With the year 2017 quickly coming to a close, I know many people are busy making goals for 2018, albeit personally and/or professionally. Personally, my 2018 goals center on the usual eat healthy and stay physically active, but, professionally, my goals are to educate on public health…what it is, why it’s important, and how evidence-based research helps drives efforts to improve health outcomes. Do you have goals you want to achieve or projects you want to implement in 2018, but you are not sure how those will be achieved?
This is where an action plan is useful to help achieve health outcomes, but also other priority outcomes. For example, if eating healthy is a goal in 2018, or increasing access to healthy foods in your community, the journey to achieve those goals will be more achievable if plans are in place on how to eat healthy; e.g. foods, portion size, etc., or how to make healthy foods available and accessible, e.g. where to make available, what populations, who is going to provide the food, etc.An action plan is a useful tool to help identify goals, objectives and activities that will help achieve outcomes.
In the November 2017 issue of Public Health Beat, I talked about how engaging in a community health assessment is a valuable process to help understand the health of a community, region, state, but that is not where efforts end, rather that is just the beginning. The next step in the process, improvement or action planning, is really where ideas come to fruition and priorities identified in the assessment process can start to be addressed with the end in mind…what changes need to occur to achieve outcomes? Outcomes identified should focus on producing a healthy change. Developing an action plan is also an integral step in the evidence-based public health framework, focused on developing an action plan and implementing interventions. An Action Plan, as defined by Brown, Brown, and Bauman, is for a “defined program or policy with specific, time dependent outcomes.”
You may still be wondering what value an action plan can provide? An action plan provides credibility to an organization, highlighting dedication to achieving outcomes; helps understand what is and is not possible for an organization or group to do; increases accountability of those responsible for implementing the plan; and if implemented properly, can save money, time, and resources. If you are like me and your refrigerator or office is posted with reminders for appointments, tasks, etc., then having an action plan is a visual reminder and an organized plan that will help serve as a catalyst to achieve established outcomes.
Let’s dig a little deeper into action planning. An action plan is a written document, but more importantly a living document, that focuses on what needs to be accomplished in order to achieve outcomes, including what, who, how and when. Common elements of an action plan include establishing desired outcomes, goals, S.M.A.R.T. objectives, activities/strategies, persons responsible for implementing activities, resources needed to develop and implement the plan, a timeline of when activities will take place, and evaluation measures to track progress of the activities being implemented.
To truly find value in an action plan, there are some key points to remember. First, and one of the most important, is to convene a planning group of diverse members, e.g. community sectors, cultural groups, etc., to ensure collaboration and collective input on development and implementation of the plan. Diversity in members is important in action planning to ensure the plan is addressing the populations directly affected by the issue, including vulnerable and under-served populations, as well as fosters buy-in from the community to increase the likelihood of success. Second, establish S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timely) objectives that are short-term (1-2 years), intermediate (3-5 years) and long-term (5 years+) to demonstrate the path towards the achievement of the goal. Third, when feasible identify your activities based on evidence. Evidence includes science-based recommendations for activities that have shown to be successful in addressing a specific population and/or focus area, such as using interventions such as targeted marking strategies and healthy eating educational opportunities to increase the availability and accessibility of healthier foods and beverages in schools. Fourth, it is important to remember the action plan is a living document that is not meant to be placed on the shelf and forgotten about. As goals change or an organization grows, it is important to monitor and evaluate progress…Is the plan doing what it was meant to do?
To learn more about action planning, contact SLM Consulting and/or visit our website for more resources. As you reflect on 2017, and plan for 2018, remember it is a roadmap for a journey to see change.
- University of Kansas. (2013). Chapter 8. Developing a Strategic Plan. In The Community Toolbox, University of Kansas. Retrieved from http://ctb.ku.edu/en/tablecontents/chapter_1007.aspx
- Brownson, R., Brownson, C. & Baumann, C. (March 17-20, 2014). Evidence-Based Public Health: A Course in chronic disease prevention, Module 8: Developing an Action Plan & Building a Logic Model.
- Guide to Community Preventive Services. About The Community Guide. https://www.thecommunityguide.org/about/about-community-guide. Page last updated: October 19, 2017. Page accessed: December 20, 2017