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From: Focus on health and dental care – Footsteps 42

Helping people make appropriate decisions about their own health needs

SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. It is a way of looking at organisations, programmes or projects. A SWOT exercise can help to provide new ideas about your work by identifying factors that influence it, both now and in the future. This exercise often works best in a mixed group with people from different areas and levels inside and outside the organisation.

Facilitators will need:

  • four large sheets of paper or a large board with four sections
  • some paper for each group
  • pens, pencils, markers or chalk.

Divide people into small groups (two to six people is ideal). You may want to divide people by type or area of work, or their role (volunteers, parents, committee members etc).

Each group is asked to list in turn the organisation or project’s strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats that face it. Strengths and weaknesses are usually thought of as internal to the project and refer to the present situation. Opportunities are areas for future developments. Threats are potential problem areas. Both opportunities and threats are usually external.

Set a time limit for the exercise such as 15 or 20 minutes. Make it clear that this is a brainstorming exercise where you are looking for honest opinions and many different ideas, not a detailed discussion or an argument. Groups can jot down their ideas on the paper provided. After brainstorming, groups can transfer their answers to the larger sheets of paper or board. Then they can discuss the ideas for each area. It is helpful to consider the unique strengths and weaknesses of the organisation or project when compared with others which are known.

Get the groups to compare their answers for each area, asking questions to assist this process. Have groups come up with similar answers or very different ones? What does this reveal about the experiences and perceptions of the different groups? Are there areas of clear agreement and other areas of disagreement? Do answers offer ideas about areas that need strengthening or about future directions of the work?

In the box below are some comments by participants in a rural community-based rehabilitation programme during a SWOT exercise. Consider where you would place each idea (strength, weakness, opportunity or threat) and why. Sometimes you find that a comment may fit into more than one category.

This article was adapted from Issue 29 of CBR News, published by Healthlink Worldwide.

Can you draw any conclusions from these ideas?

What do they tell you about this project?

  • We all trust each other
  • Everyone is committed to the programme
  • I don’t feel at home using English in workshops
  • The volunteer training is good
  • It’s difficult to find time to fit everything in
  • We need more bicycles
  • We all speak the same language
  • Funds always come late
  • I’d like to get more involved with decision making
  • Our record-keeping could be improved
  • I wish we had more full-time workers
  • Most people have time but not much money
  • I believe more disabled people could get involved
  • The government has no policies on disability
  • The new teacher is not keen on having disabled children at school
  • The local newspaper did a good story on us
  • Women are more positive towards us than men

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