Vision und objectives
Clear objectives are at the heart of all interventions. This also applies to a complex and dynamic environment such as health promotion and prevention. The process of formulating objectives identifies the following: what exactly should be achieved in which setting and in which target group and within which time frame? Such clearly set out objectives also serve as a reference when choosing the most appropriate actions and measures to be taken. However, they are not a rigid frame but allow for the fact that objectives can change during the course of a project – new ones might emerge and original ones could loose importance. At the end of a project, when the attainment of objectives is assessed, all objectives new and old will be taken into consideration. This is the only way to identify and document developments and learning experiences.
We differentiate between the vision of a project and the objectives for a project. The vision is a general idea of a desirable / desired state of affairs with a time frame that goes beyond the duration of the project. Objectives on the other hand must have a clearly defined time horizon and must be attainable and assessable by the end of the project. Objectives in health promotion must not only focus on individual behaviour but should take into account several of the following levels:
- individual level (including key-players)
- group level
- organization level
Outcome models are good tools for structuring the complexity of the subject area and for gaining an understanding of the interplay between objectives and actions/measures (see SMOC, the Swiss Model of Outcome Classification developed by Health Promotion Switzerland).
Making objectives operational
Well written objectives should be as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-limited(SMART)as possible:
- Specific: It is unambiguously clear what kind of change ought to be effected in which target group.
- Measurable: It is possible to judge whether the project objectives have been met.
- Attractive: Efforts are needed in order to achieve the objective.
- Realistic: An objective has to be realistic in the sense that it has to be achievable with the available resources and within the stated time frame. This can only be judged if the contextual conditions of the project and its resources are known.
- Time-framed: Project objectives are usually defined in such a way as to be achievable by the end of the project; intermediate objectives ought to be attained by each 'milestone' date. If you make use of the 'Planning chart' and the 'Project management chart' the timing for the objectives is defined by their place in the charts.
However, in order to evaluate if an objective has been achieved, more is needed than just well formulated objectives. You are therefore required to determine and spell out one or several indicators for the achievement of success. If these indicators have a quantitative component, they have to be clear about the level of achievement that constitutes 'success'. The way indicators are determined is linked to the evaluation method that will be applied. It is best to combine several evaluation methods (and thus indicators) in order to allow an assessment of a situation from various perspectives.
A good indicator respects the following five points (RESTE):
- Relevance: Meaningful indications for the objective in question
- Efficiency: The effort to collect data is reasonable
- Simplicity: Comprehensible and logical for all concerned
- Timeliness: Data is available within an appropriate timescale
- Exactitude: Reliable measurement
Objectives agreed by contract and criteria for abandoning the project
By the end of a project, the person or institution responsible for it will be accountable to the financial backers. You will be asked to demonstrate that you have reached the contractually agreed objectives that were fixed at the beginning of a project. If, for any reason, objectives are revised or reformulated during the project (this often occurs during the detailed planning phase), it must be remembered to discuss these changes with the client and to amend the contract accordingly. Sometimes, project leaders are expected to fix their own criteria for abandoning a project. However, projects are often the livelihood for project leaders and their team and the formulation of abandonment criteria would be tantamount to 'biting the hand that feeds you'. Criteria for the abandonment of a project should therefore always be formulated by common agreement between client and contractor.
Why you would disregard these aspects
There is often confusion between measures (actions to be taken in order to reach an objective) and goals (desired state) and the implementation of a measure is taken to be the achievement of the objective. A vague description of objectives avoids the difficulty of having to describe desired effects in a detailed way. If the formulation of objectives remains vague (e.g. “to raise awareness in a target group”) the attainment of the objective cannot be evaluated and you cannot be held accountable for disappointing results.
What you have to gain
- If your objectives are formulated in a effect-oriented way they will be more motivating.
- If you exclude strategies and measures from the phrasing of your objectives, you will have more room for manoeuvre.
- SMARTly phrased objectives are the only ones that are useful for managing the project.
- Keeping the focus on your objectives and knowing exactly what you want to achieve or not (!) will help preserve your energies and create space for creativity.
- If your contract contains clear and realistic objectives, you will be able to demonstrate your success better and you will avoid unrealizable and unexpressed expectations from the client. At the same time, you will be able to provide a well-founded account of your actions and your success.
What you can actually do
- Describe the future desired state of the systems in which you want to intervene and try to make the anticipated change visible.
- Define indicators that will make the success of your project measurable. Use the planning and evaluation charts.
- Try to assess realistically the structural and behavioural changes that can possibly be achieved in the given time frame - try to put yourself in the place of the target-group.
- Take your time when formulating your objectives. Consult with experienced project managers in your institution, with project consultants, with your team.
- If you make any changes in the way you phrase your objectives after the conclusion of the contract, discuss them with your client and make sure that the client agrees to them and gives his written permission.
- Think about the circumstances that would lead you to abandon a project and discuss them with the client.
Questions for critical reflection
- Are there clearly spelt out objectives for each target group and each setting?
- Are your project objectives targeted at different levels?
- Is it possible to assess and evaluate the attainment of each objective?
- Is there a definition, for each objective, for the degree of achievement that is needed in order to call it a ‘success’?
- Are the indicators formulated in a realistic and comprehensible way?
- Do the indicators reflect various points of you on the project?
- Have you respected the five important points (RESTE) when defining the indicators?