Americans for the Arts: YouthArtsArts Programs for Youth at Risk: The Handbook
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Program Planning

The Planning Model

A planning model is a graphic tool that clearly identifies and charts the relationships, or "causal links," among targeted community conditions (needs), and program activities, expected outcomes, and expected impacts (goals). It shows what problem you intend to address, how you plan to do so, and what you hope to achieve.

Planning models lay the foundation needed to evaluate program implementation and program outcomes, a critical component of outcomes-based programming. Planning models identify and describe the program activities and expected outcomes that you will need to measure to evaluate your program. They allow you to begin thinking about and developing the methods (such as surveys or interviews) that you will need to use to determine if your model is being implemented properly and whether it is achieving its desired outcomes. The sooner you begin assessing your program, particularly its implementation, the sooner you can identify effective approaches and areas for improvement. (The use of a planning model to conduct both process and outcome evaluations is discussed in the Evaluation section.)

Using a planning model

By identifying desired outcomes at the outset of the planning process, you can focus your activities on achieving your ultimate goals, maximizing both the efficacy and the efficiency of your program. It also helps you to define the roles of everyone involved in your program—administrators, artists, probation officers, educators, and youth.

The four basic categories of a planning model are: conditions, activities, outcomes, and impacts. See page 20 of the full chapter (in PDF format) for complete definitions of each.

In This Section
The planning model
Risk and protective factors
Forming a collaboration
Defining program goals
Selecting youth
Determining program activities
Running your program

How to use this site
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Five steps for developing a planning model

To achieve any programming goals, it helps to have a logical, outcomes-based program plan. There are five basic steps in developing a planning model:

  1. Identify the conditions, or needs, that you intend to address and then write a problem statement about them.

  2. State what you hope to change, in the long run, about those conditions. These anticipated long-term changes will be the expected impacts of your program.

  3. Describe how you intend to achieve these long-term changes and describe the program activities that you intend to implement. (Keep in mind that there are usually multiple solutions to every problem, and that your selection of a specific program approach should be based on research, experience, and/or sound theory.)

  4. Specify what short-term changes, or immediate and intermediate outcomes, will occur as a result of your program activities and how they will ultimately lead to the long-term impacts that you have identified.

  5. Review the results of the first four steps and ask yourself these questions:
    • Do your plans make sense?
    • Do your planned program activities address the needs and conditions that you have identified?
    • Will these program activities lead to the immediate and intermediate outcomes and long-term impacts you hope to achieve?
    • Are your goals realistic given the nature of the problems that you are addressing, the duration and intensity of the services you can provide, and other factors (such as problems at school or at home) that may affect the program participants?

Developing a "theory of change"

Once you have clearly defined each component in your planning model—the conditions, activities, outcomes, and impacts—and reviewed each of them carefully, you should be able to explain how each component in your model will lead to the next. These linkages (researchers call them "theories of change") reveal how change is expected to occur as a result of a program.

Thinking about program outcomes

All arts programs designed specifically for youth at risk of developing problem behaviors share the general goal of helping participants develop new skills that will lead to positive behaviors. Understanding how this goal can be reached through arts programming is critical for all arts program administrators and staff.

One of the important lessons we've learned is that all successful youth arts programs do three things:

  • provide positive adult role models
  • give youth opportunity for achievement and, ultimately, recognition for this achievement
  • enable youth to interact with people who have healthy beliefs and consistent standards for behavior.
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