the last moment because of missing documentation.
Legal: There are many legal issues to consider. You must have all the relevant permissions in place before any work can begin but it is also worth considering things like contracts and regulations. Whilst some of these legal matters will be straight-forward, others may require the help of a qualified legal professional. It is crucial to start this process as soon as possible to ensure your project does not have to be withdrawn because of lack of permissions, even though you have secured funding. Find out more in the Legal issues section.
Try not to be scared when thinking about professional help or legal issues. Given the size of most community projects these should be relatively simple things to deal with and there are plenty of organisations out there that will happily advise you.
Identify tasks and roles
Now that you know what you want to do, you must identify the tasks that need to be completed to do it. Knowing what tasks must happen and in what order will help toward budgeting and enable you to get some sort of timeline together for the project. Also important will be assigning tasks to members of the group. Everyone knowing and performing their role will help your group work efficiently and effectively.
To begin with your plans may be fairly loose but, as the process goes on, they will need to become more concrete. A detailed project timeline will show the tasks to be completed and crucially, what order they will happen in. This is a vital step in the planning of your project. It will also show if the project is viable in the required timeline – for example if you are planning to install new outdoor equipment in a school space can the work only happen during school holidays?
Planning these things now will convince anybody assessing the project, from stakeholders to potential funders that it has been correctly thought through and will ensure that at each stage of the project you know what should have been done and what needs to be done next. This will be a part of the initial project plan.
We have already shown you a few basic plan/timeline that you may want to adapt. For a more in-depth approach many projects use GANNT charts. How you choose to approach the plan/timeline will very much depend on the project's size, scope and the skill sets and experience contained within the group.
How will you keep your stakeholders informed on the progress of the project? For volunteers and local residents, social media updates and regular meetings will probably be enough. Local authorities and insurers on the other hand, will require something more formal and detailed. It is important though, that all are kept as up-to-date as possible so as to avoid delays and misunderstandings. If, for example, there is a delay in the delivery of materials, contractors will need to be informed.
At this stage it would be worth confirming lines of communication with everyone involved. As will be reiterated throughout this guide, for the project to be successful you need to maintain the enthusiasm of the stakeholders and wider community and regular lines of communication is the simplest and most effective way of doing this.
Go to the Communication guide.
Monitoring and Evaluating
Setting milestones is a good way of monitoring and evaluating the progress of your project. In bigger projects these are sometimes called 'stage boundaries'. In conjunction with the project timeline identify what must be done and then, at arranged monthly meetings ensure that these are completed before moving on to the next stage of the project.
Breaking the project into defined and measurable time-dependent tasks and milestones at the start will allow a structured overview and ensure that everyone within the group knows what they are doing and when it needs to be done by. The project can only move forward when the requirements for each stage boundary have been met.
Not only must you think about how you will deliver your project, you must also consider how it will be sustained in the future. Therefore plans should take into account long term social, environmental and economic sustainability. Each of these three areas are important in their own way but the overall aim should be to maintain the project for as long as is possible.
This will require the continued interest of the community but a particular focus should be on the future costs of maintaining your work. This is by far the biggest stumbling block for community groups with many well received projects becoming useless once the initial enthusiasm has died down. Long terms costs are considered in more detail here.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is to be flexible in your approach. No matter how well you plan, things that weren't accounted for are inevitably going to crop up. Whether it is the changeable British weather, late materials/contractors or a delay in funding, not everything is going to run as smoothly as you expected. Being able to adapt to changing circumstances, to shift plans around and utilise contingencies are the earmark of good project management.
A good, well-structured plan that incorporates contingencies for time and money will help you deal with any problems that occur so that they won't jeopardise the whole project.
At the end of this planning process a popular way of looking at the project is to judge it against S.M.A.R.T objectives:
From gathering information about need to describing what you will achieve, you should be specific about your project and always avoid generalisation.
You need to tell your potential funders and stakeholders how you are going to measure success.
Achievable and Realistic
Be honest with yourselves and the community about whether your plans are achievable and realistic.
Your project plan needs to define over what time frame you will achieve your plans.
A project plan enables you to plan activities over a relatively short period of time. Some larger organisations will use more than one type of plan, please see here for an explanation of different types of plan. For the purposes of a community project, the majority will only need to use the project plan format.
Now let's make sure you're ready to move forward with the Getting started checklist
How to project plan
A guide to project planning
The BBC's good project planning