A Field-Based Strategy for Developing Successful Career Programs

by Robert Reardon, Ph.D.

The times when I've seen career services offices in the most turmoil are related to a failed program development activity. Staff failures in planning and implementing new programs have been the trigger for dissension and confusion. As a result of seeing and participating in poor program development activities, our career center, which has about 20 staff members, developed a new policy about five years ago.

First, we established a new programs committee composed of representatives of all four units of our career center. This committee, which reports to the director, makes sure that any new program is thoroughly reviewed by all units of our center. This process helps to ensure that one or two staff members cannot launch a new program on their own. Second, we decided that any new program proposal should be described in a written document to ensure that everyone knows exactly what is being proposed and all changes are documented. Third, we created a 13-point Request for Proposal (RFP) that the developer(s) must include in the written proposal. Fourth, we directed that each proposal must be given to committee members before the meeting. This helps assure that members have thoroughly considered what is being proposed and that their questions and comments will lead to success of the program if implemented.

In the section below, I have identified the 13 steps included in our RFP. In order to assist the program developer, each step includes selected examples of questions to be addressed in the program proposal document.

1.Title.-Is the title and/or acronym explained in the program proposal?

2.Description of Context.-Does the proposal describe the real-life environment and context in which the work will occur, particularly the client characteristics, organizational resources, state-of-the-art in the field, cultural milieu, unit mission, and personnel? Is there a relevant history of prior work regarding the problem?

3.Define Problem Situation.-Does the proposal describe the specific client and organizational needs to be addressed by the intervention? What is the difference between the actual and ideal state of affairs?

4.Goal Specification.-Does the proposal state the goals of the program intervention in terms of the client and organizational needs listed in #3? For client goals, does the proposal link specific intervention(s) to new behaviors acquired by learners after the proposed intervention?

5.Description of Intervention Strategies.-Does the proposal explain what the program will do to meet each goal identified, including how and why the particular strategy and/or activity was selected from among alternatives available? Does the proposal reference prior work in the literature or field? Does it describe the personnel competencies needed to accomplish the work, who has them or how they will be acquired through training or selection? Does it describe the facilities and other resources needed to do the work, what is needed and what is in place already?

6.Conducting a Simulation.-Does the proposal provide for conducting a verbal or imaginary walk-through of the program from start to finish? Is there a flow-chart showing the operation of the program within the organization?

7.Pilot-Test Program.-Does the proposal describe a tryout of the intervention on a limited basis, specifying how many staff and clients will participate, how long the test will run, and how the pilot will be evaluated?

8.Introduce the Program.-Does the proposal describe plans for introducing and launching the intervention, including preparation of print and media presentation materials, timelines for introducing the program, staff involved, and notification of key persons in the organization?

9.Evaluation.-Does the proposal describe how each of the goals of the program will be evaluated, who will evaluate them, the timeframe, costs, and criteria for evaluation? Is there a description of process evaluation, e.g., daily monitoring of intervention activities, staff debriefings, user feedback, participant observations? Is there a description of product evaluation, e.g., have program goals been met?

10.Dissemination.-Does the proposal describe how the results will be shared with other interested persons in the organization and the profession?

11.Personnel.-Does the proposal describe the leadership and program direction competencies of staff working on the program? Does it describe how existing staff will be trained for the new activities?

12.Costs.-Does the proposal explain how the program will be funded? Are distinctions made between startup costs and recurring costs? Is there a projected annual budget for the program?

13.Endorsements.-Does the proposal include statements of support from important stakeholders in the program, e.g., organizational leaders, client representatives, support groups?

We have found that not every proposed program needs to go through all 13 steps in this process, e.g., #6 or #7. In the past two years, we have processed applications for eight program proposals, including "A New Member Staff Orientation Program," "An Online Credentials File System," "A Mentoring Program," "A Virtual Career Fair Program," "Internet-Based Career Assessments," and "A Placement Partner Industry Forum Series." Some proposals were tabled by the committee, some withdrawn, some revised, and some recommended for immediate implementation.

The work of the new programs committee and this 13-point outline have made a significant positive impact on the successful implementation of new programs in our office. In the annual career center evaluation conducted by the entire staff, the policies and procedures for the implementation of new programs described here have been supported and retained by the staff and the director. Although this process may appear cumbersome and time consuming with respect to proposal preparation and the lead time required, the adage of "pay me now or pay me later" captures the essence of the new policy and procedures. We have found it much better to pay "now" rather than "later."

In honor of NCDA's 100th anniversary, Career Convergence is publishing articles of historical significance. This article and bio are reprinted from our debut issue in 2003.

Robert Reardon has held full-time counseling and teaching positions at Florida State University since 1966, when he was first employed as a counselor in the Counseling Center. Today, he is a faculty member in the Division of Student Affairs, and his current position is Director of Instruction, Research, and Evaluation in the Career Center; Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems; and Co-Director (with James Sampson) of the Center for the Study of Technology in Counseling and Career Development. He may be reached at rreardon@admin.fsu.edu

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