Resources for Action Planning

To be effective agents of change, it’s helpful to start with a planning framework that directly addresses the issues we hope to improve. Click the “general action planning resources” link below to review useful steps in conducting an initiative for change. You’ll also find guidance for forming an effective team and conducting assessments, which will help you learn as much as possible about the issue your community hopes to address.

Once you’ve reviewed the general action planning resources, and initiated any important steps you find there, you may browse the toolkit’s available resources based on the stakeholders you wish to engage. Whether you are interested in water system issues facing customers, utility staff, or local leadership (or usually all three!), each section has resources for tackling various water system issues and example actions of how other communities have responded.

Overview of an Initiative for Change

The general process for an initiative for change may be as follows:

  1. Define the scale of the necessary action.
  2. Form a Water Committee to oversee the action planning effort.
  3. Conduct an assessment to gain insight into community water concerns.
  4. Identify resources relevant to your community’s concerns with Our Water Toolkit and use them to help you develop an initiative for change.
  5. As a team, take action!
  6. Evaluate the outcomes of your effort and revise plans as necessary. Download Our Water action plan in flow-sheet and scroll down for a more detailed description of each action-plan step.

1. Define Scope

Your first step is to consider the scope of the issue you wish to address. Some issues will not require the extensive effort of following these steps and could be addressed by accessing resources in Our Water Toolkit. For instance, perhaps you are a water treatment plant operator looking for additional training, certification or technical support. Or maybe you are a community member curious about the taste of chlorine in the water or interested in learning more about the services your water bill supports. In these instances, a full action plan may not be necessary.

Wait to make a decision until after discussing your concerns with others; you may find that your neighbors share your concerns and the entire community could benefit from finding solutions. In this instance, or if the water system issue is complex, persistent or impacts a large proportion of the community, you may find it worthwhile to follow the remaining steps for action planning to carry out a full-scale initiative for change. ​

2. Form a Water Committee

​The steps of an action plan will benefit from the oversight of a team, or Water Committee, composed of representatives from the community, water utility staff, and local government and leaders, who are invested in the long-term sustainability of the local water system.

  • Community members represent the people most likely to be impacted by the outcomes of an initiative, so it is critical they have a voice in the process.
  • The water utility staff holds the specialized knowledge of everything that goes into providing water and wastewater service, and what keeps these systems running.
  • Community leaders and administrators have the influence and capacity to make decisions and initiate actions for the water system that are in the best interest of the community.

As you begin to form your team, identify a point of contact in each of these three stakeholder groups, while multiple representatives from each group would be valuable. The recommended size of a Water Committee is six to 10 people. At a minimum, the Water Committee should meet in between the completion of each of the following steps for action planning.

3. Conduct an Assessment

Before starting an initiative for change it is critical to understand the parts of the community involved, the full extent of the issue and any preconceptions that people may have. It is important to take the time to talk about these specific concerns. Investing this effort upfront will save you time, money and frustration later in the action plan process.

A common method for gathering information from community members is through a formative assessment, which involves a variety of actions that help you to investigate the issue at hand. This may include surveys, informal conversations with neighbors, or identifying community behaviors.

Formative assessments often include a survey, which can take many different forms, such as online questionnaires or conversations conducted door-to-door. Formative assessments will help you identify the values, motivations, needs and information gaps that drive community member decisions and actions. The information gathered in this process will help to inform the Water Committee on the local needs and challenges of the issue.

4. Use Our Water Toolkit to Develop an Initiative for Change

Once you’ve identified the primary concern(s) or goal(s) related to water in your community and gained insight through a formative assessment, it’s time to dive into Our Water Toolkit. Use the toolkit resources, supplemented by additional research if necessary, to develop an initiative for change.​

Detailed lists of concerns and goals are available in the resources for customers, water utility staff and local leaders sections of the toolkit. If you don’t see your community’s concern in the appropriate section, try combining your own research with the critical water conversations or contact and share the concern you’d like to see addressed.

The type of action or community outreach you introduce with an initiative for change is going to depend on the water issue at hand and the culture of your unique community. Once you’ve had an opportunity to review the resources in Our Water Toolkit or from other sources, you should be better able to define a clear goal and process for your initiative for change (e.g. educational programming, behavior change campaign, policy development) that best meets the needs of your community. As part of your Water Committee’s duties, you need to develop a schedule of clearly defined goals for your initiative for change, as well as a timeline over which you hope to accomplish each goal.

You should consider setting SMART goals to address your water issue. SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time Based.

Here’s an example of a SMART goal for an Alaskan village undertaking an initiative for change to reduce the occurrence of intermittent failure of their vacuum sewer system:

SMART Goal: Reduce the number of days the community goes without wastewater service by 75 percent within one year.

  1. Specific: The goal is clearly defined.
  2. Measurable: The community was directly affected by the number of days they went without a functioning wastewater in the past year, so it will be a useful measure to share progress toward this goal.
  3. Attainable: Due to the complexity and inevitable occasional malfunction of vacuum wastewaters, eliminating days without service completely may not be possible, but the community believes that they can reduce days without service by 75 percent. Their planned methods to attain this goal is through education and outreach, encouraging homeowners to upgrade a specific valve in their toilets.
  4. Relevant: The goal is directly related to the function and responsibility of the water and wastewater utility to provide consistent and reliable service and uphold customer satisfaction.
  5. Time-based: The utility plans to spend five months developing educational outreach materials and securing funding. They will then offer the valves at a subsidized price for a limited time. This subsidization is meant to encourage all homes to upgrade within a time frame of six months, the same time frame for the planned educational outreach. They hope to see their goal achieved by the end of one year. ​

5. Take Action

Now it’s time to start your initiative for change. As you advance through the initiative timeline, you’ll want to make sure the Water Committee has set a regular meeting schedule to reflect on the progress and adapt to any issues that arise.If you have developed SMART goals as part of your initiative, use your meetings to reflect on your accomplishments for each of the five components of SMART goals and to make adjustments as necessary. ​

6. Evaluate Outcomes

After the initiative for change has been carried out, with all steps of the project timeline completed, it is time for the Water Committee to consider the outcomes. The outcomes may be easily observed or may require a more systematic follow up effort, such as surveys or interviews with those who are impacted. Depending on the nature of the original issue, relevant evaluation questions to ask might include: Has the behavior changed? Are community members that were previously unable to pay bills now able and paying? Are community members who were drinking untreated water now drinking treated water? Are there now sufficient funds allocated to system operation and maintenance?If you have developed SMART goals as part of your initiative, evaluate your accomplishment for each of the original five components of SMART goals and review adjustments you may have made along the way. Ask yourselves questions about the SMART goals, such as: What parts of the goals were not met and why? Were adjustments made? Could these adjustments have been avoided and if so, how?

There may still be room for improvement. This is the action planning step where the Water Committee can take time to reflect on the success of the initiative and make a decision as to whether any follow-up actions are needed. The easiest time to remedy any negative outcomes may be during this critical evaluation period.