What is an Action Plan?
Snappy Page Essence
An action plan is a simple document that you write as a guide that helps ensure your activities and projects are successful.
An action plan will help you ensure that your activities will be successful. An action plan guides the day-to-day activities of your project. It is a document that sets out reasons and practical steps to help you achieve your ultimate objective. It helps ensure that things happen when and how you intend them to happen. All action plans are different, varying from one group to another depending on personalities, interests, skills and experience. An action plan relating to a commercial business is often called a business or marketing plan.
You may not want an action plan if you intend just a single quick once-only action. But if you have a long-term project it is useful, even essential, to think ahead about what you intend to do. You need to know matters like:
Why an Action Plan?
- What is the actual and specific purpose of your campaign?
- How exactly are you going to accomplish your campaign?
- Who is going to carry out particular responsibilities and for how long?
- What are your opponents' weaknesses and how can you attack them?
- What are your weaknesses and how can you overcome them?
- When and where are actions going to take place?
- What is your timetable for fulfilling actions?
- How will you know that your actions are successful?
- What resources do you have for accomplishing your purpose?
- How can you get more of the resources you lack?
You could carry all your intentions and actions around in your head, but writing it down concisely on paper helps you think more clearly about them because you must share, explore, clarify and communicate your intentions to colleagues. Through your action plan they will know what to expect and what is expected of them. Writing down your action plan helps keep you on target. With an action plan you are less likely to lose sight of your objective and how you are to reach it. Without a secure record of what you intend to do you might allow your aim to change imperceptibly from one week to the next so that you lose direction, waste your resources and accomplish little of what you set out to do. Should anything go wrong with your campaign you have a concrete document to review and correct so that you can improve your performance. Finally, when concluding your campaign you have an indelible account to look back on to check how well you performed and suggest how you might improve next time.
Who Should Produce the Action Plan?
If you are a one-man-action-group then of course you do everything by yourself. But if you are the organiser or founder of a group then through your action plan you may wish to clarify the basics of your purpose, such as your ultimate objective and method of reaching it. Once you get a team running, everyone should have a chance to assemble and voice their input to your action plan. Usually people can contribute different skills and complementary experiences so that you are more likely to make a better job of the plan. A brainstorming session can elaborate on the plan and establish what is and what is not feasible. One responsible person should write down the action plan so that it is homogeneous and completed.
Before You Begin
Your action plan should not be too long-term because seeing too far into the future is difficult. Depending on what you are doing it could steer a course for the next three, six or twelve months.
So that you do not get bogged down in detail the action plan should be concise, basically a summary, with no excessive or irrelevant detail. If you need to include more information put it in an appendix.
Your action plan should be well thought out and executed but you do not have to spend an overly long time writing it; one or two hours might be enough for a team to contribute their input and for you to make a first draft on paper.
Operations & Administrations
You may find it useful to distinguish two kinds of aims; we might call them operation aims and administration aims. The former relates to your campaign actions and the latter to running your group to make it more effective. They complement and somewhat overlap each other.
Operation aims for example could be:
- Organise a super-massive picket once every two months.
- Decrease the number of customers entering a target shop by fifty percent for one year.
- Get a news item about our campaign published once a month in the local newspaper.
And administration aims could be:
- Increase the group's membership by twenty percent this year.
- Raise X amount of money to pay for running costs.
- Establish a second group in a neighbouring town.
You may need to consider your administration aims in order to further your operation aims; however, do not dwell entirely on the former at the expense of the latter or your group may become strong yet ineffective. Again, depending on what you are doing, you could write a separate action plan for your operation aim and your administration aim.
Creating Your Action Plan
Every action plan is different and it is up to you to decide what to include and exclude. But consider the following points for inclusion in your particular plan.
You Should Be Smart
- Your Objective
Write down your ultimate objective – your final goal. For example, stop people selling fur in your town, or motivate people to engage in practical animal rights.
- Your Message
Write down the clear and simple message of your ultimate objective. People forget complicated messages right away, so keep it simple. Remember KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid! For example, 'Animals need their skin as much as you need yours!' Or 'Do more exercise – do animal rights!' Find a positive angle for your message; instead of 'Meat-eating is unhealthy and harmful!' try 'Veganism is healthy and wholesome!'
- Your Body Targets
Write down the organisations and people you must influence to reach your goal. Deal with the right people the right way; approaching the wrong people is a waste. For example, people of influence could be (re fur shops) shopkeepers and people passing by in the street or they could be (re supplying motivation for animal rights) people sympathetic to animal rights who might be active supporters if given impetus.
- Your Strategy
Write down how you will achieve your ultimate objective. If your objective is to help stop the fur trade your strategy could be to close down fur-selling shops in your town. Or if your objective is to popularise and get people to do animal rights you could hold an annual animal rights fair in your town.
- Your Tactics
Write down the steps you must take to reach your ultimate objective. For example, each one of these can be broken down into a number of small steps: use undercover video for exposés, picket each fur seller until they stop selling fur, hold public meetings to publicise and debate animal rights issues.
- Your Time
Write down realistically how much time you / your group have for your project and when you will do it. For example, six hours per week: about an hour per week for organising plus the rest for picketing.
- Your Message Distribution
Write down the optimum times when you will give your message to people. For example, hand out your leaflets when most shoppers are about - lunch times – or whenever you are out demonstrating.
- Your Management
Write down a list of key tasks (like action-plan planner, leaflet producer, site reconnoiterer, event co-ordinator), who will do them and when tasks will be completed. For example, who will finalise the action plan, monitor its progress and review it in three months time.
- Your Resources
Write down what resources you need, such as people, space, equipment and funds, for example, half a dozen members for picketing; material for leaflets, banners and placards; storage space; computer and phone.
- Your Preparedness
Things seldom go perfectly as planned and a good project has a back-up strategy. Imagine and write down a couple of potential disasters and their solutions. For example, if picketing a shop selling furs has no noticeable affect, then you might consider driving up the shop's insurance premium so that the shop cannot pay it and goes out of business. Or, if the police prevent demonstrating at site x then demonstrate at site y or z.
In smart acting business circles they say you should always make sure your goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-based. Our goals when doing animal rights should also be smart:
- Be precise about the ultimate goal you aim to achieve. 'End the fur trade' or 'stop factory farming' is vague. 'Close down this fur shop' or 'stop this restaurant offering foie gras' are precise.
- Know when you have reached your goal. To do this your goal has to be something that clearly stops (eg the place you picket closes down or stops selling the stuff) or be something that you can count (eg ten new members recruited).
- Your objectives should not be over ambitious but within your reach. Ending factory farming is unattainable for your group; exposing to the press the cruelty of a particular chicken farm could be attainable.
- Identify an effective campaign strategy given your group's members, money and other resources. Being realistic makes your campaigning easier to carry out and makes success more likely.
- This is the time available to achieve your goal. Is your goal on-going, without a clear end? This is not so good if you want to feel you have achieved a goal and be seen achieving it. You may have to impose a deadline by which time you have accomplished something solid.
So be SMART, or better, BE SMART by adding:
- You must believe you can achieve your goal - and make others believe it too.
- Willing to modify your actions or goal as necessary.
An example of being smart could be stopping shops in your town selling foie gras (or veal, or frogs' legs, or eggs from caged hens, etc). So what do you do to be smart?
- Be specific
- "Our aim is to stop the shops and restaurants in our town selling foie gras." Not "our aim is to stop all shops in the nation selling foie gras" (maybe you have the resources to do that but you might start low down then build on your successes).
- Make things measurable
- "We shall count how many places sell foie gras before we begin our campaign, then for comparison count how many places stop selling it." Not "I think some places stopped selling foie gras and some didn't."
- Let it be achievable
- "We know we can accomplish our goal because we have the motivation, time and resources we need and can mobilise the manpower." Not "I suppose we can do it so let's have a bash."
- Keep it realistic
- "We can do it within our resources because we have queried similar groups elsewhere that have done it." Not "ditto" (as above).
- Set a time scale
- "We should be able to accomplish at least half our target within ten months." Not "We shall keep going until we drop or they do."
Follow the above process and you will have more confidence believing in yourself and greater capacity for flexibility to changing circumstances. In practical animal rights you should always BE SMART!
You Should Also SWOT
SWOTing helps you identify your objective and goals and solve problems that may turn up. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats are factors that affect everyone and every group. Strengths and Weaknesses are elements within your personality or group that you might change whereas Opportunities and Threats are components outside your control. List your Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities and Threats in a few words, such as:
- High motivation, persistence, flexible working hours, several potential co-workers to form a group.
- Only locally mobile, no media contacts, little money, incomplete knowledge of relevant law.
- Several shops selling fur in town, local supermarkets selling eggs from caged chickens, an animal laboratory nearby.
- The law if we cross the legal line.
Think how you can counter or take advantage of these factors. For instance:
- We shall apply our strengths and look for opponents with weaknesses we can exploit.
- We shall decide how we can overcome our weaknesses, perhaps by looking further afield for opportunities. We shall get to know how the news media and how the law work. We shall budget and / or seek funding for our campaign.
- We shall look for opportunities that match your strengths and figure out which objectives are the most practicable and achievable to tackle.
- We shall avoid or neutralise threats. We shall stay within the law or if necessary challenge it by actions that are legally borderline.
Do a SWOT on your opponents from their point of view. Where are they strong and where are they most weak and vulnerable? This may help you attack them.
Make It Happen
Working hard on your action plan will do no good if you do not execute it. When your action plan is complete - do it!
Does your action plan work in practice? From time to time, say after a number of activities or after an appropriate period, dispassionately criticise and analyse it. Get everyone together and ask their opinions about what is going wrong, what is going right and how to do better. Some questions to put are:
- Are we achieving the results we want and if not why not?
- How far have we moved toward our ultimate objective?
- What things can we do better?
- What additional things might we do?
- What lessons can we learn?
- Build on experience and rewrite your action plan accordingly.
A Simple Action Plan
To make a start with your action plan, write applicable headings like these down the side of a sheet of paper:
- Goal / Target
- Anticipated Benefits
- Time Scale / Completion Date
- Resources Needed
- Member Responsible for the Activity
- You need only a few headings. Other headings according to your needs could be Rational, Expected Outcome, Measure of Performance, Progress Update. Keep your action plan clear and brief. Do not end up with reams of paper!
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