Ring 1 Program design and review

Six steps are at the heart of Meta-Frame. Dealing with these steps allows one to design and review projects, programs and policy implementation arrangements. Underneath each of these steps there are instruments that help to get sharper answers.

The six steps are:

  1. Formulating clear objectives – Are objectives clearly formulated and widely understood?
  2. Implementation logic – Is there a clear implementation logic?
  3. Alternative implementation logic – Are there (partial) alternatives to the current implementation logic?
  4. Adjustability – Can the program be adjusted during implementation?
  5. Management of opportunities and risks – Are the main external factors that effect results (positively or negatively) known and can they be influenced?
  6. Managing interests – Do interests allow effectiveness, cost efficiency and implementability?


These steps help to manage certainty and uncertainty within the content and context of the program. They help in designing the implementation arrangements of the project, program or policy.

Formulating clear objectives

Clear objectives allow one to steer on results rather than on inputs and avoid that management becomes limited to auditor statements, procurement reports

Objectives give a common sense of direction to all those involved in implementation. They can be formulated as minimum targets or as ideal situations. It is only with a clear understanding of objectives that it makes sense to focus and try and capitalize on opportunities in the environment and to build in flexibility and the capacity to adjust.

Some points:

  • Be cautious in substituting objectives for performance yardsticks
  • Objectives need to be widely shared
  • Particularly if there are several objectives, consider band-widths of acceptability


  • Supersmart
  • Ist-soll

Implementation logic

At the heart of each program is a clear implementation logic. The implementation logic connects program inputs and outputs with immediate results and objectives. The challenge is to reach objectives but not at any cost.

There are a number of tools to help designing implementation logic:

  • Reverse plausibility check
  • Chase checklist
  • Transaction cost/benefit analysis
  • Trade-off analysis

Alternative implementation logic

Looking at alternatives is part of being cost-effective. The nature of complex programs is that there are usually several routes to come near to the same objective. At least a number of these routes should be systematically considered.

Some points:

  • The ability to achieve objectives is contingent on the implementation logic. It is important not to define the objectives in detail first before designing and deciding the intervention logic;
  • If there are emotional or political arguments in favor of one implementation logic, it is important to make them explicit

In formulating alternative program logic the same tools can be used as in formulating the flow from inputs to objectives, i.e. transaction cost analysis, reverse plausibility check, Chase checklist and trade-off analysis. Additional tools are:

  • Alternative check
  • Solution streams
  • Voting and ranking systems


Implementation gains considerably if there is scope to adjust. It is not only the implementation logic that needs to be carefully planned, but also the opportunities to adjust: the switch-points, the resources and the process. There needs to be a workable balance between commitment and capacity to change. Flexibility, if well managed, enhances the relevance and cost-effectiveness of a program.

Some points:

  • It is important to remain focused on the objective and avoid “strategic drift”. If the objective is no longer valid, reformulation is required, not adjustment.
  • Adjustability should not cover up for inadequate planning,
  • Similarly, flexibility is not meant to introduce perpetual insecurity of the implementing agencies
  • One may built in the program of implementation components that test new approaches
  • Confidence and trust are important – these can be facilitated by good communications and stakeholders management and effective program management arrangements


  • Commitment planning
  • Program research

Management of opportunities and risks

The context of a complex program will offer opportunities and present risks, that become obvious as things move along. These opportunities may differ in likelihood and impact, but it is important to spot them and capitalize on them to achieve objectives.

Some points:

  • Change forecasting should not be used to assess risks, but also to spot opportunities too
  • Designing a program for transmissivity increases the chances that it will be highly relevant
  • Review and monitoring need not focus on the direct content of the program only, but should look at the context too


Managing interests

It is important to understand the interests around a program and the rules under which they interact. Interests – wrongly tuned – can result in systematic overspending or unworkable programs. This goes beyond individual and collective resistance to the change that a program is to bring about.