Developing a Plan in Your Organization

Stack of organized paper grouped with paper clips.

Monitoring will help you refine what success will look like over time.

Where Do I Begin?

If your organization wants to make its health information more accessible, understandable, and usable, it needs a plan. The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy is a helpful model for changing organizational and professional practices. The steps below and our workbook can also walk you through the planning process.

Steps to Developing an Organization Plan

Identify Advocates

Your organizational plan may start because of one person’s interest, but it can’t be developed alone.

Begin by identifying your advocates. As you plan, think broadly about who your advocates may be and don’t count people out until you ask. You will need strong advocates within your organization, but you can also benefit from identifying advocates who are external to your organization and can be partners and/or facilitators.

You will need a broad group of advocates for successful planning and implementation of organizational change.

  • Champions: These individuals are typically leaders and/or decision-makers in the organization who have the authority to approve the plan or have the influence to put the plan into action. These champions may or may not be familiar with the issue but should be people you think would be open to learning and being a powerful voice for the issue.
  • Allies: These individuals and/or organizational components can provide support to the plan and the vision you have for health literacy in your organization.  Allies are critical, as they may have slightly different perspectives and needs that will be invaluable in the planning process.
  • Workgroup Members: The need for a formal workgroup will depend on the organization. While champions and allies are essential for influence and support, they may not be involved in day-to-day planning, organization, and coordination. Therefore, you need commitments from individuals with diverse perspectives from across your organization as core workgroup members. This does not have to be a large group, but it needs to include people who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work.

Get Buy-in

Getting buy-in is a natural next step after you have identified advocates who will be essential to the development, implementation, and promotion of the plan. Before you develop a plan, determine the level of support from your champions and allies. Remember, everyone may not have the same understanding of health literacy and its importance, so you should carefully consider who you are trying to reach and what would be most appealing for them.

Some possible suggestions for getting buy-in include:

  • Ensure the workgroup has individuals/staff who understand the importance of health literacy.
  • Have individuals/staff take trainings  that show how the impact of limited health literacy and health information and services can be overwhelming and complex.
  • Show the problem of health literacy in your state or county. State and county estimates of low literacy are available from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy.
  • Invite a speaker from an adult education class or English as a second-language course to talk about the challenges they face with health information and services.
  • Sometimes the best way to get buy-in is to show success, so you could take some small actions to address health literacy and then demonstrate how those actions have benefited the organization.

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There is little value in planning if you are not committed to seeing the plan through completion. Both you and the other members of the workgroup need to be willing to dedicate time to the planning process. Depending on the size of your organization and the scope of your plan, the time commitment and resources will vary. Developing a timeline and identifying necessary resources will help people know what type of commitment is involved.


It is hard to see clearly how your organization should address health literacy if you don’t know where you are currently. It’s easy to make assumptions about current practices and structures, but you don’t want to build your plan on assumptions or one person’s opinion. Therefore, an honest assessment is necessary to identify opportunities and barriers to improving health literacy in your organization. As you conduct your assessment, engage multiple stakeholders in the process. Multiple assessment tools are available that may be helpful.

Create the Plan

Once you’ve conducted your assessment, you are ready to begin planning. Developing a plan for action is the first step in making health literacy real in your organization. This easy-to-use workbook [738 KB, 16 pages] will help you get started and think through the steps. If you are realistic, thoughtful and strategic, you can develop a plan that will help make your organization health literate. The basic elements of your plan could include the following.

  • Issue Overview: The overview should be a description of the issue and why it is a worthwhile cause for your organization to be involved. Language from the National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy [666 KB, 73 pages] can be used for your issue overview as it is a public document and it goes into depth describing the issue of health literacy, the prevalence of health literacy, and innovative approaches to addressing health literacy.
  • Vision and Commitment: Your plan should include a vision statement of where you want your health literacy efforts to go. Additionally, either a statement of commitment or a request for a commitment is critical in moving the plan into action.
  • Existing Policies: It is likely that in your honest assessment of your organizational practices, you uncovered some of the existing policies that guide or create barriers for your approach to health information and services. Be sure to include those policies and ways they could be strengthened in your plan. A summary of your assessment could also be useful to help set the framework for your plan.
  • Overarching Goals: Think carefully about what you want to accomplish as you begin to formulate your goals. Consider what success will look like in 1, 3 and 5 years and ensure the goals you develop will help you achieve that success. The National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy [666 KB, 73 pages] includes seven goals that may be helpful for you as you think about your organization’s goals.
  • Objectives: For each goal you should have some objectives that help you determine how and if you reach your goals. Good objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. For examples:
  • Actions: While the objectives get you into more specifics than the goals, they don’t tell you how you will go about implementing the objective. Detailed action steps, indicating who will do what by when are vital to the success of each objective. Clarifying these action steps up front will help ensure that everyone is clear on their roles as the plan is finalized. In addition to action steps, you should also consider what resources and partners would be necessary to implement the actions and successfully achieve the objective.
  • A Workbook for Developing an Organizational Plan: Developing a plan for action is the first step in making health literacy real in your organizational practice. This easy-to-use workbook [738 KB, 16 pages] helps you and your organization get started in developing your own plan to change organizational and professional practices to improve health literacy. Developing a plan for action does not have to be an overwhelming process.

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Vet Plan

Just because you have developed the plan and engaged multiple stakeholders along the way that does not mean that your plan is complete. A process of vetting (having a period of discussion and feedback) the plan is critical to its success. Develop a process to show the plan to relevant stakeholders (including your Allies and Champions) and gather their feedback to ensure the plan reflects the perspectives of those necessary to implement the plan. Refine the plan based on that period of discussion and feedback and work to get your Champions and senior leader(s) to support the plan.

Build Awareness

Once your plan has been accepted by your key stakeholders, it’s time to engage all your advocates to make everyone aware of the plan and what it includes. There is no point in developing a plan that sits on a shelf or in someone’s electronic files. Get out of your comfort zone and present the plan at staff meetings or across your organization, have your Champion and senior leader(s) reference the plan in their presentations and have them send an announcement of the plan to all staff, and/or incorporate the plan into new employee orientation materials. As you present the plan, highlight the benefits people will appreciate immediately.

Carry Out the Plan

Now that you’ve developed the plan, involved stakeholders, and increased awareness, schedule a formal launch. The launch will help the plan become part of your organization’s practices and policies.

Monitor Progress

You will only know the success of the plan if you monitor your progress. Part of the plan development should include identifying who is accountable for monitoring the progress and the process for monitoring. Monitoring will help you refine what success will look like over time.

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