Choosing a Project
Remember, it is vital that your team members take a central part in planning the project and take responsibility for its success or failure regardless of whether or not the goal is ever accomplished.
- Have your group think of all possible projects that address their problem. The group will have already come across a number of different projects in their research, but it is always good to brainstorm more ideas.
- Look at what other PA groups or organizations have done, what other organizations are doing? We have come up with the following categories for projects:
- This should help the group narrow their options. Does your group want to inform, influence, create, or serve? Narrow the options by analyzing which project best addresses the team’s selected problem and can be done in the given time frame. Challenge your team to think about the desired outcomes of the project and whether it will make a lasting and positive impact on the larger community. Does the project achieve their desired outcomes or are there other ideas of how to better create change? Is the project workable and winnable within the allotted time frame? Finding a realistic focus is critical in creating a public work project that allows young people to successfully take public action.
- Select project based on criteria. We have found the way in which projects are defined is absolutely crucial to the success of public problem-solving. The following questions are criteria to assess the “publicness” of your team’s work. They should help your team members better understand the public nature of their project and to defend their interest in pursuing the particular project:
- In what ways does the project address the specified problem? In what ways will it address the root causes of the problem? Does it address any laws or policies regarding the problem?
- Will the project make a positive lasting impact on the community? Will the project build, create, or make tangible things (including products, institutions, traditions, ways of life, and/or events)? Will these things be:
- Sustainable (i.e. it lasts beyond the life of your team)
- Visible (i.e. the broader community knows about it)
- Accessible (i.e. the general public can take part or use it)
- Memorable (i.e. it becomes part of the collective memory of the community?)
- Does the project identify and include diverse stakeholders in its work?
- Is the project realistic (workable and winnable)? Can you carry your work through to a successful conclusion in the time you have?
While few projects will fulfill all of these criteria completely, they can be the basis of comparison between projects. Remember the guiding framework is to make a positive difference in a given time-frame. A good exercise is to have each student or groups of students work through the criteria for different projects, then they can come and present them to the class/group. The group then needs to make a decision on which project they want to do.
In addition, make sure that your team comes back to these questions as it progresses in its work. Use the criteria to evaluate whether the students are growing in their understanding of the skills and concepts, and to ensure that the work is staying true to its intended outcomes.
After the group has determined its project, it is a good idea to re-map. That is, go back and interview the important stakeholders to see how they can help with resources, information, partnership, or direct assistance. Making these connections help your team’s work to be more political while also creating new relationships with those who may have interests in or power over the problem at hand.
Developing a Mission Statement
Once your group has decided on a project, a mission statement will help them clarify their purposes and goals. This public display of your team’s goals will help hold the team accountable and serve as a gauge to measure the group’s progress. This is your battle cry and rallying point, so make it poignant.
The mission statement should clearly state what your team intends to do. Think of this also as a public relations tool and an opportunity to recruit additional people. Explain your group’s investment in the issue and use this opportunity to show where the issue is present and how it fits into a larger public concern. Remember to include concrete plans of what your team will do to change the current situation.
To form a mission statement, work with your team to:
- State clearly what general issue interests you.
- State clearly what problem you want to solve.
- State clearly why you are interested in the problem. Why do you care?
- State clearly where the problem happens and how it fits into a larger public concern.
- State clearly what you want to accomplish in your project. How will that help solve the problem?
- State clearly how you plan to solve the problem. What are you going to do?
Many teams use this template to develop their mission statements:
We, the ______________________________ Public Achievement Team at _______________
(school, organization, etc), believe that ___________________________ is a serious problem in this community, contributing to _________________________, ________________, and _________________________.
We propose to _________________________________________________________.
We believe that this will help solve the problem by _____________________________________.
In order to implement this solution we intend to ______________________________________ .
Creating an Action Plan
The next step is to develop an action plan and time line. An action plan lays out your strategies for doing your project on a step by step basis. This will become the basis for work for the group’s project. It is a good idea to have teams write their action plans and time-lines on flip chart and put it on the wall for every meeting so they can check off accomplishments and be mindful of what needs to be done.
When creating a plan for action, these seven things should be kept in mind:
- Your team’s overarching goals and mission statement;
- How much time you have to work together;
- The information, resources, and power you need to meet these goals;
- The potential barriers to meeting your goals; Possible alternative courses of action;
- The intermediate goals and the order in which you will go about your work;
- How you will make your work public;
- And how you will evaluate the public impact of your project.
Your team should also use their power map to identify which stakeholders the team needs to talk to or work with in order to accomplish their goals. Your team should identify the primary stakeholders that have influence on your project. Ask the following questions: Who can we influence? Who will be an ally? Who might be a problem, barrier, or gate-keeper to our work? What information, power, or resources do you need to do to convince gate-keepers to let you move forward?
The next step is to determine all the things that your team may need to do in their project. Which things are more important than others? Which intermediate steps must be done first before moving onto other steps? What strategies are appropriate to each step? Try to make a logical progression of each thing you need to do. Your team might come up with a series of preliminary goals that they need to accomplish in order to arrive at their final goal. A good exercise is to have team members brainstorm all possible steps, then work individually and in groups to come up with a logical order.
Remember, to keep the team focused and realistic, take into account how much time the team has to work together. It is extremely important to make a time-line or calendar with your action plan which sets deadlines for each step. This will give you a visual representation of what you have to do and how much time you have. PA teams have a limited number of weeks together, you need to be sure you can accomplish your goals in the allotted time-frame. Most groups over-estimate how fast they can accomplish their tasks. Be realistic about your goals and how much time you have. Make sure to review the action plan and time-line at each meeting. Some teams put the action plan on the wall each time they meet to remind the team of what needs to be done as well as to gauge their progress towards their goal. The action plan can help ensure accountability throughout your project as it places specific tasks that need to be done in the public arena of your team meetings.
It will be a challenge for the group to put their strategies and action plan into manageable weekly tasks. Teachers and coaches may want to give more assistance on this one. Make sure that your team members take ownership of the work while giving them the needed support to complete the tasks at hand.
Some tips for putting your action plan into weekly tasks:
- Assist your team to break down bigger goals into smaller and simpler steps.
- Prioritize which steps need to be completed first, second, etc.
- Prioritize which steps are essential and which are not.
- Discuss with the group what the best strategies for achieving each step are.
- Divide up the work so that all people are contributing every week.
- Make sure that everyone knows exactly what they are responsible for. It is always a good idea to write assignments so students will know what to do.
Use your mission statement, map, and action plan as constant references to ensure the group stays on-task.
Be aware that your action plan may need to be changed as new developments or problems arise. The important thing is to be flexible while keeping your “eyes on the prize.”
Lessons and Activities
- Creating an Action Plan
- Competing Responsibilities
- Petition Planning
- Project Stories
- Project Vision
- Spread the Word