Strategy Development and Program Design

What is strategy development? 

Strategy development is the process of setting a mission, vision, priorities, and associated action planning that enables organizations to articulate their purpose and the most effective pathway to act on that purpose. Strategy development facilitates cohesive management, articulation of your model or approach to both internal and external actors, and enables data-driven decision making. Strategy development includes an array of different activities that are reflective, inquisitive, and organizational in nature, and it should be conducted at the start of any venture, as well as for maintenance purposes. Moving forward without a strategy leaves the whole organization in the dark while they often are still striving for targets that may not be realistic or reasonable. A lack of strategy can lead to inefficiency and contribute to workplace disengagement. Well-articulated and comprehensive strategies give organizations and their employees both a North Star, as well as the map to get there. 

What is program design? 

Strategy development is also closely aligned with program design, which often exists as a subset of strategy development looking at shorter timeframes, goals that contribute to the broader purpose, and use of evidence from past work under a strategy to inform subsequent programming. Most of the international development field is familiar with logframes and theories of change that can typically factor into both strategy and program design, but the design phase is also the optimal time to build in adaptability, anticipate future challenges, leverage evidence, and plan for sustainability. For example, Headlight’s Learning Reviews serve as a meta-review of past programming by analyzing evaluations, assessments, and annual reports to evidence summative findings and make actionable recommendations to ensure maximum utilization of evidence in strategy development. Tools like these support effective and efficient strategy and program design at any level.                                                                                            

Why is planning for sustainability crucial in strategy development and program design?

As donor funding and program implementation cycles continue to shrink, and as international development agencies continue to adopt initiatives like the Journey to Self-Reliance, it becomes increasingly important to think about intentionally mapping short term program design to long term strategy development. This necessitates starting to articulate program sustainability and exit strategies even prior to implementation. As responsible practitioners, we want to see our interventions have a lasting impact, and doing so requires thinking explicitly partnering with and transitioning ownership of what we have learned and ongoing work to our local partners on the ground. This also means that as responsible practitioners, we need to seriously consider how we are doing capacity development during the entirety of our intervention, that way we have partners who are committed and equipped to scale the work we start together. Integrating sustainability planning from the initial planning and design phase ensures there is no frantic struggling to gather materials to hand over at the exit stage, that engagement throughout contributes to seamless transitions, and that beneficiaries are not negatively affected.

Our strategy development and program design service offerings

Headlight provides facilitation, advisory, and tailored design services to support strategy development and program design. Headlight regularly works at high-levels of decision-making and oversight, over complex portfolios, and with a focus on multifaceted programming and contexts. With embedded systems thinking approaches, we are able to help clients articulate the interdependencies, necessary partners, and progress markers necessary for effective and sustainable strategies, all based on existing and newly gathered (when necessary) evidence. Headlight’s Strategy Development services include, but are not limited to:

  • Delivering Learning Reviews (intensive evidence deep dives with summative findings and actionable recommendations) to leverage existing evidence to inform strategy design;
  • Providing advisory and facilitation services to support multi-stakeholder consultations, workshopping, and the overarching process of strategy development; 
  • Designing, facilitating, and operationalizing Systems-Based Theories of Change for better articulation of what is within the strategy’s sphere of control, interdependencies with other actors, and how to achieve systems-level outcomes; 
  • Integrating systems thinking tools to connect disperse, varied, and complex programming and contexts under one cohesive strategy; and,
  • Designing, facilitating, and implementing sustainability plans to enable seamless handovers, identification of tipping points, and scale to systems level outcomes.
What is a Systems-Based Theory of Change? 
Designing a Systems-Based Theory of Change helps us understand the activities, stakeholders, and potential results within our manageable interests as well as within a system. A Systems-Based Theory of Change is a process that embeds systems thinking tools within program design to clarify all the conditions, relationships, and behavior change necessary to achieve sustainable outcomes. It also helps us understand our evidence, contextual implications, and decision-making processes, thus enabling adaptation. Instead of using the “if, then, because” formats that traditional theories of change feature, our Systems-Based Theories of Change break away from this to address the components with more nuance and complexity. We also offer a variety of fit-for-purpose workshops to identify tipping points, progress markers, ideal states, and red flags. Each of these components can be done separately or combined, but all of them help our clients plan ahead and respond adaptively during implementation. 

Headlight would love to support your strategy development or program design needs. We have the breadth and depth of expertise, experience, and toolbox to tailor-design a solution for you. For more information about our services please email Headlight Consulting Services, LLP is a certified women-owned small business and therefore eligible for sole source procurements. We can be found on the Dynamic Small Business Search or on via our name or DUNS number (081332548).