The new Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five (PDG B-5) put out by the US Department of Health and Human Services presents an exciting opportunity to get public sector planning right. The grant provides funds to 46 states and territories to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and create a five-year strategic plan for the better coordination of all statewide early childhood programs, processes, and systems. The end goal is better outcomes for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families.

Comprehensive process improvement efforts like these are rare because it is difficult for staff to clear the time and space to focus attention on all of the moving parts given the service delivery and problem solving requirements of everyone’s “day job.” It is not because of lack of expertise, experience or will within the public sector. But the arrival of HHS grants funds—and the matching money from the states—does not ensure success.

Here are three change management tips that will help make sure your PDG B-5 effort isn’t an exercise in futility:

  1. Most states are planning to broadly engage stakeholders at all levels. This is an opportunity to create excitement, but the engagement process will immediately heighten expectations of action while the new plan won’t be released for many months after the needs assessment phase. States should be looking for ways to demonstrate—and communicate—improvement progress before strategic plans are finalized.
  2. Because the timeline for these planning grants is so aggressive, the needs assessment can’t just be a cataloguing of the status quo, and identifying “missing pieces” isn’t enough either. A state’s needs assessment should deliver a precise and clear picture of what the future state looks like. This will enable the strategic planning team to focus immediately on strategies instead of having to waste valuable time understanding the assessment’s findings.
  3. Strategic plans are not just about strategies. A clear vision for change and the specific strategies must be accompanied by an action plan for how the plan will be implemented. Identifying the work, who will do it, how we will know it’s being done with fidelity, and how we will know if it is effective all have to be part of the planning process. If it’s not, you’re just leaving to chance that those responsible for implementation will get it right.