Why set time frames for change?
Written by Karen Spehr & Rob Curnow, Community Change, 2011
People often resist setting time frames because they assume that their program will end when ‘we achieve a community wide water use reduction of 15%’ or will end ‘when the money runs out’. Sometimes programs are thought to end when it they have changed so much that they have become something new with a new name and a new logo. No commercial organisation worth its salt would ever dream of investing in changes to its product or promotion or sales methods with the idea that it might work at some unspecified time in the future. Environmental programs should be no different. If change is not happening in the time frame we reasonably expect, then we need to address the problems to improve the result, not just hope that things will magically change in the future.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Some highly successful programs without time frames do sometimes succeed but then fail to continue to develop to meet new needs. For example, people who have changed their behaviour to turn their heater thermostat down to 18 degrees might now benefit from a program to help them maintain this change during a harsh winter until it becomes an ingrained habit and very resistant to change.
Constructing a time frame also enables you to ask, for each objective, what was the behaviour like before you started your program? What changes happened during the program, by the end, and at follow up? Identifying an endpoint for your program doesn’t mean you stop doing it but it provides a critical structure for assessing your progress. From a psychological point of view, time frames enable program staff to move on to new and interesting improvements instead of feeling like they are running up and down on the spot indefinitely.
I often get asked to help programs design and carry out their evaluation and these requests often come from programs with no time frames. With an evaluation definitely planned for some time in the future, the future has now arrived, usually in the form of an overdue annual report or the end of a funding agreement. Programs like this often slide into reporting what are often euphemistically called ‘key performance indicators’ – the number of people participating in a program or what participants thought of it. While this information might be useful to collect, the program has taken its eye off the main game – whether or not less of a resource has been used. Like all the other components of a good objectives statement, time frames provide discipline and focus. They enable you to conduct your program in a dynamic way, driving the decisions you make every day.