Building Capacity...

—> Through Program Development

The genesis of any new program is a need unserved or underserved. This we all know. But it behooves us not only to identify and establish such needs but also to assess why they exist to begin with, for the answer will help shape the new program which the need inspires.

For instance, we might learn that the need heretofore had simply gone unrecognized by the community or by the nonprofit and government sectors. Or we might learn that while it was recognized, it was not well or fully addressed. If the latter proves to be true, we are well advised to probe what lies behind the unmet need, lest we incorporate into our new program many of the same flaws, erroneous assumptions, etc, as the existing systems and programs in place.

Enter program development. Think of it as applying a sort of preemptive assessment and outcomes discipline specifically to a program itself. The exercise of program development calls on us to ask certain questions before implementing a new program of our own. Whether administered by the community, other nonprofit organizations, or by government, do the programs currently in place serve us well? Do they accomplish the end for which they were designed or do they lead to unintended consequences? Are they based on faulty assumptions and do they need to be fine-tuned or even replaced altogether?

The discipline of program development calls on an organization to educate itself on the history of the practice, on the strategies that have been employed historically, and on the impact they have had on the sector which a new program purports today to serve. It involves measuring baselines, examining conditions prior to and following the implementation of a program, and then to determine its immediate and long-term impact both on its intended constituency and on the systems within which it operates or exerts influence.

If existing programs are found ultimately to be ineffective on some level, then we had best learn the reasons for this. Were they not flexible enough to foresee (or adapt to) changing conditions? Was their premise itself flawed? Were the programs misapplied or deployed to areas where they weren't needed? Or did they simply lack adequate funding and infrastructure support to be fully implemented? Or are current programs actually very effective?

The lessons we learn from these questions will inform new programs and in so doing give them a much greater chance for success. It will also help to ensure that an organization is not reinventing the wheel and that instead it is building on (rather than duplicating) the successful traditions already established in the field.

We at the Center can help with custom tools designed to ferret out this information and we have expertise and experience in developing new programs and jump-starting old ones.