Friday, 13 November 2015 17:13

How can you design an excellent program?

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Someone who is designing their first program for a nonprofit recently asked me a great question, “How do I design an excellent program?”. I love that they started with the premise of excellence first. We all want to make a difference, but challengeing yourself to do so with excellence, is a powerful motivator to get things right from the start. All nonprofit leaders should be thinking about excellence, both in establishing new programs and reviewing existing ones. Here is what I shared with them, my top four  absolute “must-do’s.” for excellence and impact.

Must do #1:  Set a very clear set of goals.

Ask yourself first: Who are you serving (your clients) and what do they want and or need need? Ask your clients directly if possible.

Then consider what are the outcomes you are trying to achieve? (Reduce incidence of a disease, reduce obesity, reduce infant mortality etc.)

Must do #2: Identify the full range of options for achieving those goals. If your goal is to reduce infant mortality you should first identify all the broad categories of options: improve prenatal care, doctor education, patient education, nutrition, hygiene, etc, then options within them. For example, within improve prenatal care: increase number of doctor visits, increase prenatal nutrition, educate about risk factors (alcohol, smoking) etc. Note that even though you’re talking about health education (which means you have already narrowed in on a particular type of intervention, it is still worth thinking more broadly to make sure you will actually reach your goal.

Must do #3: Understand which options are most likely to be effective. Consult with experts in the field to understand which options are likely to work for you. Look for meta-analyses, which aggregate the latest research and insights, and reach out directly to academics and practitioners to ask for their wisdom to make sure you are pursuing the options that actually have evidence behind them. This means you can save a lot of time, by learning from the mistakes of others, and putting your resources into the most effective strategies.

Must do #4 Track progress so you can adapt your approach. Whatever approach you decide to take, track what's happening to your outcome, even if you are not the only group influencing it, you need to know if it is moving in the right direction. If not, make changes.

Of course the best way to have impact, is to get moving. You may make mistakes, but as long as you are tracking impact, and adapting as you go, you will ultimately change lives. 

Last modified on Friday, 13 November 2015 18:38
Liana Downey

Liana Downey is an experienced management consultant, who has consistently delivered results for clients on critical topics around the world. Liana is an expert advisor to the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Prior to establishing Liana Downey & Associates, she led McKinsey & Company's Australian government and social-sector practices, and holds an MBA (Public Management) from Stanford University.