1. Relevance and innovation

Relevance and innovationProject design and planning starts with a good understanding of the project’s context and defining the needs and preferences of the groups and communities with whom the organisation works. In other words, a project is relevant and meaningful for those involved if it manages to meet their needs and preferences. Additionally, making projects relevant implies efforts towards innovation. Innovation seeks for new ways, routes and adaptations in response to the changes of the context. This is a key starting point if the project aims to be of added-value. Here we propose a number of steps and tools to ensure relevance in your project planning.

If you first want to assess your practices go to Assess your projects.

Understanding the project´s context

A first step in project design is to understand the social and political context in which it will take place. This understanding is necessary in order to better relate to the communities and groups that you will work with.

Guiding questions to analyse your project’s context.

  • What is the political, economic, social and cultural context?
  • Who are the main actors related to your work?
  • What are their interests, goals, positions and capacities?
  • How are the relationships among actors?
  • What conflicts can you identify in your context?

A context analysis seeks an understanding of the entire historical, political, economic and social scene. You can deepen your context analysis, with a conflict analysis. Conflict analysis tools are specifically designed for peacebuilding work. For example, they can help you analyse the causes and effects of conflicts and how actors behave in a conflict setting. Both a general context analysis and, more specifically, conflict analysis can help you situate your project’s ideas and goals into the broader social reality where it will be implemented.

You can read more about…

  • Conflict analysis: Conflict-sensitive approaches to development, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding tools for peace and conflict impact assessment | Chapter 2 – Saferworld
  • Stakeholder Mapping: Section 6.2 (p.45- 47) in Conflict Analysis Framework: Field Guidelines and Procedures – GGPAC – 2015

  • Mapping Political Context: Mapping Political Context. A Toolkit for Civil Society Organisations – ODI – 2006

Defining needs  

Defining needs is key in ensuring the project’s relevance. But who defines them and how? It is important to state  explicitly who defines the needs, with whom/for whom and how these needs are perceived and expressed in practice. Participatory planning is crucial. This means involving all relevant individuals and groups in decision-making at all stages of the project.

We propose  a basic needs analysis tool.

Which groups/individuals expressed their needs? What needs were expressed? When and how were they expressed?
Example: young girls in neighbourhood x. A space to meet safely

Job-related skills

Informal interviews

girls club meeting

You can read more about:

Building on past experiences

Your project is likely not to be the first of its kind. There may have been many projects that are similar to yours in terms of topic or implemented in the same community. Find out about previous projects implemented by your organisation or by others. What can you learn from them? What has worked well? Find out what challenges and risks did they encounter?


  • Have you consulted with previous staff members or resource persons?
  • Have you consulted with community/youth leaders about their past experiences with similar projects?
  • Have you read previous evaluation reports?
  • Have you read research reports about the issues the project is about?
  • Have you researched what other projects having taken place in the area you are working in?

Innovating for the future

relevance and innovation 2

Innovation does not happen on its own. Innovation takes efforts. It needs time to think creatively about new methods and approaches. It needs to be planned in your project’s design phase.

Here are a few tips for organizing a brainstorming session with your team

  • All participants are encouraged to contribute fully, guiding each other in developing a wide variety of potential solutions
  • Eccentric/strange/unconventional ideas are welcomed and built upon
  • Arts and culture are integrated  into the ideation process

You can read more about…

  • Brainstorming as a tool for creativity: Mindtools


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