Planning and evaluation
Planning and evaluation is an essential practice for any organisation to ensure they are improving and meeting their objectives.
In this section we look at strategic planning, measuring organisational performance, program evaluation and developing policy.
You may already be doing some form of planning and evaluation every day. Formalising the process will help you to improve what you do and make the process more useful and worthwhile. Strategic planning, monitoring, evaluation and policies are all critical factors which demonstrate that your organisation has a real commitment to continuous improvement, quality, effectiveness and efficiency, and can implement change positively and appropriately.
The Queensland branch of the Australian Evaluation Society holds regular meetings, free talks and workshops across the state on evaluation.
Strategic planning is a process that provides your organisation with medium to long-term direction. The process involves stepping back from your day-to-day operations to identify opportunities, analyse challenges, then establish what your priorities should be in order to achieve organisational health and growth.
Strategic planning is one way to develop greater accountability and sense of purpose within your organisation. This is achieved by gaining a commitment from the board to drive the process, and then involving other stakeholders, such as staff and volunteers, to provide their input. Strategic planning can be challenging and time consuming, but it is rewarding and often critical to the sustainability and health of your organisation.
There is no right or wrong way to implement strategic planning, so begin the process by determining what resources and time you need and establish the tools and approaches you are going to use. You might decide to hold a series of weekly meetings with a strategy team, or alternatively a strategic planning day or weekend with an independent facilitator to guide you through the process.
One of the common planning approaches used by many organisations is the SWOT analysis. This exercise helps you to identify the internal and external factors that are favourable and unfavourable to achieving your organisation’s mission:
- Strengths – the attributes and factors helping you achieve your mission
- Weaknesses – the factors that are weaknesses, barriers or constraints for your organisation
- Opportunities – the factors that could strengthen the organisation or help you achieve your mission
- Threats – the factors that could be obstructive or threaten your organisational health and growth
The aim of conducting a SWOT analysis is to help your planning team make better strategic choices and decisions about the organisation’s operational and financial direction for the next two to five years.
One of the outcomes of the planning process should be a document that clearly communicates the planning decisions you have made. This is known as the strategic plan.
Critical success factors
Like many other not-for-profits, your organisation is probably in a constant state of change. There are a wide range of internal and external factors that influence your organisation’s budget, workforce, services and priorities. A strategically governed organisation is one which understands and manages these factors to enable the organisation to stay healthy and effective well into the future.
A critical success factor during the planning process is for your organisation to be visionary and creative as you respond to the current or future changes in your sector and community. You need to strategically position your organisation and determine the goals and strategies that are going to help management make good choices and decisions during times of change.
It is also critical that you determine the values underpinning how your organisation operates and makes decisions. They must be the explicit values that will help your governing board, staff and volunteers make purposeful and difficult choices when applying for funding, managing the workforce and providing services. If each person lives these values day to day, they will become part of your organisational culture and help you achieve your strategic goals.
Features of good planning
The key elements of good strategic planning include:
- participation from members of the organisation;
- an approach which sets future direction for your organisation;
- a focus on establishing a vision and clear goals/aims and objectives;
- clearly defined values which drive the organisation’s work and services;
- access to a wide range of information, both qualitative and quantitative;
- consideration of legal requirements and contractual agreements; and
- formulation of a written plan which allows for regularly monitoring and evaluating progress.
The strategic plan
There is no set blueprint for how to structure a strategic plan, but it is good practice to include the following elements:
- A clear statement of your organisation’s vision, mission, and the specific changes or outcomes it wants to deliver in the next few years
- An analysis of organisational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT)
- Your organisation’s priorities and key strategic goals – four to six goals is ideal
- The strategies that will help your organisation make these happen
- An outline of how your organisation will track the progress of the strategic plan, including a workplan, milestones and indicators of success
Developing your organisation’s priorities and key strategic goals is often the most difficult and time-consuming element of the planning process. These goals (sometimes known as ‘aims’) should be written in a way that provides direction for the organisation and a platform to begin the performance measurement process. Goals and activities are not much use unless you know how well those goals are being met, and whether your strategies are having the desired impact.
Strategic goals are priorities which provide you with direction and purpose.
When developing your strategic plan, remember to stay focused on the critical matters. Strategic plans are about big picture issues that guide your organisation’s work. If you find yourself getting caught up in trivial details, you may find people become frustrated or bored, and the plan is unlikely to be finalised.
Once your plan is written, it should never be cast in stone. It is quite acceptable, and often important, to adjust it if necessary, according to changing conditions and needs. By making the plan a living document you can continually use it to help with ongoing planning processes.
Depending on the size of your organisation, strategic planning can be anything from a fairly simple process to a complex project. However long it takes, ensure that the final document is easy to read and understand. Keep in mind the audience reading your strategic plan and develop a format that will make sense to them. If the plan is too large and complicated, it will not be read or implemented, and the process will not have been useful or worthwhile. Your plan does not necessarily have to be all written down in one document. You might decide to have a collection of short summary documents or create a range of formats for different audiences.
If you have spent time and resources on developing a strategic plan that you are proud of, make sure that you have a communication strategy in place so that people read the plan, are inspired and motivated by it. Do not let it gather dust. Use the plan throughout the year to guide your workforce and strengthen your organisation.
In this section we provide a range of resources to help you to develop business continuity plans that are useful and relevant, and to ensure your organisation is as responsive as possible to staff, clients and the community in times of disaster. Go to our Business continuity page by following the link.
Evaluation is a thorough analysis of all the information collected and can assist an organisation in assessing how effectively the program or service is meeting its goals. Go to our evaluation page by following the link.