The Cross-Issue Project Planning Template Designed for You!

This week I’m going to be co-facilitating a workshop at the Environmental Health Disparities & Environmental Justice Meeting.

I’m super excited to delve into effective community outreach practices for environmental justice initiatives!

While working on the workshop, with the incredible health experts Ana Pomales (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) and Barb Allerton (Pennsylvania Department of Health), I created a template on “Cross-Issue Project Planning.”

In other words, how can we implement projects that further the cause of multiple issues (e.g. health, youth development, and food access)?

I had the opportunity to work on a perfect example of a cross-issue project, which we called the “Soil Kitchen.”

Philadelphia’s River Wards area has significantly high levels of lead, lots of youth, and food access issues. We wanted to start a project that hit on all of these issues, so we finalized ideas for putting on the “Soil Kitchen” .

The Soil Kitchen was an innovative effort to test soil samples for lead contamination, while also educating children/families and finding alternatives for them to grow food using raised beds away from the lead contamination.

The 1st of hopefully many events happened in May 2013, and now organizations are considering how to expand this initiative across the country!

So how can you create your own “Cross-Issue Project Plan?” Let’s look!


The Cross-Issue Project Plan


Key Issues


Challenge – what are the specific issues in your community?

As I’ve wrote about previously, we need to connect issues to a broader analysis. For this event, if we just focused on lead contamination, I doubt we would have been able to accomplish as much as did when we connected it to youth development and food access.

When developing your project/campaign/event, try to expand how you can propel forward change on multiple issues.

Here’s the “challenge” we aimed to address with the Soil Kitchen.

“The River Wards have significantly high levels of lead that can be dangerous to the community’s health. The River Wards area has a high concentration of kids and families who are more susceptible to the negative health impacts of lead. In addition, there are significant food access issues, but an interest in urban gardening.”


How are you specifically going to address the issue? Consider how you can address the root cause of the issue (and not just the symptoms).

Below is what we decided to do for the Soil Kitchen.

“The Soil Kitchen event will provide community members the opportunity to have their soils analyzed for lead contamination. The program will focus on making sure families understood the increased risks of lead among their children and how to promote healthy practices. In addition, the Soil Kitchen will host workshops specifically for youth and families wishing to grow food safe from lead contamination.”

Differentiate the Scope of SMART Goals

Just as a reminder, SMART goals are important to make sure you intentionally plan out what “success” means. SMART stands for:

  • S=Specific

  • M=Measurable

  • A=Audience-focused

  • R=Realistic

  • T=Time-bound

Also, make sure to break up your goals by time (e.g. long, medium, and short).

Below are a few goals we had for the Soil Kitchen (most of which we exceeded!!!):

  • Example long-term goal=The Soil Kitchen event will help initiate EPA involvement in addressing lead contamination in the River Wards communities by September 2013

  • Example mid-term goal=Through the Soil Kitchen we will analyze 50 soil samples by the end of the event in May 2013

  • Example short-term goal=Finalize details for 4 resident-led workshops by March 2013




Depending on the scope of your organizing, you may need a more elaborate strategy than others.

This post won’t be getting into the specifics of how to create a detailed strategy, but for this just think about strategy this way “What’s the main process by which you will accomplish your goals?”

How are you going to make sure your actions form an intricately connect whole, instead of just many actions that sorta support each other.

For our Soil Kitchen example, we really wanted people to have long-term alternatives to reducing exposure to lead. So we outlined this first step of our strategy (remember there can be multiple levels to your strategy!) to hit on all these issues.

The Soil Kitchen organizers’ main strategy was to reduce the negative implications of lead soil by improving the community’s ability to have raised bed urban agriculture and holding youth-oriented workshops where parents learned about how to reduce their child’s exposure to lead.


Partners to Potentially Involve

Who are some community, nonprofit, business, or government partners who can help support this project?

Now are partners came together pretty quick because of previous collaboration, but most times you will have to think a little bit harder about who to involve.

If we did start from scratch without any partners, here’s what this part of the plan would have looked like.

Example partner

  • Name=New Kensington CDC

  • Reason/Goal for involving partner=To ensure appropriate community outreach and identify potential residents to lead workshops


Backwards Timeline of Tasks/Actions

Backwards timelines are just the same as long-term planning, except you make sure to start with what you want to achieve at the end and work back from there.

Backwards planning ensures that you set attainable goals, actions, and time periods for accomplishing your aims and do not have a lot of work to do at the end of your project/campaign to catch up.

Here are some key elements to consider when creating your backwards timeline:

  • What are the key areas to plan out (e.g. logistics, outreach, working with partners, etc.)?

  • What are some benchmark dates?

  • Who’s responsible for completing each task?

Example appreviated backwards timeline

  • Thank Soil Kitchen partners by May 15th, 2013 – Drew/Ana

  • Evaluate Soil Kitchen event for successes/challenges by May 11th, 2013 – Whole planning team

  • Soil Kitchen event on May 4th, 2013!!! – We created a separate full agenda since there were so many pieces for the day-of

So that’s it! You’ve got the steps you need to start planning your own cohesive cross-issue project!

This Wednesday I’ll be co-facilitating the workshop with Ana and Barb and there’s one section where we’ll be having folks create their own plans right then and there. So I can’t wait to see what people come up with!

If you want to follow how the Environmental Health Disparities & Environmental Justice gathering is going for me or how the workshop went, follow Organizing Change on Twitter to keep updated!


Backwards Planning Retooled for You! Get the Most Out of Your Limited Time

How often do you think “How am I ever going to accomplish this in time?” Yet you’ve always found a way to get it done in time (though after making it through some pretty late nights). But wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to feel like you were “just in time?”

That’s where I’ve found backwards planning to be so useful.

Many campaigns or projects make sure to start at the end when creating timelines, but I’ve noticed a lot less individuals using backwards timelines for getting their work done. Many organizers have their “to do” list, but often do not put as much thought into making a long-term timeline.

Though I’d realized how helpful backwards timelines were in making sure work got done ahead of schedule for the initiatives I was a part of, it took me much longer to see that I could really apply a backwards timeline to my own work.

Often campaigns create backwards timelines for benchmarks or milestones. We should do the same for our smaller tasks that lead us to those key deadlines. Organizers should make sure to use backwards plans in both their collaborative timelines and individual work plans.


Quick overview of backwards planning


Backwards planning ensures that you set attainable goals, actions, and time periods for accomplishing your aims and do not have a lot of work to do at the end of your project/campaign to catch up.

This way of planning also makes it easier to include time just in case unexpected difficulties or challenges come up.

This way of organizing turns planning away from starting at present realities and constrictions to starting at the outcomes you want to create. For example if you need to accomplish something by December 2013, start planning backwards from that date (e.g. in November I’ll finish X task, in October I’ll contact X person, etc.)

While a complete individual timeline would have a lot more steps on what/when to accomplish sub-tasks needed to fulfill the large tasks, this shows that if you start at the end it is much easier to “fill in the pieces.”

As I noted at  the beginning, backwards plans are most common with campaigns or larger projects; however, I think individuals could save a lot of valuable time by completing a backwards time and making sure work is more evenly spread out over a period of time.

For individuals, a backwards plan is especially useful if you have a lot of the following:

  • Involvement in many distinct projects (e.g. leadership development, working with the media, etc.)
  • Recurring work that you’ll always need to account for when scheduling
  • Highly time-sensitive work that needs to be accomplished at a certain time

Elements of a backwards plan


So now let’s look at some important elements to consider when writing your backwards plan for your campaign/project or your individual workplan.

1. Start at the end!

Makes sense right? Maybe even consider start with writing when you will debrief your work.

Since my work doesn’t have an end, I usually create my individual workplans in 3 month increments (e.g. Drew’s 2013 April – June workplan) and leave space at the end for future work I need to keep in mind (e.g. what I need to accomplish after June 2013).

2. Timeline out everything you need to accomplish

There is so much going on in our lives, for me it’s often easier to write some things down so I don’t have to worry about forgetting anything. If you’re creating a backwards timeline as part of a group, then its even more important to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Below are some elements to consider including in your timeline.

  • Key benchmarks, goals, objectives, and tasks
  • Coordination (e.g. roles, volunteer management, and collaboration)
  • Outreach (e.g. media outreach and advertising)
  • Logistics (e.g. reserving rooms, sending e-mails, and preparing materials)

3. Include specific dates and those responsible

If you include additional specifics in your plan, such as who will do which part of the plan, then you are well on your way to a successful result and not just a good plan.

For an individual workplan, you’ll probably just need the dates since you know who is responsible.


Making the mental shift backwards for your individual workplans


When I first started backwards planning for myself, I had no idea how challenging it would be to switch to a different way of thinking about planning. I still sometimes have to remind myself to make that mental shift to beginning at the end. Though with continual review and looking over past work, I remind myself how to walk the backwards path.

While a backwards timeline is not the most advanced of organizer tools, it is a method I’ve found that saves me time, keeps me on track, and shows me how much I’ve actually accomplished!

What other ideas do you have for completing a successful backwards plan? Leave a comment below!