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in Management and Planning

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Dedicated to Gert Lüdeking

Workshop Handout

What do we want?
What do we have?
How do we use what we have to get what we want?
What will happen as a result?

The Essential Core of Management and Planning:

Management, as an activity, means making decisions and solving problems. The essential management and planning decisions can be found in the answers to four key questions.

These four questions are: "1. What do we want? 2. What do we have? 3. How can we use what we have to get what we want? 4. What will happen when we get it?" If you look carefully, they are the four questions included (perhaps disguised by elaboration) in any project planning document and in brainstorming.

If problems are examined and solved only after they arise and become insistent, then this is "management by crisis." It is better than no management at all. If, in contrast, clear objectives are identified, and the needed actions to reach those objectives are identified and carried out, then this is "management by objectives." Potential problems are predicted and means set in place (before they arise) to deal with them. Management by objectives is more efficient and less stressful than management by crisis.

Whether the group to be empowered is small or large, whether it is structured as an organization or as vague as a community, its capacity will be enhanced if it adopts means of asking and answering these four questions.

If there were no problems, then there would be no need for management. There are always problems; that is the way of life. Management is too important to be left only to the managers; it needs to be the responsibility of all. If so, then all should be aware of these four questions; and all should contribute to identifying their answers.

What Do We Want?

"What is the main problem to be solved?" The "What do we want?" question covers the description of the problem, it's reversal to define the general goal, and its refinement to make it into specific objectives, outputs and other finer definitions of that goal. As a geographic metaphor, "Where do we want to go?"

The organization or community needs to have a shared vision of what it wants. This does not have to be a physical thing to own, like a latrine or electricity; it can be a new law, a revised set of attitudes, an increase in awareness, a change in habits, a new organizational structure, increased profit of a commercial organization, higher wages for union members, a change of methods or membership of a non-profit organization, or any shared goal that means or implies an improvement (eg of the quality of living) for the group as a whole.

Goals and objectives should be identified in all project and planning documents; that is usually well known. But they should also be chosen and understood, and agreed upon by all participants in every day activities of the group, community or organization.

In community management training the "What do we want?" question must be answered by the community as a whole, not just by the men, not just by the educated, not just by the civil servants, not just by the friends of the agency, but by all of the community, by consensus.

What Do We Have?

The "What do we have?" question is the identification of resources or potential inputs that can be used to reach the chosen goal or objectives. The geographical metaphor is, "Where are we now?" The question implies that the current situation must be observed, discussed, and analysed. (This is called situation analysis). It implies obtaining a clear picture of all resources and constraints, assets and liabilities (potential and realized), and a valid and verifiable picture of the situation.

In community management training, this identification is best done in meetings where the quiet people are encouraged to participate, because there are many resources in every community, including the poorest, that are hidden or perhaps not so obvious. A skilled mobilizer draws out of a community meeting, by facilitation, the identification of many otherwise hidden or disguised resources.

The resources can include available labour and expertise (the human energy ready to be employed in the activity), land or space on which to carry out the activity, cash (through charges, sales, donations and other sources). capital (reusable equipment or tools) needed to carry out the activity, and human mental resources (wisdom, information, skills, experience, analytic capacity, creativity) that are often the hidden contributions of old or retired people, and often found in those who may be physically disabled or socially ostracized. Many are so obvious that they are otherwise overlooked.

Situation analysis means careful and complete observation of prevailing conditions, and determining which things will contribute to achieving objectives (or potentially will contribute) and which things may hinder the achievement of those objectives.

How Do We Get What We Want With What We Have?

The "How do we get what we want with what we have?" question is the strategy part of the craft of management. How to get from "A" to "B." There are always several different ways to combine the available resources, and the collective mental resources of the community (as mentioned above) should be used to identify several strategies, and select the most appropriate one.

It is in the determination of how to get from "A" to "B" that the group, guided by a facilitator, must create a strategy as part of its plan of action. The written plan will include the answers to all four questions. The creative, innovative, and analytical part of the work is in generating several possible strategies, then choosing the most viable among them.

Here, too, is the opportunity for organizing or reorganizing for decision making and for action. See organize. If it is an unorganized collection of individuals, then in order to achieve the chosen objectives the strategy will have to address how they can form into an effective organization for carrying out the needed activities.

If the group, organization or community is already organized in some fashion, its members, perhaps aided by a facilitator, needs to ask itself if its current organization is best designed for achieving the goals, or if a change in its structure and process can be considered here. For a community mobilizer applying management training, this is the opportunity to guide a community group in forming or re-forming itself into one that can most effectively use what they have to obtain what they want.

What Will Happen When We Get It?

It is important that, before action is undertaken, the group makes some valid and realistic prediction about the impact or result of the chosen strategy. Of course there may be some unexpected consequences, but every attempt must be made to identify possible consequences, especially so as to avid the unwanted consequences.

It is here that the group must be aware that monitoring is so important. One must not ride a bicycle with one's eyes shut. The whole plan of action should include the observation of actions and results, and a means of reporting back to the group as a whole.

The "What will happen when we get it?" question covers the prediction of the impact of the activity. It can be expanded to ask how the activity is expected to affect the community and its (social and physical) environs, and leads to plans for monitoring and evaluation.


These four questions should be used by the field worker as a framework for organizing, or reorganizing, a group. Similarly they are used by a management trainer for organizing or reorganizing a management team. A co-ordinator can use them for organizing a team of field workers. Together, they are the framework for building management capacity and strength of any group of participants.

In community management training, these essential four questions need to be raised when the whole community is meeting to decide priorities. They should be used again when the executive committee of the CBO meets on behalf of the whole community to work out details. If you look carefully, you will see these four questions, in the order presented, hidden in two of this document's appendices, the brainstorming process and guidelines for project design.

Whether they are asked when organizing a trade union, or in a management meeting of senior executives of a wealthy corporation (or, in this context, during the empowerment and capacity building of a low income community), they constitute the essential or core decisions in management.

This is not management training for managers.
This is management training for everybody.


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2011.09.07

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