Investment Learning Platform (ILP)


The design phase takes the initial project concept identified during the strategic planning phase and develops this to the stage where it is ready for implementation. Design should be carried out in a consultative and participatory fashion to ensure the proposed project reflects needs and opportunities and can count on the buy in of major stakeholders for successful implementation. Design requires background studies to underpin the selection of technical and implementation strategies, and to ensure that the project rationale and strategy is sound and feasible, and is likely to achieve the planned outputs. In the end, the project design should be detailed enough to allow immediate and straightforward project implementation, but flexible enough to allow for adaptation due to unforeseen circumstances.

The purpose of design

The purpose of design is to take an investment concept to the point where funding can be committed. Design applies to programmes and projects, but it is more detailed in the case of projects which will be the focus of this overview. 

Design may be anything from a relatively rapid process for small scale projects or extensions of existing projects to a lengthy, technically complex and costly procedure for large-scale projects and programmes. Regardless of the size of the project. However design takes up the preliminary options delineated during identification, reviewing alternative options for achieving envisaged results, and assessing technical, economic, social, environmental, institutional and administrative aspects to determine the best alternative.  

Systematic and effective project preparation should ensure that:

  • Projects are well conceptualized and planned within the context of the country’s overall development goals and are the most appropriate way to address an identified issue.
  • Design builds upon learning and insights from previous relevant operations [see M&E and Scaling up].
  • Projects are complementary and coordinated with other initiatives (planned and current).
  • Scarce resources – human, financial and natural - are used optimally and the project is financially and economically viable [see FEA].
  • Scope and timing for implementation is realistic and feasible. 
  • Projects are supported by the key stakeholders at local and national levels.
  • There are opportunities for public review of project concepts and proposals for accountability.
  • Project risks are identified, and processes defined to control and manage them.
  • Necessary funds can be predicted – taking into account potential cost overruns and requirements for maintenance - and cash flows can be managed to achieve planned project outcomes and timeframes for implementation, also taking into account the national budget cycle [see Annual Planning and Budgeting].
  • Processes and responsibilities for implementation are clear, and responsible institutions have – or will have with planned project support - the required capacity to implement. 
  • An institutional exit strategy or approach to scaling up beyond project completion is in place.
  • Appropriate mechanisms are built into design to learn from new evidence and implementation experience and adapt project approaches and focus over time.

Steps in project preparation

Project preparation should be done through a process of consultation with intended beneficiaries, implementing agencies, the Ministry of Finance and development partners. Consultations should to continue throughout the project development process to ensure that all relevant information and perspectives are taken into account, that the proposed project has the required buy-in for success and that transparency and accountability is ensured. 

Project design is an iterative process, which includes regular reviews of information, crosschecking and successive revisions to reach the best possible final design. The earlier potential problems are identified and confronted in the design phase the greater the likelihood that solid solutions can be found to pave the way for smooth implementation. 

Participatory approaches in development

Broad consensus prevails across countries and development partners that development approaches can only be successful if they are identified and implemented by or with the communities or individuals who are intended to benefit from them. Investment planning and implementation therefore needs to be based not only on sound analysis and evidence, but also on consultation with and participation by stakeholders throughout the cycle. Consultation processes should be transparent, and as it is rarely possible to consult all stakeholders, care should be taken to ensure that the representatives consulted actually reflect the views of the wider group and that they are accountable to them. 

For investment decisions at local level that do not involve significant economies of scale, large scale investment projects can adopt community driven development (CDD) approaches that give community groups control over prioritization, planning and implementation of certain investment resources, building upon local knowledge and creating greater ownership of choices and related results. With appropriate measures to guide decision-making and avoid elite capture at the local community level, CDD can also enhance accountability by bringing decisions closer to the people that are affected by them. Participatory monitoring and evaluation approaches that involve the community in tracking and assessing progress and transparent communication processes can enhance effectiveness of investments and foster social capital.

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The exact steps in preparation depend upon the specific country context, the level of information available, and the extent to which major stakeholders already share a common vision.  In general, major steps in project preparation are:

  • Confirm or revise objectives set during project identification as well as indications of the overall funding envelope. A robust and easy to communicate objective statement that is fully owned by the local stakeholders is central to good design and project success.
  • Review documentation and protocols required by funding and implementing agencies.
  • Review results from background studies carried out as a result of identification. Where appropriate initiate further more detailed studies to inform technical strategies, also reviewing success factors and challenges from previous programmes, and implementation arrangements, especially where safeguards are triggered.  
  • Consider major cross cutting themes and issues that need to be considered during detailed design and implementation include climate change, nutrition, and gender. Specific preparatory studies may be required depending upon project context and focus, and planning of activities and monitoring and evaluation (M&E) needs to take respective key aspects into account. 
  • Prepare a first draft document specifying overall goals, objectives, outputs and main activities. This should include a draft results framework identifying measurable and realistic indicators to assess progress and achievement of objectives [see RBM and M&E , as well as a preliminary estimate of costs [see Costing ]
  • Review this draft with key stakeholders and consider their suggestions in revisions.
  • Proceed with preparation of components – detailing activities and related costs, including an assessment and definition of phasing of activities, taking account of the need for sequencing and time required to complete determined tasks [see RBM].
  • Prepare detailed estimates of costs and benefits to ensure that investments are attractive to participants and will yield public benefits. 
  • Define institutional arrangements, responsibilities and staffing for implementation, and based upon an assessment of institutional capacity - technical, financial and administrative - define activities to strengthen the implementation capacity of the relevant institutions.
  • Define procurement and financial management arrangements in line with rules and regulations of the financing institution and/or government requirements.
  • Develop the M&E system and carry out a baseline assessment or prepare detailed baseline assessment if target beneficiaries or communities are identified after the project launch.
  • Prepare the final project document to be submitted for appraisal.

Depending on the scale and complexity of a project, overall time required can be from a few months to two or more years.

Responsibility for project design and team composition

All stages of project design are ultimately the responsibility of the proponents - in the case of public investment projects, this is generally national or local governments, in consultation with major stakeholders. The actual technical preparation work of collecting information, carrying out studies, conducting financial and economic assessments and preparing a project document, results frameworks and cost tables, may be undertaken by government departments, contracted out to consultants or carried out by international experts if expertise is not available in the country. 

While an initial scoping investigation may be carried out by a single professional in the case of small projects, more in depth feasibility assessments and complex projects will need a multidisciplinary team to ensure the project preparation properly assesses social, technical, environmental, financial and management issues. The team may be national only, or include international staff and consultants depending upon availability of expertise in the given country and requirements of the different donor agencies where outside finance is sought. Wherever feasible, international experts should be paired with local counterparts to ensure that the international experts base their analysis and recommendations on the best available local knowledge and information and that local experts, in turn, can benefit from insights into international good practice and experience. 

Project Appraisal

Project appraisal consists of the final review to confirm that the project is technically, socially and economically sound, fits funding priorities of the stakeholders and is expected to be feasible to implement. Depending upon the funding agency, a quality review involving external experts may be carried out prior to appraisal. Appraisal is generally the responsibility of the funding agency. Following appraisal - and modification of the project document as appropriate, funding can be committed – in the case of external funding, this occurs following negotiation to conclude funding arrangements.

Key Resources

Guidelines for the design of agricultural investment projects
(FAO, 1995)

Assists in the design of agricultural investment projects in developing countries, covering the principles and processes of project design

World Bank. Agriculture Investment Sourcebook. (World Bank, 

Compilation of good practice and innovative approaches in agricultural investment.  Includes note on lessons for improving project design.

Investment Project Financing - Preparing the Project Appraisal Document (PAD) (WB, 2013)

Detailed guidance on the preparation of WB project appraisal documents.

Institutional and Organizational Analysis and Capacity Strengthening – A Field Practitioner’s Guide. (IFAD, 2014)

Guide to support institutional and organizational analysis and strengthening for design and implementation of programmes and projects.

Asian Development Bank project cycle and project documents

Detailed guidance on ADB projects from design to implementation.

Aid Delivery Methods - Project Cycle Management Guidelines
(EU, 2004)

Project design and management tools to enhance the effectiveness of programmes and projects supported with EC funds.