• Sanjukta Moorthy

What is Planning? (The P in PMEL)

So what exactly is planning?

I like the abbreviation PMEL because it illustrates the cycle of planning, monitoring, evaluating, and learning from our work. I've found it's the most thorough process to ensure our programmes are meaningful to the people we work with and impactful.

Planning is the first of these steps and can be done for:

  • a one-year project

  • a longer-term project

  • a programme (collection of projects with a longer-term goal, such as your organisation's education programme. These are sometimes called portfolios)

  • your organisation's work as a whole

  • your strategic approach to target the needs of your communities

  • your national or regional context

  • the work of your organisation and partners, or a consortium

  • your context or field, which includes everyone from the people you work with, to your NGO partners, to your donor

[In these blog posts, I use the word 'project' to talk about your work. But as you can see above, you can use all of these PMEL techniques from short-term projects to your organisation's strategic approach! Just substitute the relevant word for your needs]

Planning can help us understand what the broader picture of the change we're working towards looks like. By stepping back to map out a project overall, we can see what needs to be done in general to shift the landscape for girl's education, for example.

Planning is often done just before a project, but it's useful to do these on an annual basis for all the categories listed above, review last year's plan, and make changes as needed (that's where we learn from our plans, the L in PMEL!)

Planning can also help you clarify what you're setting out to accomplish within that change. If you have a map of all the components that are needed to ensure girls can go to school, you can target a specific part of your country, a specific group of people, or a specific strategy that your organisation can implement that can help you get there. This is your contribution to a larger change, your portion of that broader picture.

Planning can take many forms:

  • You may wish to conduct a baseline assessment to understand what the situation for girls' education is right now in your context.

  • This helps you identify gaps and necessary interventions. From this, you can build a project's Theory of Change or logframe, planning out what you can do within a given time to improve or strengthen girls' access to education.

  • This will naturally highlight gaps in previous projects or programmes or context-related gaps such as a lack of textbooks or parents' negative attitudes towards their daughters going to school. You can then adapt your project to ensure you fill these gaps - by looking at how to make your new project more efficient or targetting service delivery as a key strategy.

But while planning all of your projects and work, it's also important to make sure that the project itself is flexible enough to adapt to shifting political, social, and economic realities.

For example, a good balance would be identifying that there are not enough schools in your targetted district and planning to construct more. In planning, you may need to also identify risks to your projects, such as logistical delays or laws concerning the construction of educational institutions. Keeping the project well-planned and adaptable to these shifting contexts can also help you anticipate what may threaten your work and find ways to mitigate against that.

Planning goes beyond just your M&E plan, therefore. It's about thoroughly planning a project that:

  • meets the needs of your communities

  • focusses on communities' voices and perspectives

  • is realistic of what can be achieved given the time you have

  • is cost- and resource-efficient

  • targets the specific issues you're working on

  • focusses on the best strategies that can help you achieve that change

  • builds on areas of organisational strength for you and your team (or, in the case of a pilot project, has enough spaces for you to learn from your work, investigate what works and what doesn't, and is scalable)

  • includes moments of monitoring, evaluating, and learning from your work

  • builds on the work that you, your partners, and your donor has worked on

  • will be sustainable, or can be one of several phases of interventions towards achieving a specific change

  • is meaningful to the national and regional context.