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Tools for writing successful proposals

January 27, 2017

When I was a child, my Grandfather used to sit me on his knee and read me stories from books that he'd sourced from the Left Book Club. You know the kind of things. 'one day, the workers of the world will be unshackled from their chains and the rivers will run free'.

 

Personally, I remember thinking with wonderment as I looked up at him, 'what a beautiful poem, but I don’t quite see how you can base a political ideology on such musings'.

 

In later life, I stumbled across the writings of Roland Barthes, the French philosopher, linguist and critic, who basically characterized the style of writing that my Grandfather used to read me as 'Marxist poetic, illusionary language' 

 

When I delved into this further, I found that Barthes' basic premise was that when advertisements were trying to sell us a particular product or service, they would often adopt a similar evocative, poetic language that Marxist authors used when crafting their Manifesto's. He then observed that once a consumer had bought the particular product or service in question, we would touch it and experience it and its allure would kind of be demystified. Our ultimate attitude to it, would depend on whether we thought it had delivered on the promise of the dream we'd been sold previously.

 

So, when I eventually became a service designer and proposal writer, I took these different thoughts with me and found myself sitting on appraisal panels evaluating other people’s project ideas.  Far too often, I found myself reading proposals that were made up of large swathes of 'Marxist poetic, illusionary language”, which left me questioning what the applicant was actually trying to achieve.

 

Had they written it in this way, to avoid delivering anything concrete? Were they just incapable of creating order from chaos. Do they just have an irrational mind?

 

Whatever their reason for adopting this writing style, one thing was clear. Every time I was faced with such a document, I scored it badly. I was unclear about what they would deliver (if anything), what they would achieve and why we should invest our money in them.

 

So, my search began for a tool that would help these purveyors of jargon and waffle. What on earth could I do to help them structure their story better? How could we ask them to be clearer with their musings?

 

It was then that I discovered the science of ‘Intervention Logic’ and importance of ‘Logic Maps’.

 

A ‘Logic Map’ is basically a visual representation of the relationship between the various components of and project or programme of work. Whilst ‘Logic Maps’ can vary depending on the service you are working with, they generally follow the same basic structure, built around the following 'pillars';

 

  • INPUTS: Things that you will use in the project to implement it;

  • ACTIVITIES: Actions associated with delivering project goals;

  • OUTPUTS: The direct, short-term, results associated with a project;

  • OUTCOMES: Medium term consequences of the project, linked to the project goal or aim;

  • IMPACTS: Long term consequence of a project.

 

You can find an example of a Logic Map template here, in the 'Useful Stuff' section of this website.

 

‘Logic Maps’ are a particularly useful tool in service design, because they can help you to develop a core spine to the service you are developing, They can also be useful in analyzing your own service and comparing them to your competitor’s offerings, to try and find points of differentiation.

 

Perhaps most importantly, for any proposal writer, they are an invaluable tool to help you avoid the pitfalls of producing an incoherent proposal which leaves a project appraiser questioning whether you actually understood what they were looking for and whether you can actually deliver a coherent, impactful service.

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