How to begin your public interest project

03 Nov 2014
Author: Robert Precht

Justice Labs Startup School is an online platform to teach you how to design a fully functional public interest project to show to donors. People ask me, "where do I begin?" The simple answer: begin by identifying a social problem. A social problem creates unmet needs that your project will address in some way. Some would-be entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking up a project in the abstract, i.e., "I want to write a blog about educational inequality" or "I want to create a counseling center for gay and lesbian youth." While these are worthy desires, a better approach is to focus on some unmet social need. A public interest project is built around meeting that need. 

Let's illustrate this point by means of one of my favorite devices, a logic frame. The term sounds complicated but it is quite simple. A logic frame is a form that illustrates your public interest project in miniature. Or, to put it another way, a logic frame is series of boxes that illustrates the progression of your public interest project. 

The logic frame I have reproduced below is for a Hong Kong Public Interest Fellowship -- a program to competitively select recent law graduates and pay their salaries to work in NGOs of their choice. It begins with a box called "Needs". This is a brief statement of the social problem that will be addressed by the project. In this instance, the pressing need is this: Hong Kong's poverty rate is growing and the city's NGOs do not have enough lawyers on staff to help the organizations use the courts to improve the lives of their client populations. We will return to the logic frame in future blog posts, but for now please notice that the rationale or the logic of the public interest project springs from a social problem. 

To get your creative juices flowing try identifying three pressing social problems in your community. Don't be deterred from identifying a huge problem -- such as educational inequality or human trafficking. Your project idea doesn't have to come up with a system-wide solution. It can be a great project if it reduces the harmful effects of one piece of the problem.