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Guidelines for Leaders

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Core Document in the Module

When planning, how do you design a community project?


This is a guideline document, mainly for the community mobilizer and the selected members of the community executive chosen by the community as a whole to implement the wishes of the community in planning and undertaking action.

The community project is an organized set of actions which codify the priority choices and desires of the community as a whole (not a single individual, faction, or power group within the community, and not an agency outside the community).


As the community is being mobilized, and as all its members participate in the choices about what action to undertake, it becomes useful to combine those choices and decisions into a community project. This document is a guide to the community design of a project.

You will see that most of the decisions made in the mobilizing and organizing process, and in the brainstorm session, are reflected in the community project design. That is deliberate; a community based project should reflect the choices and decisions fo the whole community.

The Four Key Questions:

In planning a community project, and in writing up those plans into a project document, it is useful to begin with the principles of project design, rather than limit the description to what the topics are to be covered. The principles are encapsulated in those four key questions that are included in the other modules, management training, brainstorm, and so on.

Those four key questions, and some variations of them, are expanded into important details in this document. As you review each question, and the details associated with them, their answers represent each of the elements of the project design. Do not get so involved with the details that you forget the four questions are a unit; they logically fit together.

This is the basic, material metaphor, set of four key management questions:
  • What do we want?
  • What do we have?
  • How do we use what we have to get what we want?
  • What will happen when we do?

This is the same set, put into a geographic metaphor:
  • Where do we want to go?
  • Where are we?
  • How do we get from where we are to where we want to be?
  • What will happen when we do?

The first set of key questions is asked in terms of some material desire: "What" is wanted. This is a useful approach if the priorities of the community can be expressed in terms of constructing, purchasing, maintaining, repairing, or possessing some "thing" of value and usefulness.

Experience in community work has shown that different low income communities may have different priorities, depending upon their different circumstances. Poor rural communities, for example, often express their priority goals in terms of communal facilities, a clinic, school, water supply, sanitation, feeder road. People living in urban slums may desire the same (often as extensions of existing urban facilities) but, as well, they may want to unite to fight for tenants' rights, protection against vandalism and crime, and other modifications of existing laws and practices.

In each case the four questions relate to each other as a unity: (1) the desire is identified, (2) the current resources are identified, (3) the means to use those resources to reach those desired ends are identified, and (4) some impact and consequences are predicted. Whatever the metaphor, material, geographic or other, the four questions (and their answers in terms of project design) remain the same, and relate to each other the same way. This unity and relationship between the questions need to be seen before we go on to expand the four key questions into those needed for a project design.

The Expanded Key Questions:

While a community project design is based upon the same four questions, it is clarified by expanding them. This does not subtract from the essential core of those four questions, but explicates them.

Since the project design is expressed as a written document, these questions (the expanded list) serve as chapters or sections of the design document.

The expanded, project design, version of the same key questions.
  • What is the problem?
  • Define the goal as the solution to that problem;
  • Refine the goal into a finite set of objectives (SMART);
  • Identify resources and constraints;
  • Generate a set of strategies to use the resources, avoid the constraints and obtain the objectives;
  • Choose the most effective strategy;
  • Decide upon organization (structure, who does what, budget, schedule); and
  • Decide upon monitoring, reporting, evaluation.

The "What do we want?" management question is expanded into the first three on the expanded list:

  • What is the problem?
  • Define the goal as the solution to the problem;
  • Refine the goal into a finite set of objectives.

Our objectives specify what we want. They are in response to the priority community problem.

The "What do we have?" key management question expands into:

  • Identify resources and constraints;

"What we have" can be divided into two kinds: (1) what we have that is useful and valuable (resources) and that will help us get what we want, and (2) what we have that will hinder us in getting what we want (constraints). These can be two separate chapters or sections of the project design.

The "How do we use what we have to get what we want," is expanded into three questions:

  • Generate a set of strategies to use the resources, avoid the constraints and obtain the objectives;
  • Choose the most effective strategy; and
  • Decide upon organization (structure, who does what, budget, schedule).

Only one strategy (a path leading to reaching the objectives) is wanted and needed. As shown in the brainstorm session, generating a few alternatives and then choosing one is a way to make the decision making process more participatory. The organizing process is the task of the mobilizer, and should logically be based upon the objectives and strategy chosen by the community.

The "How will we get what we want with what we have?" also includes a budget. The line-by-line budget should be put in an appendix. Each line on your detailed budget should have the total costs for one budget category. The lines should be grouped into similar kinds of costs (eg salaries, vehicles, communications, fuels, transport). If you can, distinguish between non expendable items (ie equipment that can be used again later) and expendable (ie supplies that get used up).

The budget should be a realistic estimate of all costs involved in implementing and operating the project. If possible demonstrate the potential for eventual self support, or support from other resources other than the one to which you are applying. Costs estimates should be broken down into logical categories (line items) such as: salaries; supplies and materials; equipment; travel and per diem; rent; telephone. Voluntary contributions made to the project by you and members of your organization should be listed and estimated as closely as possible in cash terms. Specify physical facilities that are available or are to be made available for the project. Specify your organization's existing equipment and supplies that will be used for this project. Include any other inputs to be used for this project from government or from other organizations.

The fourth question, "What will happen when we do?" expands into many important questions in the project design. These are summarized by:

  • Decide upon monitoring, reporting, evaluation.

These three things differ, but are related to each other. They are also essential, even though they are the ones most often overlooked by less experienced mobilizers and community leaders.

Monitoring means watching the ongoing process of the project as it is underway (being "implemented"). Not only actions taken, but also results of action, must be monitored. That is necessary to keep the project on track. Reporting is the means (verbal and written) of keeping all stake holders informed of the monitoring. Evaluating is making judgements about what is happening (and the "impact" or results of the action) in order to change plans, goals, objectives or strategies if needed.

Monitoring should be done by:

  • the community;
  • the CBO executive; and
  • other donors.

The project design should explain how achievements will be measured and how they will be verified.

The preparing and receiving of reports must be decided and described in the project design. There should be an emphasis in reporting results, or outputs, ie the effects of the project, as compared to planned objectives defined in your project proposal, not just reporting of project activities (which are inputs).

Beyond the Essential:

While the four key management questions, and their expansion into a dozen or so project design chapters, together comprise the essential community project design, there are a few other elements that you could add to the design. Most of these extra elements are listed and described in another module, the Project Proposal. That is because there is a blending of activities between designing a project and obtaining external funds for it. Adding them to the project design improves the understanding of the proposed project, and clarifies any questions that community members may have about it.

Furthermore, we sometimes overlook the fact that, for a community-based project, the most important donors are the community members themselves. The time, energy, wisdom and thinking donated by the executive committee also puts them up high on the list of donors. When a community project is designed, it should be in response to community expressed desires (as generated by a brainstorm session). When the design is complete, and the project document is typed and ready, it should be sent back to the community for feedback, and allowed public scrutiny, so that it can be confirmed that it genuinely reflects the priorities of the community as a whole.

Other elements that can be added include:
  • A title page;
  • description of beneficiaries (and how they benefit);
  • background (issues and problems);
  • targets and activities (how much is to be done);
  • schedule and phasing (timing);
  • organizational profile and chart;
  • cost-benefit analysis;
  • job descriptions and TORs; and
  • abstract or executive summary.

Descriptions of these added elements will not be included here. Look at Project Proposals for descriptions of these, and why they might be included.


When the community as a whole has decided upon its preferred action, this can be expressed as a project. A project should be designed. The central elements of the project should be the product of brainstorming led by the mobilizer; the details worked out by the executive committee chosen by the community.

The above set of guidelines has shown that the essential elements of the design are generated from the four key management questions. Other elements beyond those essential elements (which will help clarify the nature of the project to the community and other donors) are also listed.


Appendix: Model Outline of a Project Design

The following is a model or mock outline of a project design:

Background (What is the problem?)
The Goal of the Project (The solution to the problem)
The Objectives
The Resources (Potential, available, internal, external)
The Constraints
Possible Strategies (To reach the objectives)
The Chosen Strategy (Why it was chosen)
Appendices (detailed budget, schedules, lists, diagrams,
extra information)

Planning a Project:

Planning a Project

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2012.06.11

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