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:
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).
Well written objectives should be as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-limited(SMART)as possible:
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):
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.
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.