05 December 2018

Programme and Project Design

Author/Compiled by
Aline Bussmann (cewas Middle East)

Executive Summary

Just as an engineer does not build a bridge before designing it, a WASH programme should not be implemented without appropriate design and planning. ‘Programme and Project Design’ is an integral part of the ‘project/programme cycle’, which depicts the management of an intervention through a sequence of inter- related phases. Programmes are never one size fits all, but an individual response to objective problems. The key to a successful programme is the design according to local needs and capacities, provision of added value for several stakeholders and effective approaches to the most important regional factors and barriers. Within four steps, 1) Programme identification, 2) Programme formulation, 3) Implementation planning and budgeting, 4) Planning of monitoring and evaluation, as well as a set of tools to systematises the setting of objectives and assumptions for a development programme and their analysis, any programme can be successfully designed and consequently implemented.

The more people are willing to invest in designing a project, the lower the risk of compromising its quality when implementation comes. Therefore, it is best to allocate a considerable amount to the design stage, which can facilitate and improve the quality of analysis and identification of real needs.
A well-designed project will improve its accountability, resources management, reliability and overall sustainability
The better the project design is, the better the project proposal and thus chances to receive funding for project implementation.
Designing a project requires an upfront investment
Project objectives can become too complex and ambitious. They place heavy demands on implementing entities that have limited capacities.
Poorly formulated objectives and causal links between inputs, outputs, and outcomes set up targets that are impossible to achieve.


Factsheet Block Body

A programme is a collection of projects, formed into a cohesive package of work, in which a project is a unique venture to produce a set of outputs within clearly specified time, cost and quality constraints (METHOD123 2003). The different projects of a programme are complimentary and help the programme to achieve its overall objectives. Programmes tend to be split into tranches or phases and the benefits of a programme are the sum of the benefits of all projects (OECD n.y.). Programmes and projects differ from standard business operational activities as they (METHOD123 2003):

  • are distinctive in nature, not involving a repetitive process.
  • have a defined time-plan, with a specified start and end dates to meet the beneficiaries or funding agency’s requirements.
  • have an allocated budget, which should be spent to produce the deliverables.
  • have limited resources, such as labour, material and equipment.
  • involve a risk, as there is a level of uncertainty whether the objectives will be attained.

Designing and planning is important for projects and programmes alike. It refers to the “process of setting goals, developing strategies, outlining the implementation arrangements and allocating resources to achieve those goals” (UNDP 2009). There are several approaches to programme and project design. The most commonly used tools are the project cycle management methodology and the Logical Framework Approach (OECD n.y.). The design phase constitutes the starting point of the project cycle as it provides the structure of what has to be achieved, how it is to be implemented and how progress will be verified. Therefore, the design is the most crucial phase and its quality will influence the following stages in the project cycle (UNDP 2009). Moreover, the design of a programme or project and all its elements feed into a Project Proposal Writing, and is therefore highly important for the request of financial assistance (HARVEY ET AL 2002).

Programme Design – In Four Phases

Factsheet Block Body

According to THOMET and VOZZA (2010) the design phase can be divided into four succeeding steps. Following these steps will help to design a good, simple and feasible programme, which can then be manifested in form of a proposal.

Step 1) Programme Identification: Identification is a participatory consultative process that analyses the overall situation and specifically the problem.

Step 2) Programme Formulation: Based on the situation analysis, the formulation of the programme should establish concrete goals and objectives to achieve and outline the ac­tions to be taken and the resources needed.

Step 3) Implementation Planning and Budgeting: An implementation plan will be formulated based on the Logical Framework Approach in order to have both a results-based work plan and a budget. 

Step 4) Planning of Monitoring and Evaluation: A Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation will be planned and budgeted.

Programme Design Steps. Source: THOMET and VOZZA (2010).

Programme Design Steps. Source: THOMET and VOZZA (2010).       

Key points to be considered during the entire programme and project design phase include (UNDP 2009):

  • Planning should be focused on results and real development changes.
  • Planning should always be seen as a process, of which the actual plan is only one product.
  • The planning process should be highly participatory, open, and should encourage frankness, creativity and innovation.
  • Planning must be guided by core principles of development effectiveness. It should not lead to a neutral or generic plan but one that is based on lessons learnt in development programming.
  • The most important outcomes of the planning process are: clarity on goals, objectives and a vision of the future; commitment and motivation of Stakeholder Identification; and clarity on the process to implement and manage the plan.

Step 1: Programme Identification

Every programme and project starts with a situation analysis. The purpose of such an analysis is to identify the needs, interests, priorities and resources of the Stakeholder Identification that will affect and may be affected by the project, and to assess the different possibilities for improving the situation. The scope of background studies depends on the complexity of the issues being addressed, and the availability of information (THOMET and VOZZA 2010).

The problem analysis guides the planning. This analysis constitutes a check point for the relevance of an intervention; either justifying it or proving it unnecessary or impossible (HARVEY et al 2002). The identification of problems is most reliable when undertaken in a participatory way (participatory methodologies include Focus Groups, Problem & Preference Ranking, Semi-Structured Interviews and Participatory Mapping). It is important that planners take into account different groups, and consider both general and group-specific problems. The stakeholders should address questions such as why the problems occur and why they persist. Joint discussion of these questions is a valuable forum for learning and can provide vital information. When formulating the problem, clearly specify (NEBIU 2002):

  • Place of the problem
  • Reasons
  • Consequences
  • Magnitude (# or % of impacted persons)
  • The impact of the problem on other problems

The problem, or negative undesired situation, can be mapped out with its main problems, causes and effects, using a Problem Tree Analysis. The problem tree helps programme planners to correspond to the core problem on the problem tree and transform it into a positive statement with clear and manageable goals on the objective tree (UNDP 2009).

Once the objective tree has been finalised, the Strategy Development is selected, which is the final step in the situation analysis. It implies the selection of the strategy that will be used to achieve the de­sired objectives. It involves deciding what objectives will be included in the programme or project and what objectives will remain outside it (THOMET and VOZZA 2010).

Step 2: Programme Formulation

The formulation step is based on the understanding gained during the situation analysis and aims at formulating the best possible operational way to deal with the core problem affecting the target group (THOMET and VOZZA 2010).

The Logical Framework Approach has proved to be the most useful and effective tool with which to formulate the project and structure a project proposal (HARVEY et al 2002). The outputs of stakeholder, problem, objective and alternative analyses are the core ingredients of the programme frame, called the logical framework matrix (or logframe). Once completed, it will show, in a clear and organised manner, what must be achieved, how it will be achieved, with what resources, and in which timeframe (implementation planning). This series of operations, if successfully carried out, will lead to the desired situation (THOMET and VOZZA 2010).

The logical framework organises all the main elements of the objective tree, including the objectives, outputs, activities, indicators and assumptions:

From objective tree to logical framework. Source: THOMET and VOZZA (2010).

From objective tree to logical framework. Source: THOMET and VOZZA (2010).                     

Step 3: Implementation Planning and Budgeting

The project design requires an implementation or work plan for the activities listed in the logical framework. The work plan demonstrates that the project is feasible in terms of responsibilities, schedule and resources. The work plan is a key component of a Project Proposal Writing. It is the basis for monitoring the operations of the project (OECD n.y.).

The work plan consists of the following four matrices (HARVEY et al 2002):

  • A work breakdown matrix, which is a simple activity plan that lists the desired programme outputs and all the necessary activities required to achieve these outputs.
  • A responsibility matrix, which defines who is responsible for each activity.
  • A calendar of activities, also called Gantt chart, should generally be used to show the order and duration of the programme activities determined in the activity plan.
  • A resource (inputs) plan, which sets out the requirements for staff, equipment and materials and for the budget preparation, giving the cost of the resources needed.

A work plan is the main tool to facilitate the Project Management and therefore ensure a successful Project Implementation.

Step 4: Project Monitoring and Evaluation

Factsheet Block Body

The planning process should extend beyond looking at activities, results and Using Indicactors to Measure Progress and Performance. It should include a plan and mechanisms for Project Management, Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation (UNDP 2009). Effective and timely decision making requires information from regular and planned monitoring and evaluation activities. Basically, monitoring and evaluation is about comparing what was originally planned with what actually happens. It tracks progress at each level of the logical framework: activities, outputs, outcomes and impacts (objectives). Planning for monitoring and evaluation must therefore start at the time of programme or project design, and they must be planned together (OECD n.y.).

According to UNDP (2009), recommended tools for planning monitoring and evaluation are matrices:

                              Planning matrix for monitoring. Source: UNDP (2009).

Planning matrix for monitoring. Source: UNDP (2009).

Evaluation plan. Source: UNDP (2009).

Evaluation plan. Source: UNDP (2009).

WASH Programme Design

Factsheet Block Body

(Adapted from THE SPHERE PROJECT 2011)

According to The Sphere Project Standards Minimum Standard 1, the overall goal of WASH Programmes is that “WASH needs of the affected population are met and users are involved in the design, management and maintenance of the facilities where appropriate” (THE SPHERE PROJECT 2011).

The Sphere Project recommends that during the situation analysis a focus should lie on:

  • Identifying risky practices that might increase vulnerability and to predict the likely success of both the provision of WASH facilities and hygiene promotion activities. Key risks are likely to centre on physical safety in accessing facilities, discrimination of marginalised groups that affects access, use and maintenance of toilets, the lack of hand-washing with soap or an alternative, the unhygienic collection and storage of water, and unhygienic food storage and preparation. 
  • The assessment should look at resources available to the population, as well as local knowledge and practices so that promotional activities are effective, relevant and practical.
  • Social and cultural norms that might facilitate and/ or compromise adherence to safe hygiene practices should be identified as part of the initial and ongoing assessment.
  • The assessment should pay special attention to the needs of vulnerable people.

Key actions incorporated in the design of a WASH programme therefore include:

  • Identification of key risks of public health importance in consultation with the affected population.
  • Provision of public health needs of the affected population according to their priority needs.
  • Systematically seeking feedback on the design and acceptability of both facilities and promotional methods from all different user groups on all WASH programme activities.
  • Key indicators, which can be used in the logframe and for monitoring and evaluation, could include:
  • All groups within the population have safe and equitable access to WASH resources and facilities, use the facilities provided and take action to reduce the public health risk.
  • All WASH staff communicate clearly and respectfully with those affected and share project information openly with them, including knowing how to answer questions from community members about the project.
  • There is a system in place for the management and maintenance of facilities as appropriate, and different groups contribute equitably.
  • All users are satisfied that the design and implementation of the WASH programme have led to increased security and restoration of dignity.

Additionally, sound project design requires that monitoring and evaluation be built into the design from the beginning. Defining baselines, targets, and implementing systems to routinely collect and analyse data, as well as planning for necessary evaluation and decision points, are all essential to keeping a project on track and communicating project performance. In complex or dynamic environments, an ongoing evaluation may need to be built into the project design as well as the revision of M&E plans over time based on learning.


Factsheet Block Body

Design and planning must be applied by anybody who intends to formulate programmes or projects that are economically, socially, politically and environmentally viable. It is required to effectively conceive and plan their implementation based on demand-driven proposals. The design steps help users to respond to concrete development needs, while also meeting the eligibility criteria of donors and co-operation agencies. Increasingly, donors are supporting initiatives that strengthen recipient ownership, improve the overall effectiveness of aid, and reduce the cost of managing development assistance. The principles of programme design and implementation can be applied to project and programme planning at any level, under consideration of the particularities of the context.

Library References

Emergency Sanitation: Assessment and Programme Design

This book has been written to help all those involved in planning and implementing emergency sanitation programmes. The main focus is a systematic and structured approach to assessment and programme design. There is a strong emphasis on socio-cultural issues and community participation throughout.Includes an extensive “guidelines” section with rapid assessment instructions and details on programme design, planning and implementation.

HARVEY, P. BAGHRI, S. REED, B. (2002): Emergency Sanitation: Assessment and Programme Design. Loughborough: Water, Engineering and Development Centre (WEDC) URL [Accessed: 31.05.2019]

Developing Skills of NGOs, Project Proposal Writing

This guide will lead trainers through project proposal writing sessions and exercises. It enables the user to: improve participants’ skills in developing quality project proposals, show them how to manage projects within an organisation; and help them to understand a project’s value as a tool to achieve and further the organisation’s mission.

NEBIU, B. (2002): Developing Skills of NGOs, Project Proposal Writing. Szentendre: The Regional Environmental Centre for Central and Eastern Europe URL [Accessed: 07.08.2010]

The Sphere Handbook

This appendix of SPHERE handbook is a water supply and sanitation initial needs assessment checklist. This list of questions is primarily for use to assess needs, identify indigenous resources and describe local conditions. It does not include questions to determine external resources needed in addition to those immediately and locally available.

THE SPHERE PROJECT (2011): The Sphere Handbook. Rugby: Practical Action Publishing URL [Accessed: 19.10.2016]
Further Readings

Model Guidelines for Mainstreaming Water and Sanitation in Emergencies, Protracted Crises, LRRD and Disaster Preparedness Operations

These Model Guidelines have been developed to effectively understand and implement policy positions in practice. The guidelines draw on a wide range of experience in the sector, ranging from ECHO itself, NGOs, donors, and research institutes to UN agencies and the Red Cross Red Crescent movement. The Model Guidelines present lessons and good practice relating to a range of areas of intervention, including technical, institutional, and social aspects of service provision, as well as hygiene promotion and behavioural change. Wherever possible the guidelines draw on existing materials and information sources.

AQUACONSULT (2005): Model Guidelines for Mainstreaming Water and Sanitation in Emergencies, Protracted Crises, LRRD and Disaster Preparedness Operations. Traiskirchen: Aquaconsult URL [Accessed: 25.01.2017]

Designing water and sanitation projects to meet demand in rural and peri-urban areas - the engineer’s role

This report forms part of a research programme investigating how water and sanitation projects can be designed to meet demand. It follows a detailed literature review and field visits to project partners in South Africa, Tanzania, Nepal and India, bringing together the lessons that have been learnt and preparing the way for a set of practical guidelines.

DEVERILL, P. BIBBY, S. WEDGEWOOD, A. SMOUT, A. (2001): Designing water and sanitation projects to meet demand in rural and peri-urban areas - the engineer’s role. Leicestershire: Loughborough University URL [Accessed: 25.01.2017]

The Urban Programming Guide: How to Design and Implement an Effective Urban WASH Programme

The guide provides an introduction to urban WASH programming: how to design and implement a pro-poor urban water, sanitation and hygiene programme. The recommendations are drawn primarily from WSUP’s extensive experience in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. WSUP currently has urban WASH programmes in 11 cities across six countries (Bangladesh, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zambia).

PEAL, A. DRABBLE, S. (2014): The Urban Programming Guide: How to Design and Implement an Effective Urban WASH Programme. London: Water and Saniation for the Urban Poor URL [Accessed: 25.01.2017]

Project Design Guidance Further Reading A Reference

This USAID Project Design (PD) guidance is meant to accommodate various conditions and requirements in the field, and facilitate new learning into project analysis, evaluation, and implementation. The PD guidance describes the relationship of designing projects to Mission strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation. It defines guiding principles, outlines the design process and its documentation, and describes the analytical steps that support project design.

USAID (2011): Project Design Guidance Further Reading A Reference. Washington D.C.: USAID URL [Accessed: 25.01.2017]
Case Studies

How to Make WASH Projects Sustainable and Successfully Disengage in Vulnerable Contexts

The research report is based on previous and current approaches of the ACF-IN Missions, from communities, a wide range of sector actors and from desk based research, as to the factors which affect sustainability, the major challenges, and examples of good practice. The aim of the manual is to document the learning and to share good practice within the ACF International Network, and outside where appropriate, on responding to sustainability in vulnerable contexts. The research has included four periods of field work in Lao PDR / Cambodia, Liberia, Northern Kenya and Colombia, selected to provide a range of contexts, challenges and examples of good practice.

HOUSE, S. (2007): How to Make WASH Projects Sustainable and Successfully Disengage in Vulnerable Contexts. Paris: Action Against Hunger URL [Accessed: 25.01.2017]

Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Manual

The following guidelines are a sum-up of PIN experience in WASH projects in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Congo, Angola, Cambodia and Sri Lanka – programs are implemented in rural, often remote areas. The guidelines are program specific and reflect experience from implementation, but can generally be useful in project designing and proposals.

PIN (2012): Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Manual. The Cheque Republic. Version 7.. Prague: People in Need URL [Accessed: 11.12.2016]
Training Material

Project Design for Program Managers

Project Design for Program Managers is the second volume in The CEDPA Training Manual Series. It has been developed by the Training Division of The Centre for Development and Population Activities (CEDPA) with support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). It compiles training activities that CEDPA has used in many programs to strengthen the training capacity of health, family planning, and other development organizations.

CEPA (1994): Project Design for Program Managers. Washington: Centre For Population And Development Activities URL [Accessed: 25.01.2017]

Project programme planning. Guidance manual

This manual describes the different stages of the planning phase of the “project/programme cycle” within the context of Results- Based Management (RBM). It also gives an overview of the various components of RBM and explains how to integrate and apply this approach in practice. In addition, the manual summarizes brie y the other key phases of the cycle (assessment, imple- mentation and monitoring, evaluation) and provides references to the key Federation manuals on these phases.

IFRC (2010): Project programme planning. Guidance manual. Geneva: International Federation Of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies URL [Accessed: 03.03.2017]

A Practical Guide to Programme/Project Design

This practical guide is intended to facilitate the designing of social development programmes and projects, provide guidance for implementation and a framework for evaluation. The guide is designed as a generic tool for social development programmes and projects that seek to create transformation. It presents an overview of the relevance and importance of programme and project design in the context of social development programmes and project management and explains its role as a valuable support material to training workshops on programme or project design.

NGANG, C.C. (2009): A Practical Guide to Programme/Project Design. Pretoria: Southern Africa Social Development Agency URL [Accessed: 03.03.2017]

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