Cassandra O’Neill on a Flexible Thinking and Action Planning Tool

My name is Cassandra O’Neill and I work at Wholonomy Consulting. We are frequently asked to identify goals and develop action plans in our work. We have developed a flexible thinking and action planning tool which we are sharing widely.

We originally developed this tool to help early childhood professionals develop meaningful quality improvement action plans after classrooms were assessed. The coaches and teachers loved it because it helped them identify the best places to start and not just go with their first ideas. They have used the tool to increase the use of Developmentally Appropriate Practice, reading to children, and helping staff use what they learn in trainings.

Since then, we have used the tool with groups that are strategic planning, and even individuals who wanted to make personal changes like starting to exercise more and eating healthier.  It’s a versatile flexible tool.

Hot Tip: Using the tool.

To use the tool, you need to start with something you want to plan. The first two question on the tool is – What do you want to brainstorm about?

We found that by asking people the following questions in the sequence presented, and then looping back to reflect on and connect the information – that new and better ideas emerged. The first ideas aren’t often the best.

Once you’ve identified things you want to brainstorm, you work through the prompt questions.

  • What are 3 possible causes of what is happening now – the thing you want to change?
  • What strengths can you build on to create the change you want to see (both your personal strengths and the strengths of the organization)?
  • What are possible action steps/strategies that could be put in place to create the change you want? Please think of 10-15 ideas.
  • What challenges do you expect in trying out new ideas?
  • What would help you address these challenges?

Then Go Back! Look at what you’ve come up with, add new ideas, brainstorm some more.

When you can’t think of anything else and you’ve got ideas that build on strengths,  address multiple causes, and have challenges that are manageable — pick a few ideas or action steps that you want to try or experiment with.

Hot Tip: Identifying and building on strengths is a catalyst for sustainable change.

Hot Tip: Low stakes experimenting with action steps or strategies leads to valuable information about what will work best — and doesn’t waste resources on developing detailed and long term plans that might not be relevant.

Hot Tip: Get ideas about how to use this tool.

This contribution is from the aea365 Tip-a-Day Alerts, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to Want to learn more from Cassandra? She’ll be presenting as part of the Evaluation 2012 Conference Program, October 24-27 in Minneapolis, MN.

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