When does your program need what

Starting a program from the gorund up can be intimidating, exciting and overwhelming. Finding the right planning and prioritization tools that are best for you and your team is key.

Whether creating a brand new program, expanding the impact of an existing program or making a previous program your own is a process that can be both exciting and intimidating. Sometimes it seems like there is place to get started, while other times options, ideas and opportunities are coming from every direction. Often times we end up taking a “throw it at the wall and see what sticks” approach just to get the program up and running. Although this may be a temporary fix, this approach will not lead to long-term growth, sustainability and impact in a program model says Michigan State University Extension. Having an overall plan and methods of prioritization in place will help reach these critical program goals.

Reviewing other prioritization models, even from other fields, is a great starting point for guiding the planning process. Consider, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which is discussed in Needs to succeed. It is used as a way to consider youth needs, but can also be applied to a program model. The underlying concept is transferable where the basic needs of the program must be met before focusing energy on other, higher level needs. In Maslow’s hierarchy, basic survival needs came first, then needs for safety, social needs, self-esteem and finally self-actualization. Although your program might not have comparable categories, you can use the thought behind each of these categories to build your own program hierarchy of needs.

First, consider what you have already made a commit to doing. This might be an existing program, remnants of an old program or pieces that were already started before in-depth planning. If these efforts are still important, consider making these the base of your hierarchy—what you need to have figured out and running first. After that, create steps that might lead to a primary goal, possibly reaching a certain quality or quantity of program impact. For example, once existing programming is functioning, get other existing programs engaged in following a given curriculum, then establish new sites for programs and get those sites networking with the original sites. In this case, starting new program sites is impractical if the existing sites haven’t worked out the operational challenges.

Once the basic impact goals are being met, the program can move up the hierarchy towards greater program success. These might include connecting to other programs across your region, bringing in higher quality curriculum options or even getting recognition for a quality initiative. These can be prioritized based on your program model as well. If your program depends on grant funding, recognition might be the next most important thing. If young people in the program have limited opportunities to travel, connecting with others could be more important.

An example of this way of conceptualizing was created and applied to the 4-H Tech Wizards, a group mentoring program with MSU Extension. The tool helps program staff make major decisions and look at how to spend time on a day-to-day basis. The challenge comes when there are opportunities that meet a need higher on the hierarchy than where the program is functioning. In these situations, there may be ways to meet current needs by reframing the opportunity, like planning a field trip that is really a recruitment tool. Ultimately, opportunities might need to be put on hold until there is time to dedicate. Planning and prioritization tools like creating a program hierarchy of needs make those tough calls much easier.

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