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Best practice

What makes a good project proposal and a good project?

Experience suggests that a successful project proposal will usually have the following features:

A summary (this should be capable of being read on its own and giving a good overview of the project)

  • a short, clear overview of the project;
  • an explanation of how it relates to the priorities of the funder;
  • a description of the expected benefits.

A project description

  • a comprehensive (but not too long) view of the project and its constituent activities;
  • a full explanation of the technical aspects;
  • a suggested timescale;
  • a work plan with milestones and outputs;
  • an explanation of the organisation and staffing.

A description of the financial and economic factors (this is the main focus of interest for many readers)

  • show that the costs and income over time are appropriate for the type of project;
  • justify the project’s value in terms of all the main measures.

Identification of options

  • show that alternatives have been identified and appraised;
  • clearly establish and justify the best option;
  • explain whether environmental assessment of options has been done.

Questions of uncertainty and sensitivity

  • clearly present the risks;
  • show how sensitive different elements of the project are to these risks and assumptions.

Funding

  • suggest a realistic budget for the whole life of the project;
  • set out the funding support required and indicate when it will be needed.

 

External funders will generally look carefully to see whether:

  • there is sufficient participation by the beneficiaries - the beneficiaries of the project must be involved in the actual decision-making;
  • there has been adequate consultation of stakeholders - stakeholders are individuals or groups of people affected by the project, or with an interest in it. This means more than just explaining the project to key people or groups who stand to gain or lose;
  • where loans are involved, that the borrowers are fully committed to the project - ‘ownership’ has been gained because the borrower is responsible for preparation and implementation. This ensures that the project initiative is local or national i.e. in own country;
  • risks are adequately assessed and managed;
  • capacity-building permeates the whole project - pursued through separate technical assistance where appropriate e.g. staff training;
  • project design is adjusted to changing conditions in a timely way.
Checklist for project design

Taking into account the abovementioned consideration a well-designed project proposal will include the following items:

Checklist for project design

Context and objectives:

  • clear description of the social and economic context into which the project fits;
  • description of how the individual project related to other existing and planned initiatives;
  • clear statement of the problem/target to be addressed;
  • direct link between wider, long term objectives and the immediate objectives of the project.

Beneficiaries and impacts:

  • clear statement about who will benefit from the project;
  • demonstration of awareness of any negative impacts of the project and how these will be minimised.

Results and realism:

  • clear and distinctive objectives setting out what is to be achieved;
  • clear outputs – specific in terms of quantity, quality, time and place – with a well-defined target group;
  • it will be realistic in terms of objectives, resources and timescale;
  • the work programme for the project should be realistic in terms of the time allowed and the scheduling of tasks;
  • it will be clear about which activities contribute directly to the project and its outputs.

Project resources and management:

  • it should be specific about activities and the resources required to do them. If your proposal have activities for which no resources are allocated, there is something wrong!
  • the manpower resources and skills required for the project should be confirmed as available;
  • you should have a clear idea about the way in which the project will be managed;
  • the basic operating environment should be in order e.g. accommodation and equipment for the project team;
  • you should show that the institutional context for the project is supportive.

Assumptions and commitment:

  • the assumptions that you have built-in to the project design should be clearly set out. The more questionable ones should have been analysed and checked;
  • you should describe how you will be making a local contribution to the funding of the project. This will show funders that you are fully committed to the project.

Finally, some of the common faults of the project proposal are presented in the box below:

Checklist of the common project faults

Context and objectives:

  • the project does not fit the funder’s priorities, terms or strategy;
  • the project fails to take account of other relevant activities;
  • no clear relationship between the immediate objective of the project and the wider, longer term objectives;
  • objectives are vaguely worded, confuse ends with means, and are not distinct from each other (in the worst case they may be in conflict with each other);
  • failure to be clear about the problem and the immediate objective.

Beneficiaries and impacts:

  • unclear who are the intended beneficiaries of the project;
  • failure to appreciate the negative aspects of a project and to suggest appropriate measures.

Results and realism:

  • being over-optimistic about what can be achieved;
  • outputs confuse ends with means, or are not specified in sufficient detail.

Work plan, management and resources:

  • the work plan or programme is unclear, the resources or the time required has been underestimated;
  • not enough time has been allowed for the completion of tasks – implementation often takes longer than planned;
  • tasks are not defined in sufficient detail and do not contribute to the achievement of outputs;
  • insufficient allowance has been made for project management, or the management structure is poorly thought out;
  • local institutional capacity and leadership are inadequate to carry out the project;
  • inputs are inadequate or unrealistic.

Assumptions:

  • the assumptions are not clear and not fully explained.

This project is funded by the European Union

And implemented by a consortium led by