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 a strategy, identify tasks down the left column. Across the top, identify who is responsible for completing the task, and beginning and ending dates. Add a column for status reporting on the right. You can do this on a piece of paper, excel spreadsheet, or in a Gantt Chart.

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

  1. Develop a list of what you want to do: In Results-Based Accountability, this means selecting “what works to turn the curve?”
  2. Prioritize the list:  This means using criteria (like specificity, leverage, values, and reach) to list strategies in terms of importance.
  3. Attach a price tag to each item.
  4. Take the money you have and buy as far down the list as you can.

Full Answer

Action Plan:

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. 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.

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.

Think of an action plan as a chart with tasks running down the left column. Across the top are the following columns:

  1. Description of task
  2. Who is responsible (it is often a good idea to show primary and secondary responsibility or lead and support responsibility)
  3. When the task starts and when it should be finished
  4. Most forms of this kind leave a column or two at the far right for status reporting.

The leftmost 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 or objectives.

One way to manage your action plan is through the use of a Gantt Chart. Projectmanager.com has a great description of Gantt Charts: “Simply put, a Gantt chart is a visual view of tasks scheduled over time. Gantt charts are used for planning projects of all sizes and they are a useful way of showing what work is scheduled to be done on a specific day. They also help you view the start and end dates of a project in one simple view.” There are many desktop and online software programs that make it easy to create an interactive, visually appealing Gantt Chart to help you stay on track. Some, like the Clear Impact Scorecard, allow you to assign actions to individuals using email, set email reminders, track completion of tasks, and easily edit timelines.

Here’s an example of a Gantt Chart created using the Clear Impact Scorecard software. Notice how the “user” is adjusting project start and due dates right in the Gantt Chart.

Gantt Chart

Budget:

How to create a budget is a trick question. This is because the creation of budgets is 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).
  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 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 what they’re doing. In the absence of results (statements describing what they want to achieve) and indicators (measures that help gauge whether results are being achieved), people will answer this question in any way they want (self-interest, favorite program, a dream they had last night, etc.) without regard to whether it might, in fact, turn the curves. We sometimes call this “initiative-based budgeting”. In other words, people might say, “We’re going to have a children’s initiative this year. What should be in it?” And then they’re off and running. The Results-Based Accountability process is a disciplined alternative to initiative-based budgeting.

Step 2: There are many 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?) You can rate each of your action items “low”, “medium”, and “high” and prioritize them according to average rating.

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: 1) the total cost and 2) 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. In contrast, your cost is the total minus your friends’ contributions. This also 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 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).

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 solutions, 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 resources. The point is to think broadly and systematically about all the possibilities. (see question 2.14)

For more information about funding see chapter 2.14  in the RBA Guide: How do we finance a results-based plan?.