Objective Setting and Impact Evaluation Framework

(Ogbeiwi, 2017. Why written objectives need to be really SMART. BJHCM, 2017 Vol 23 No 7.)

Well-formulated goals are fundamental to planning effective results-oriented action and relevant strategies and attaining effective changes. A SMART goal framework guides goal-setting in formulating better objectives with a complete set of components required, including specific outcome, measurable indicator, attainable target, and realistic time frame (OITT; outcome, indicator, target, and time frame).

Objective statements with the outcome, indicator, target, and time frame will ensure that organizations work towards specific, attainable, and measurable aims.

Formulating better objectives requires attention to goal attributes and goal content.

Projects with an incomplete or defective goal framework are less likely to attain their desired outcomes. Less hope for goal attainment is detrimental to performance. One can achieve improved performance through clear, specific, and challenging goals.

Seven thematic characteristics that distinguish an objective from other goal types are its stated object of outcome; specific scope; mid-level or intermediate hierarchy; short-term time frame; quantifiable measurability; the significance of effectiveness; expression as a SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound) goal.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009) defines Objectives as annual milestones the program needs to achieve to accomplish its goals by the end of a five-year funding period. The CDC provides structural guidance for writing objective statements using a SMART goal framework, such as a template in seven parts: verb, metric, population, object, baseline measure, goal measure, and time frame. All CDC objectives are written within a structure that includes the time frame, task or outcome to be accomplished, and the expected change in the measure from baseline to the target. This goal structure gives a clear direction for action planning and implementation.

Intervention Goals

Intervention –> Output –> Objective –> Aim

Actions produce results in the form of output.

Actions or interventions include tasks carried out, activities performed, and strategies executed.

At the end of the activity, the immediate-term output goal will result. The time frame is zero months.

The output is the specific, measurable result of the action.

The output can also be considered as the first-level effect of process targets.

The objective expresses the desired outcome, a short-term effect or change expected to result from the outputs of activities performed.

The effects of the immediate output of an intervention lead to the attainment of the objective in the short term, which in turn, over the longer term, contributes to achieving the broad or overall aim, described by organizations as a general goal or development or a higher-order objective.

It may take 3-12 months to achieve a short-term outcome relating to an objective and at least five years to accomplish a long-term impact relating to an aim.

The objective is the specific, project-measurable, and timed outcome; it can also be considered the second-level effect of outputs in the mid or short-term. The time frame is 3-12 months.

The aim is the broad, subjective organizational purpose or impact. It can be considered the terminal-level effect of the outcome. The aim is the long-term, end-term, or higher-order goal with a time frame of five years or more.

Alternative goal frameworks for the educational sector include learning goal formulations with specificity, temporal proximity, hierarchical organization, congruence with self and others’ goals, degree of difficulty, self-generation, conscious awareness, and clarity about whether the goal is process or performance-related. The well-formulated outcomes framework requires educational objectives to be written as positive outcomes, own role, what task by when, evidence of accomplishment, and relationships required.

Locke and Latham’s motivational theory of goal-setting and task performance (1990, 2002, 2006) illustrates how goals formulated with goal attributes of specificity and difficulty, under certain mediating and moderating conditions, improve task performance, and increase the chance of goal attainment. Goal attributes of effective objectives enable the attainment of the desired goal effect. The steps are to set a specific and high goal (e.g., performance and learning goals) to achieve enhanced task performance (e.g., productivity, cost improvements) to attain the desired outcome (e.g., satisfaction with performance results and rewards).

The four key moderators by which set goals lead to enhanced performance are the conditions for goal effect, namely, goal commitment = goal confidence (self-efficacy) + belief of goal importance; feedback on progress toward a goal; task complexity; situational constraints of resources.

The four key mediators by which set goals lead to enhanced performance are the mechanisms of goal effect, namely, directing attention and action; focusing effort on goal-relevant tasks; persisting at task overtime; motivating use and acquisition of required strategies/skills/knowledge.

To ensure goal clarity and to positively influence goal attainment, meaningful objective statements should specify the positive change or improvement desired; the measurable indicator of the change; the challenging but attainable indicator level; the realistic time frame of when one can achieve the change. These four components are the outcome, its indicator, target level, and time frame (OITT).

Example SMART objective statement using the OITT framework, “To improve the economic status of the population in community x, such that the poverty rate fall from 50% to 30% by the end of one year.”

To be an outcome, the specified accomplishment is to be an expected short-term result or change related to the activities of a project, intervention, or organization.

To be an indicator, the specified goal measure is to be a direct, quantifiable outcome variable, expressed in quantitative units of number, percentage or proportion, average, ratio, rates, etc.

To be a target, the specified level or quantity must be an amount of the indicator stated.

Time frames are specific dates, periods, or time frequencies.

An objective statement is SMART with the criteria of being Specific: it states an outcome; Measurable: it states an indicator of the outcome; Attainable: it states an achievable, relevant target level of the indicator: Realistic: the target level can be attained with available resources in a particular time frame; Time-bound: the desired time frame is specified.

The realizability of the objective statement can only be assessed if operational and resource contexts are known.

Outcome objectives seek desired change as a short-term result of a task, activity, or strategy rather than a change in the level of task performance or indicator. These may specify the achievement of specified desired results or outcomes of services. Task accomplishment does not qualify as an outcome but a process objective.

Process-oriented objectives seek the targeted accomplishment of tasks or work. They specify change as an indicator. For example, to develop and implement a system, to reduce operating cost, to increase output, to increase compliance, to increase the reach of a training program, to increase the implementation rate of a procedure, to start a project, to develop a plan, to create an inventory, to start an initiative, to improve productivity.

The type of accomplishment specified in an objective statement reflects the goal setter’s organizational understanding of an objective. As a generic term, it may be both task (process) and outcome-oriented. Organizations may encourage their projects to be formulated using objective statements that show expected accomplishments at different system levels of task, output, outcome, and impact. These goals may show the expected changes in task performance (process) or the short-term effect or outcome results they expect from the outputs of implementing planned tasks. Goal setters may state the specific changes in indicators that are solely statistical measures of the measures towards a goal without specifying the goal itself in terms of an expected result.


Set High-Quality Goals

{Locke, 1996; Latham & Locke, 2006}

Action is goal-oriented, and together with personal motivation, and psychological capacities such as hope, optimism, resilience, and personal values, they affect

.. the direction of a person’s action … objectivity

.. the degree of effort exerted … specificity

.. the persistence of action over time … commitment

Goals often stimulate planning, promote clarity, and enhance a person’s interest in a task.

What types of goals are most effective at motivating high performance? What makes one effective at goal-setting and goal-getting?

Specific Goals Lead to Greater Achievement

Setting a goal creates a gap between what is and what could be. Action will create a performance to close the gap. Performance can be regulated to match requirements when goals are specific and explicit. Vague goals will make regulation less effective; in systems terms, the output will (overshoot) or (undershoot), and oscillations or delays may result. High performance can be as problematic as low performance; appropriate performance to the task at hand is the motto.

Accomplishing Specific and Difficult Goals Requires Commitment

Expectancy theory informs us to set goals we believe are important and attainable.

Importance is an issue of personal values and personal context.

‘Attainable or Achievable’ is linked to self-efficacy and is necessary to create commitment.

This capacity is raised through relevant experience, vicarious experience, role-modeling, encouragement by valued mentors, and our positive inner state of feeling good and strong; perception and ability operate in tandem.

However, we need to consider the next principle for goal setting to avoid falling into the negative side of “attainable.”

Higher Goals Lead to Greater Achievement

With commitment, knowledge, and ability in place; we have a valued and attainable goal at hand. We may now choose to adjust difficulty keeping an eye on achievability.

The higher the goal, the greater the achievement. 

accomplish v.[trans.] achieve or complete successfully.  ad- +complere, to complete

accomplishment n. sth. that has been achieved successfully

<special usage> the successful achievement of a task

achieve v. [trans.] reach or attain (a desired objective, level, or result) by effort, skill or courage

achievement n. 1. a thing done successfully, typically by effort, courage, or skill

      1. the process or fact of achieving something

From research: Effort people exert is proportional to the perceived difficulty of the goal. Harder goals motivate greater persistence because greater persistence is often required to achieve them.

Goal-Setting is Most Effective When There is Progress Feedback

We have our goal, valued, achievable, hard enough but not too hard; we have our present situation and context; we have our commitment, skills, capacity, and capability; we have our plan, resources, allies marshaled, and our vulnerabilities under protection.

Now we act to close the gap. How will we know when we reach the goal; that we have made progress toward the goal?

The goal is specific, explicit, and time-bound; these are our goal’s form or structure aspects.

We need feedback that shows our progress, which is also a structure aspect.

Immediacy, completeness, usefulness – positive and constructive, directness. 

Constructive use of negative feedback entails setting new goals and sub-goals, improving strategies, renewing and energizing commitment, growing resources, and maintaining self-efficacy.

Repair and maintenance are as important as operations and delivery.