Facilitating a Planning Workshop

What is covered in this guide

  1. What do you use planning workshops for
  2. Important things to know about facilitating planning
  3. How to facilitate a planning process
  • Meeting to prepare to plan
  • Planning workshop

This guide provides suggestions and advice on how to facilitate a planning process. It is based on the introductory guide to Planning that outlines a systematic approach to planning and eight basic planning steps.

This section is part of the planning guide which is broken into four sections. Section 1 is an introduction to planning. The approach used in these guidelines is based on the Logical Framework Approach explained in Planning Section 2. Section 3 provides more detailed guidelines on how to use each of the planning steps.

  1. What do you use planning workshops for

Planning workshops are a very important tool to use to make sure that your organisation is clear about what you should be doing to achieve your objectives. It helps to get all your members and other stakeholders on board and to develop concrete plans for your work. A good planning process will help you to clarify the following:

  • Your goal – the long term change you want to see [sometimes called vision]
  • Your purpose – the contribution your organisation commits itself to make to achieving that change [sometimes called mission]
  • Your specific objectives – the things you have to achieve [results] to make sure you reach your purpose [these objectives can be long-term and short-term]
  • Strategies to achieve your objectives – choosing the best approach to reach each objective
  • Implementation plans – the actual tasks [activities] you will have to do to make sure each objective is achieved, who will do them, by when and what resources will be needed.
  • Evaluation mechanisms – the ways you will measure what you have achieved or failed to achieve, and what the reasons are.
  1. Important things to know about facilitating planning

Make sure you are clear about the approach you will use and the steps you will follow

It is important for the person or group who will facilitate a planning process to agree on a common approach and the basic steps you will follow. The guide to Planning outlines a specific approach, the Logical Framework Approach. It also outlines eight basic planning steps. This approach can be used for any planning process – whether it is your overall organisational plan or just a plan for a specific event or campaign.

If what you are planning is fairly complex and will involve fairly large amounts of resources (particularly people, time and finances), your planning process will need to take longer and each step will need to be covered in more detail. If you are planning something more simple and clear, your planning process can be more limited in terms of the amount of time you allocate and the level of detail in which you cover each of the steps.

The basic planning steps suggested in the guide on Planning are:

Step 1:Prepare to plan
Step 2:Analyse the situation and needs
Step 3:Prioritise and select goal and purpose
Step 4:Develop clear, specific objectives
Step 5:Identify alternative strategies and select the most effective
Step 6:Plan implementation
Step 7:Plan for evaluation
Step 8:Draw up a summary and circulate it.

The guide on Planning provides advice on a useful approach to planning systematically and guidelines on how to complete each of these steps. These steps can be adapted to use for specific planning purposes.

Break the process into phases

It is useful to break the process into phases. You would need to break longer, more complex planning processes into more phases than shorter and more straightforward ones. There needs to be at least two phases to any planning process.

In Phase 1 you would need to prepare the planning process, this is Step 1 of our suggested basic planning steps. Preparation should always be done in advance to ensure that the planning runs smoothly, people have been empowered to participate effectively and have set aside the time that will be required.

Phase 2 would cover all the remaining planning steps in the most simple and straightforward planning processes. This could take between one to three days. If you are planning something more complex that will involve the use of a lot of resources, you may need to give more time to the process and cover each of the steps in more detail. In this case, you might need to break the process into more phases, depending on what you decide at the meeting to prepare for the planning process. For example:

  • If you do not have the information you need for the situation and needs analysis, you may need to have a phase in which you collect this information.
  • If you will need a lot of time to work through complex issues in the situation and needs analysis, choice of goal and purpose and the development of clear objectives, you may want to take a break at this point in the process before going on to Step 5. This will give people a chance to think through the issues before going on to decide strategies for achieving the objectives.
  • If you do not need everyone to be involved in planning implementation, you may want to give this task to specific people who can then report on their the activity plans they have drafted at a later stage.
  1. How to facilitate a basic planning process

This section provides brief guidelines on the two basic phases of a planning process. You can adapt it if you need to break the process into more phases:

Phase 1 : Preparing to plan
Phase 2 : Planning

First phase: Step 1 of the planning process - Preparing to plan

Organise a meeting to plan the workshop. Include key people who should be part of the decision about how and when to conduct the planning. It should also include people who need to do practical tasks to make the planning work smoothly. This should include administrators who must send out notices of the planning, contact people and take notes. The following are some issues this meeting could cover:

1. Purpose: What do we need to plan? In this discussion you need to make sure everyone is clear what your plan is for – whether it is a campaign, a public meeting, a training programme or a development strategy for the community.

  1. Time needed and steps you will follow: In this discussion you need to decide how much time you will need, whether and how you will break the process into different phases and what issues you will need to address in each step and in how much detail. It is important to agree on the approach to planning you will use and the steps you will follow in the process (the guide on Planning can help you think about this). Again, if what you must plan is simple and already fairly clear, you do not need to give too much time to the planning and may be able to cover some of the steps fairly quickly with a brief input and a short discussion. For example, if you are planning an event, like a public meeting, you may be able to move quickly through steps 1 to 5 above and spend the majority of the time on the implementation plan where you decide on your activity plans. But, if you are planning something complex that will need lots of resources, you need to give the process more time. The more systematically you plan, the more you reduce your chances of wasting resources. We sometimes think that the real work only starts when planning is finished. Planning IS work and it is important that leadership give it the time it requires if we are to succeed in our efforts. Some questions you could discuss are:
  • What kind of planning do we need to do?
  • What steps need to be covered in detail and what will we need to cover in each step?
  • How much time should we give to each step?
  • Should we break the planning process up into more phases?
  • How much time and other resources will we need for the whole planning process?
  1. Information: This discussion is to help you work out what information you will need before the planning process starts. The following questions can help you lead this discussion:
  • What information about the situation and needs of our target community will we need in order to plan effectively?
  • How important is it that we have accurate information on the situation and needs?
  • What of this information do we already have and what will we still need to get?
  1. Participants: This discussion is about who needs to be included in the planning. It is important to include all those who need to understand the plan and who must be committed to carrying it out effectively. The following questions can help you decide:
  • Who will be affected by our plan or who can affect whether it is successful or not? Who are our key stakeholders (don’t forget the staff of your own organisation)?
  • Who needs to understand the plan and who do we need to implement it effectively?
  • Who would make a useful input to the planning?
  • How important and/or influential is each main stakeholder group? Whose needs, interests and concerns should be prioritised in the planning process?
  • How useful or essential would their involvement be at each step in the planning process?
  • What kind of involvement will be adequate for each key stakeholder in each step of the process?
  1. Practical tasks to prepare for the planning process: In this discussion, you will decide what needs to be done, by whom and how in order to prepare for a smooth and effective planning process. The following issues are likely to need discussion:
  • Do we need a planning committee to coordinate the planning and deal with any problems? Who should be on it? What will their tasks be?
  • Who will get the information we still need before the planning process? From where, how and from whom can we get it? By when must we get the information we need?
  • What is our target date for completing the plan so that we can begin to implement it? Work backwards from this deadline for when you must have completed the plan to work out when all the other steps must be completed. You may need to revise the deadline for completing the plan if you realise that it is not realistic.
  • Who will facilitate each session?
  • Do we need people to prepare inputs to help ensure useful discussion? What inputs do we need? Who must do them and by when should they be prepared?
  • Who will be the scribe to keep and circulate a record of our discussions? How soon must the record be circulated? (Make sure this is someone reliable, otherwise you may lose a lot of the valuable discussion and decisions – the scribe is a key person.)
  • What must we do to get the commitment to the planning process we need from each key stakeholder? Who will do it?
  • How should each stakeholder be prepared, so that they can participate effectively? What information will they need beforehand? Who will circulate this information and all the information about the time, date, venue and programme of the planning sessions?
  • What other tasks need to be done, by whom and by when (organising venues, food, transport etc)?
  • What other resources will we need (flip charts, overhead projectors, kokis, pens and paper, presstick, admin support for contacting people and circulating records of discussions etc)?
  1. Now you are ready to draw up a plan for the planning process. This should indicate what must be done, by whom and by when. One person should have the responsibility for convening the planning committee and checking on progress.

Second phase: Planning - using steps 2 to 8 of the planning process

This section provides ideas on dealing with each of the basic planning steps from Step 2 to Step 8. It also provides an agenda (items a to g) and questions you can use to lead the discussions in each step. These basic planning steps are useful in any kind of planning, but you will need to deal with each step in more or less detail depending on what you are planning and how complex it is. The following workshop outline can be broken into further phases if you think that is necessary. The agenda outline is based on the basic planning steps and guidelines on using them in the guide on Planning.

  1. Introduction and outline of the programme

In this session you should make sure everyone introduces himself or herself if there are people who do not already know one another. Outline the programme. Tell participants what the purpose of the planning process is as agreed at the preparation meeting. Explain the programme based on the different planning steps you will follow as agreed at the planning meeting. Give people an outline of the timing you will need to stick to if you are going to be able to complete the process. Respond to any questions or suggestions. Finally get agreement from everyone on how you will work together to achieve the purpose within the timeframe.

  1. The situation and needs (Planning Step 2)

In this step, you need to help the participants to analyse the information that has been collected or developed on the basis of experience. The purpose is to develop a common and detailed understanding of the situation so that you can plan the most effective intervention to change it. This will ensure that what you do and how you do it will the most strategic approach to achieving your goals. The key role of the facilitator here is to push participants to:

  • Identify their individual assumptions about the situation you wish to change but also about the internal situation and capacity of your organisation;
  • Analyse the information you have for how reliable it is and what it tells you about the most effective action that should be taken;
  • Challenge and examine assumptions and develop a common agreement on what the issues are and how they should affect what you do and how you do it; and
  • Reach agreements that will lay a solid basis for the rest of your planning.

For example, if you are going to run a campaign, you need to understand the situation or problem you want to change and how it affects your target group so that you can target your campaign in the right way. You need to analyse how your target groups sees and understands the issues so that you can make sure your message and the way you run your campaign is relevant and appropriate to your target group. See the guide on Running a Campaign for ideas on how to analyse the situation and needs before planning a campaign.

You can use the following questions, or questions like them, to facilitate the analysis:

  • What are the major problems faced by our target community?
  • Which of these is the key or central problem or issue?
  • What are the causes and effects of this problem?
  • Can we realistically hope to make a significant contribution to addressing this problem?
  • How does this problem or issue affect our primary stakeholders? How do they see it? What are their concerns and interests in relation to the problem or issue?
  • What key stakeholders stand to gain or lose from our taking up this problem or issue? How can we increase our allies and decrease the impact of potential opponents?
  • What experience have we had so far that is relevant to this problem or issue and what can we learn from it?
  • What can our organisation realistically expect to achieve? What resources and capacity are available to us inside and outside our organisation? What does this mean for our planning?

This is often a rather messy discussion to facilitate. The following is a suggested approach:

  1. Someone presents information that has been collected (preferably with the target community) as planned in the preparation meeting about the situation.
  2. Give each person two or three small pieces of paper and ask them to write IN LARGE LETTERS what the problems or issues are. Ask people to write only key words. Also ask them not to state the problem as the absence of a solution (there is no crèche) but to describe the problem as it affects the target group (children of working parents are left with grandparents or neighbours).
  3. Stick all the papers up on the wall so that everyone can read them. If you have too many, and they are too detailed, group ones that are similar and agree on a general name for this group.
  4. Ask the participants to look at them and decide what the key issue or problem that you need to change is.
  5. When the key problem or issue you need to address is agreed, put it in a space in the middle.
  6. Ask everyone to look at the remaining problems and issues and decide which are causes of the key issue or problem you have identified and which are effects of it. This discussion allows you to help participants work out how the issues are linked. It also helps you start to see how you can target causes so that you can change the effects they have on your target community.
  7. Place all those problems that are identified as causes of the key problem or issue above it. Put them in order, in terms of what causes what. Place all those problems that are identified as effects below the problem. Put them in order in terms of what effect leads to what other effect. The following is an example of how the issues could be grouped on the wall:


  1. Ask participants to check the analysis in pairs or threes. Here people should look at whether they think the causes are adequate and accurate and whether the effects are adequate and accurate. Ask for proposals on any additions or changes and make the changes that are agreed. When you have agreed on the things that cause the key issue or problem and the effects this has and put them all in order, you have analysed the problem. The example above shows how you might analyse the problem of pensioners not getting their pension payments. It shows you what the causes of the problem are believed to be and what effects the problems has. This prepares you to work out what intervention will be the most effective. It also helps you work out what you can realistically hope to change and what you cannot. You will use this analysis to decide on your purpose and goal, your objectives and strategies for achieving them.
  2. Use the other questions above to look at your problem analysis and decide what this means for what you do and how you do it. Don’t forget to analyse and discuss what your organisation and its allies or partners are realistically capable of achieving.

b. Purpose and goal

You now need to help the group use the analysis to decide on a goal and purpose that are:

  • Relevant to the key problem or issue you have identified and its causes;
  • Realistic in terms of what you are capable of doing; and
  • Appropriate in terms of the needs you have analysed.

As a facilitator, you need to show people why it is useful to set a goal and a purpose and what the difference is between them. Use the following to explain these terms:

  • goal is the long-term situation you believe should be achieved in the lives of your target group. Usually this is not something your organisation and actions alone can bring about, but it needs to be something you can make a significant contribution to achieving through your efforts. This goal should be worded to describe the situation you would like to see, not the actions you will take to achieve it. This helps everyone to see what long-term impact you hope to be part of bringing about to improve the lives of your target group.
  • The purpose describes the situation that you intend to bring about from your activities. It is a positive situation you are committing yourselves to brining about through your efforts. The goal helps you ensure that the purpose is relevant to the large long-term change that is needed. The purpose helps you later work out what action will be required to achieve it. It helps you test your thinking by asking whether, if you do everything you plan, it will be enough to achieve the purpose. Again, you should not describe the action you will take but the change you intend to produce in the lives of your target group.

You can use the situation and needs analysis to choose the goal and purpose:

Ask participants to look at the problem analysis and change the wording of the key problem or issue from negative to positive. Instead of expressing the key problem or issue, it should now express the positive situation you wish to see exist (for example, from "Pensioners can’t access pensions" to "All legitimate pensioners access their pensions without major waiting periods within 10km of their homes"). This should begin to show you what your goal or purpose could be.

Do the same for the causes. Once this is complete, you should be able to see what needs to be achieved in order to change the negative situation (the problem or issue) into the positive situation you aim to bring about (purpose) or the situation you aim to contribute to bringing about (goal).

If the positive situation you have described by rewording the key problem or issue is something you believe you can realistically achieve and also believe is important and relevant to the lives of your target group, this could be used as your purpose. If it is too unrealistic for you to achieve alone, this could be used as your goal. A good test is to look at whether you can realistically achieve what will be required to reverse all the major causes of the problem. If you can only address some of them, it is unrealistic to commit yourselves to the purpose of reversing the key problem or issue. This may have to become your goal. Your purpose would then be to achieve one or more of the positive situations that are the reverse of the key causes of that key problem or issue. Questions that could help you lead this discussion are the following:

  • Goal: What is the future situation we will contribute to bringing about? What is the most relevant goal? What is the most clear and concrete way of stating this goal?
  • Purpose: What can we commit ourselves to achieving that will make the most significant and useful contribution to achieving the goal we have agreed on? What can we realistically achieve with our resources and capacity? What is the most relevant but also most realistic purpose?
  • What else, that is outside our control, will need to happen for us to achieve our goal and purpose? How important are these things to our success. Can we influence them, and if so how (you will need to include this in your later planning)? If we can’t influence them, does this mean our goal and purpose are unrealistic?
  1. Clear Objectives

The facilitator of this session must help the participants decide on objectives for achieving the purpose. Objectives are the key results you must achieve to achieve your purpose. Objectives need to be worded to describe the results you need to achieve in order to achieve your purpose. They should not describe your actions or activities. The facilitator must ensure that the objectives are:

  • Clear – so that anyone would understand them in the same way;
  • Specific – about who should benefit and how;
  • Measurable – as far as possible telling us how many or how much will be achieved;
  • Achievable – by you within the time available;
  • Realistic - in terms of your resources and capacities; and
  • Time bound – indicating by when you will achieve them.

In this discussion you will use your needs analysis and your agreed goal and purpose to help the participants to decide on objectives:

  1. Write up the agreed goal and purpose clearly in large letters. Give a brief input on what effective objectives are.
  2. Use the problem and needs analysis to help the group work through the following questions:
  • What specific results are needed to achieve our purpose? The needs analysis included an analysis of the causes and effects of the problem – do the causes we identified give us an idea of what must results we must achieve in order to achieve our purpose? What objectives will we have to achieve to achieve the purpose?
  • How can we make each objectives more specific by stating by when they should be achieved, who should benefit, how many or much must be achieved and how well?
  • Can we realistically achieve these results? If not, can we improve our capacity to achieve them by, for example, building alliances and improving our organisational capacity? Do we need to set objectives to take account of these things? (If you can’t improve your capacity to achieve the results that are necessary to achieve the purpose, you will need to go back and make the purpose more realistic.)
  • What else, that is outside of our control, will need to exist for us to achieve our objectives effectively? How likely are they to happen? Can we do anything to influence the situation so that these conditions exist? (You will need to include these things as either objectives or as part of your plans for implementing your strategy.) If they are important and unlikely to exist, but we can’t influence them, are our objectives realistic?
  1. Write up each agreed objective clearly on a separate sheet of flip chart paper and stick them below the goal and purpose. You should ideally not have more than 5 objectives.
  1. Strategies for achieving the objectives

In this session, the facilitator needs to help participants to identify all the possible ways you can achieve each objective and choose the most effective. It is often useful to ask people to think of as many different and creative ways as possible before making a decision. This means you do not just do things the way you always do, but give yourselves the chance to find better ways of doing them. You will not need to do this if it is absolutely clear that you already know the best way of achieving one or all of your objectives. This process takes time, but it can be very valuable and help you improve what you achieve.

  1. Lead a discussion to agree criteria for choosing the most effective strategy. For example, you could use the following:
  • Is it relevant to the objective and our purpose?
  • Is it realistic in terms of our capacity and resources?
  • Will it make the most effective use of our resources and capacity?
  • Could it be done in a simpler way?
  • Would it get the support we need from potential allies and partners?
  1. Ask people to work in pairs or threes to think up different and creative ways of achieving the first objective.
  2. Ask each group of two or three to choose a maximum of two of the best options they have come up with.
  3. Go round the room taking one option from each group and writing it up on flip chart paper. Do not let anyone comment at this point. Go round again and take one more suggestion from any group that wants to add one. Allow questions for clarity only at this point. Don’t let people begin to evaluate the options yet.
  4. Eliminate duplication by grouping options that are essentially the same by finding wording that those who made the suggestions agree to.
  5. Make a grid with a short version of each option written down the left hand side. Write the criteria along the top:
Option 1RelevanceRealisticResourcesSimpleSupport
Option 231   
Option 3     
  1. Lead a discussion in which each option is evaluated using the criteria. You could use a scale of 1 to 3 where 1 indicates "low", 2 indicates "average" and 3 indicates "high". So, if you evaluate your first option as being highly relevant to the situation, you would put a 3 in that column. You might also evaluate it as not being realistic at all. You would then give it a 1 in that column, as in the example above, and so on. If the group is small, you could do this in one big group. But, if the group is large, you might ask people to do it in small groups. You will then need to ask each group to give and motivate their scores and lead a discussion until you reach agreement.
  2. Look at the scores and make final decisions on the best strategy option.
  3. Repeat this process for each objective where the strategy for achieving it is not already clear and agreed by the group.
  4. Write up the agreed strategy on the flip chart paper under the objective it is designed to achieve.
  1. Implementation plans

In this session, the facilitator needs to help participants make decisions on what activities will be needed to achieve each objective using the strategy agreed. Implementation plans or activity plans, as they are often called, need to be specific about:

  • What must be done
  • Who must do it
  • How it will be done
  • By when it must be done.

It is often useful to identify someone or a group that will take responsibility for each objective. This group can then be asked to draft an activity plan for achieving that objective. The following is based on this approach.

  1. Give each group the sheet of flip chart paper with the objective they are responsible for and the agreed strategy written on it. Give each group at least four additional pages of flip chart paper.
  2. Ask each group to write the heading "Activities" on one sheet of blank flip chart paper. The other sheets should be headed "Responsibility", "Deadline" and "Resources Needed".
  3. Tell the groups what areas of the room or venue have been allocated to their group to work in.
  4. Tell the groups that, when they reach the area allocated to them, they should stick up the objective and strategy they will be working on. Next to it they should stick the sheets marked "Activities", "Responsibility", "Deadline" and "Resources Needed", in that order. They should use the sheet of paper headed "Activities" to list all the activities required to achieve the objective using the agreed strategy. Each one should be numbered. Next they should agree who will be responsible for each numbered activity and list this (with the number of the activity) on the sheet marked "Responsibility". The same should then be done for agreements about deadlines for each activity and for the resources needed for each activity. Finally tell groups how much time they will have for this discussion.
  5. When the time is up, ask each group to present their thinking to the other groups. Allow questions for clarity first and then comments and suggestions. Record all final agreements on the activity plan for each objective.
  6. Remember to look at the resources and work out whether they are realistic or not. You may also need to go back and change objectives or strategies it the resources required are more than you have or can realistically get.
  1. Evaluation

In this session, you need to facilitate agreement on what indicators you will use to evaluate whether you have effectively achieved the purpose, objectives and activities. The indicators for the goal will help you assess how much progress has been made towards achieving it through your efforts.

  1. Explain why it is important to agree in advance what you will use to evaluate what has been achieved. Explain that targets and indicators are useful to help clarify now what we can realistically hope to achieve and by when. Targets are agreements about "how many", "how much" and "how well" we intend to achieve. You can use the information you gathered for the situation and needs analysis to set targets. For example, "Waiting time at pension pay points is reduced to a maximum of two hours within five months" is a target. Indicators tell us what criteria we will use to evaluate whether we have successfully achieved what we intended. Like objectives, they should be:
  • Clear – so that anyone would understand them in the same way;
  • Specific – about who should benefit and how;
  • Measurable – as far as possible telling us how many or how much will be achieved;
  • Achievable – by you within the time available;
  • Realistic - in terms of your resources and capacities; and
  • Time bound – indicating by when you will achieve them.
  1. Lead a discussion in which participants agree targets and indicators for the goal, purpose, objectives and activities.
  2. When you have completed the process, ask everyone to check whether the decisions made are realistic. Make amendments and get a final commitment from everyone. Remember, it is important for everyone who will have to achieve a target or indicator to agree that it is appropriate and realistic.
  1. Summary

Make sure it is clear who is responsible for writing up a summary of all your planning decisions and circulating it to everyone present. Agree who will coordinate implementation and monitor progress. Finally, you should agree dates on which you will assess progress and review the plan on the basis of experience. Finally, end the meeting with a celebration of the completion of an effective plan and the beginning of its implementation