As difficult as it is to engage the community in defining problems and articulating priorities, the hard work really starts here. How do you turn all of this into a concrete plan?
Planners need to spell out the scope and goals of a project and the steps that will be taken to carry them out. The best way to do that is to write a concept paper. A concept paper answers why the proposed project is necessary, what resources it needs and how it intends to solve neighborhood problems. Although it does not flesh out all the details, it gives its project partners, key community stakeholders and potential funders a clear overall layout of the plan. At the end of the day, writing a concept paper is a valuable planning tool, forcing planners to articulate a vision for their project and wrestle with how best to communicate that vision.
Here are some tips for writing a concept paper:
1. Define the scope of the project
No project can solve all problems. Beware of being overly ambitious and stating that your project will “solve the problem of youth crime in the city” or “end domestic violence.” Instead, focus on specific areas and tangible goals. You may do this by honing in on one or two specific problems, defining a neighborhood where the problem exists and setting up a time frame for the project. In doing so, also beware of being too narrow in your focus. When it comes time to seek funding, asking for $2 for a project that helps only 25 people is not likely to win the support of many funders.
2. Break down the project into essential components
This is the heart of creative problem-solving and effective program planning. Once you have stated your objectives, articulated your ideas for a project and defined its scope, you should break it down into tangible pieces and discuss how you will tackle each of them. List all the necessary action steps for the project, such as designing a community survey, conducting background research on crime rates in a neighborhood, interviewing community members, etc. After you have listed the tasks, prioritize them. A concept paper should reflect the fact that you have done your homework.
3. Be specific
Identify clearly the objectives of the project and explain how the program will achieve each of them. Answer why previous attempts at solving the problem were unsuccessful and how your project differs from them. List and describe in a paragraph or two all the core resources that are essential (e.g. an assessment team, physical space, an advisory board, etc.).
4. Include an evaluation component
Think through an evaluation or assessment component carefully. Explain how you will know if your project has been successful or not. Accountability—to both funders and the general public—is crucial to the success of community justice.
5. Show commitment
A good concept paper demonstrates commitment to a project in several ways. One, it explains steps that have already been taken toward actualizing a project. Two, it lists sources of funding that have already been secured. Three, it names project partners who have offered support. Other ways to show commitment include the assignment of additional staff to a project by a local agency and donations to the project, such as computer equipment or office space.
6. Write clearly
A concept paper should be clear and concise. Community justice projects seek to appeal to a range of audiences, from elected officials to police officers, from attorneys to community residents. The language should be easily understandable, the layout should be well organized and the format should be consistent throughout the entire document.