5 Tips to Write a Compelling Concept Note

អត្ថបទ​នេះមានជាភាសា៖ kmខ្មែរ


By Setha RATH

Former Senior Innovation Program Manager
Development Innovations

Have you ever written an activity concept note? It can be really hard to get it right! Not sure where to start? I wanted to write up some of my thoughts and advice after reviewing and writing a lot of concept notes in my job at Development Innovations. The truth is that there is no magic formula, but here are six things to consider. I think it helps to put yourself in the place of your funder, too, a real human-centered approach. I would like to share the following tips that can help you think through and put together your ideas in a concise and compelling way.

  1. Assess the gap and landscape prior to proposing the project activities: First of all, examine the gap which your project is looking to address. By assessing the gap and problem, it helps you propose the solution that fits with your project. For example, you propose the capacity building activity for young people to learn about product design and development. So, what is the gap that you like to address? Conducting a landscaping assessment or research about the problem you want to solve is crucial, since it allows you understand the issues your specific group of audience is facing as well as understanding what has already been done to address this problem or an opportunity to design a new program to address the issue. If your proposed activity has been piloted previously, you should include the previous results (especially user data!) and lessons learned from the project as well as how you will incorporate the user feedback to improve the program. For example, in your concept note you propose the expansion of product design and development training to reach more students in the rural areas. In this case, you should include the results from the previous training such as the increased knowledge and skills of students to develop the electronics products.

  3. Be specific about the problem and target audience your project is trying to address: Think about the particular issue that your project is trying to address or what you want to achieve. Is it attainable within the proposed timeframe, resources and budget? Include a specific problem statement and target audience. In the problem statement, the concept note should demonstrate the statistical data and evidence to support the argument. One example is below.Problem Statement: A 2018 UN study showed that less than 6% of Cambodian university students studied STEM majors, particularly engineering. However, employers point out a lack of qualified candidates to fulfill technical and engineering jobs. Therefore, the purpose of the project is to build the capacity of young Cambodians in Phnom Penh City aged from 18-25 years old on the product design and development, so that they are able to create the marketable products and equip with technical skills in demand from Cambodian employers.

  5. Demonstrate how you are focused on your users: At Development Innovations, the user is at the core at everything we do. Therefore, when it comes to project design, we work with partners to design the activity that respond to the problem the target users are facing. If the proposed project has already been piloted, you should incorporate the user feedback and lessons learned from previous pilot into the new program. Demonstrating that you have collected – and listened to – user feedback is important to show that you understand the problem and are proposing a realistic solution. 

  7. Think hard about your vision of success: This is one of the most important aspects in the development of a strong concept note. How will you measure the success of your project? The indicator of success should be clearly defined, including the target as well as how the data collection will be verified. For example, one of success indicator can be the percentage of students that demonstrate increased knowledge and skills in of product design and development, or you can measure trainee satisfaction with all elements of the course. This is more compelling than simply saying that 15 people finished the course.

  9. Create a concrete plan to sustain your project: More and more donors are asking for sustainability plans so their investments go farther. Think about how the project will be sustained after the grant ends or how the project can be self-sustained without depending solely on external funding. Be honest! Sustainability can mean many things to many donors. For some social projects, donors realize it will be hard to generate enough income to cover the program. Consider different options depending on the needs of your donor. Sustainability can come in many forms, including a partnership with the private sector to continue supporting the program, an income generation activity, or a handover plan to another institution that wants to continue or expand the program at a larger scale, or for the longer term.

Last but not least, remember that the person who reviews and evaluates your concept note might also be reviewing another 50 or 100 concept papers. Therefore, it is important to keep your proposed activity concept focused on results, short and sweet, and memorable!

Are you ready to go? Don’t forget, we track funding opportunities in ICT4D and innovation here on our website.