2.13 How do we create an action plan and budget?

The Short Answer

1.  An action plan describes who will do what when and how. Action plans are developed after your strategy is developed. For each element of the strategy, identify tasks down the left column and across the top:  who is responsible (primary and secondary), begin and end dates, and a column for status reporting

2.  A budget describes what will be funded and how. Most budgeting processes involve four basic steps:

  • Develop a list of what you want to do: In Results-Based Accountability this means what works to turn the curves
  • Prioritize the list:  This means using criteria, like specificity, leverage, values and reach.
  • Attach a price tag to each item.
  • Take the money you have and buy as far down the list as you can.

Full Answer

(1) If you can, read the full answer to Question 2.12 first.

(2) Let’s take action plan first. The basic notion of an action plan is who does what when and how. This is the most ancient part of planning. Even hunters from the distant past had action plans, although they were usually only a few pages, with bad spelling and  grammar. (Urg chase mammoth. Then Brk throw spear.)

Budget Formats

So if you can agree on a strategy and set of actions and can space those actions out over several years, you have the ingredients for  an action plan. There are lots of different ways to structure an action plan. It can be as simple as a list of things to do, or as complicated as the Normandy invasion.

A Possible Action Plan Outline

(3) Think of an action plan as a chart with tasks running down the left column. Across the top are the following columns: description of task; who is responsible (it is often a good idea to show primary and secondary responsibility or lead and support responsibility), when the task starts and when it should be finished. Most forms of this kind leave a column or two at the far right for status reporting.

The left most column (tasks)  usually shows the major strategic elements of the plan with the steps or tasks listed below each. These major elements and implementation tasks are sometimes called GOALS AND OBJECTIVES. (See theLanguage of Accountability).
Click here to see an example of an action plan in this format.

(4) How to create a budget is a trick question. Because the creation of budgets are integrally part of the process of deciding what to do. There is a necessary back and forth process between what we want to do, how much it will cost and whether we have the money to do it. Here is the usual (and oversimplified) way this happens. (All budgeting can be boiled down to these four steps.)
(1) Develop a list of what you want to do, what works to turn the curves, using the thinking process described above (or some other method – throwing darts – popularity contest etc.)
(2) Prioritize the list. This can be done in a number of different ways. One way  is to use selected criteria to judge each item.
(3) Attach a price tag to each item.
(4) Take the money you have and buy as far down the list as you can.
Now the interesting part of budgeting comes in the different ways these steps can be done and the order in which they are done.

Step 1: The traditional way of answering step one is to skip all the steps in results-based budgeting up to the what works question. Ask everybody what they think works and what they want to do. This process has been used for a long time. But the problem is that everyone has a different idea of why they are doing it. In the absence of results and indicators, people will answer the what works question in any way they want (self interest, favorite program, dream they had last night) without regard to whether it might in fact turn the curves. We sometimes call this initiative based budgeting. “We’re going to have a children’s initiative this year. What should be in it? And you’re off and running. The results based thinking process described in this and other papers is a disciplined alternative to initiative based budgeting.

Step 2: There are any number of ways to prioritize a list. There are group process voting procedures that work well. One way to help guide this kind of process is to agree in advance on the criteria to be used to judge each possible item on the list. One set of criteria is offered above: specificity (Is the item actionable?); leverage (How much effect will it have on turning the curve?); values (Is it consistent with personal and community values); and reach (Is it feasible and affordable?)

Step 3: Figuring out how much something costs is not an easy thing to do. It is possible to use rough estimates to give people a sense of this in step 2. But sooner or later you must be serious about good estimates of cost. There are two parts to how much something costs: the total cost and your cost. These are not the same thing. If friends are pitching in to help you pay the rent this month, then the total cost is what you pay the landlord. And your cost is the total less your friends contributions. The image works for financing children and family services. You want as much money from your friends as possible. This means money from public and private sources. From public sources it means it means federal, state and local dollars. For federal funds it means money from capped funding sources (like the Social Services Block Grant or Drug Free Schools grants), and it means entitlement funding (where your money is matched by federal money (like Medicaid and federal foster care and adoption – Titles IVE and XIX of the Social Security Act). For more information about funding see question 2.14 How do we finance a results-based plan? or go to the FPSI website and read “The Cosmology of Financing,”  See also “Financing Reform, Reforming Finance” at resultsaccountability.com/papers you can read on line.

Step 4: The limiting part of this step is “the money you have.” Budgeting and finance is not just about the money you have but the money you could get. And it is about finding no-cost and low-cost means, not just costly ones. One way of going beyond this is to take each element of the plan and think about how that item could be funded. Use the money you have as a last resort, to match other money or serve as an incentive. Think of the ways in which your partners can help you both with cash and non-cash resource. The point is to think broadly and systematically about all the possibilities. (see question2.14)

Marc2.13 How do we create an action plan and budget?