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Module 3: Your Objectives

Step 4: Defining your Program’s Objectives


Objectives are the impacts, or changes, you hope to have in your target population.

Objectives are the more specific and achievable versions of your program’s goal. The program’s objectives are the most critical component to having a program that has well thought out activities and that can be successfully monitored and evaluated. The most important aspect of this section is to help you specify the complex social concepts you are addressing and identify the relevant components for your program.


  • specify the aspects of the complex social concepts that you will address in your work
  • guide the development and review of program activities
  • are separated into those that are more within control of your program (immediate objectives) and those that are less so (intermediate objectives)
  • tell you what you will need to track and measure
  • tell you what needs to be accomplished to achieve the result the program is working towards
  • focus attention on what you hope to achieve and therefore guide staff implementing the program
  • represent the agreement between the program and the outside world regarding what the program commits to achieving within a given time period and budget.

If you have already done a needs assessment (Module 2) and a Theory of Change (Module 2) you should refer to these in writing your goal statement.

Start Where You Are: Maybe with your on-going activities

Ideally your program planning process will include monitoring and evaluation. We realize that this is often not the case. So we encourage you to start where you are. This may mean that you think about the program activities you have on going and then work back and forth between what your goals and objectives are and the activities you are already committed to and those you may be able to modify at this point. Regardless of where you are in the program process you can always benefit from clarifying the purpose of the work you are doing with your team. Your activities are what should be producing the change you hope to see in your objectives.

Linking your Objectives and your Activities: Theory of Change

Your understanding of your target problem shapes the change you wish to bring about and therefore the activities you decide to implement. In other words, what change do you think will contribute to improving the social problem you are targeting? Why do you think that change will contribute to improving your target problem? What activates will bring about the change you seek?

Your broad view of the problem you are targeting and how you think you can impact it is called your Theory of Change (See Module 2: Understanding and Defining Your Target Problem). In order to create effective programs you should refer to solid evidence when developing a Theory of Change: 1.scientific evidence for what can impact your target problem, and/or 2. the extensive programmatic experience of people engaged in solving this problem. The process of developing a Theory of Change should require you to articulate and examine the assumptions behind your work. In order to move forward with creating a causal pathway we suggest that you first develop a Theory of Change with your team. (Understanding your social problem and the process of developing a Theory of Change with your team is addressed in Module 2: Understanding and Defining Your Target Problem).

Task 1: Rights-Based Social Justice Objectives: Getting a Handle on the Complexity of Sexual and Reproductive Health

Any given health or social problem is the result of the social context in which it is situated. In addition, many of the social problems that you target in your work are bound up with what we call complex social concepts, such as women's empowerment and gender equality. This, then, requires that you think about how to address these complex social concepts in your work.

For example, if the problem you are addressing is sexual violence, and based on your organization’s experience, other program knowledge, expertise in the field, and scientific literature, you find that a lack of women’s power is a key aspect of the incidence of sexual violence, then you need to work towards women’s empowerment. But how to do that? What is women’s empowerment made up of? What does it look like in your community? How do you target it with a program activity? (One way to think about the complexity of the social problem you target, and how you might impact it, is by developing a Theory of Change (covered in Module 2)).

Tips: Is Your Agency Walking the Talk?
Example: Complex Social Concepts, Components, and Indicators/Instruments

  1. First, break it down.
    Understand the components of the sexual and reproductive issue you are addressing.
    Think about how these complex social concepts are related to sexual and reproductive health, and how they can be broken down into identifiable components that can be impacted and measured by your program.

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    Complex Social Concepts, Components, and Indicators/Instruments


  2. Transforming Objectives with a Rights-Based Social Justice Perspective
    You might have started with an objective or goal that can be enriched by a rights-based perspective. Writing/re-thinking your objectives with this perspective will point you to the many ways in which your goals can be targeted with your program activities. A rights-based social justice perspective will make your work more nuanced and complex, and ultimately more effective.
  3. Tips: A Rights-Based Social Justice Perspective on Some Common SRHR Objectives

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    A Rights-Based Social Justice Perspective on Some Common SRHR Objectives


  4. Identify locally relevant components: What does it look like where you are working?
    Understand how the SRHR issues present themselves in the social context of your program. See Examples: Complex Social Concepts, Components, and Indicators/Instruments. Choose the components your Team and Stakeholders think are the most relevant to your priority population, to the local context, and to the nature of your program. Which components are even possible or realistic to target with your program? For example, while freedom of mobility is an aspect of women’s empowerment, it may not be a problem in the target community, or it may be such a huge problem that it is not realistic for you to impact it with your program.
  5. In order to help you identify locally relevant components of the issues you are working on you may want to fill out Worksheet A: Objectives, Measuring Complex Social Concepts columns 1, 2, and 3. (Worksheet A: Indicators, columns 4 and 5, are for developing your locally relevant indicators in module 4.)

    Worksheet A: Objectives
    Measuring Complex Social Concepts

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    Worksheet A: Objectives

  6. Levels of Impact
    It may be helpful to think about your objectives, and therefore your activities, in terms of different levels of program impact: individual, family/partner, community, and institutional. Below is an example of a causal pathway- focus on the objectives and activities- that can help you think through your program in terms of different levels of impact. (See Module 2 for an explanation of how to think about your social problem in terms of levels of impact).

    worksheetWorksheet: Constructing a Causal Pathway with Different Levels of Impact

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    Different Levels of Impact

Task 2: Making Your Rights-Based Objectives SMART and FIT

Now you need to take your rights-based and locally relevant objectives and connect them to your program activities and make them specific enough to be meaningful.

Objectives help you think about appropriate and realistic impacts for your program activities, so that you and others can fairly assess what you are doing. Objectives should help- not hinder- your efforts. Two main concepts guide the development of objectives: SMART (helps you think about useful and fair objectives) and FIT (helps you think about what you can realistically expect from your activities). These are simply guidelines for how to think and write about your objectives. They can be over-lapping categories.

Keeping it real:

Many programs over-state or misunderstand what they can truly achieve with their program- as a result they may believe their program to be a “failure” or funders may be disappointed. It is often the case that the objectives themselves were not realistic and specific.

Making Your Objectives SMART

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Making Your Objectives SMART

Making Your Objectives FIT Your Activities/Making Your Activities FIT Your Objectives:

In order to write your objectives you need to think about your activities. In order to develop, or review, your activities you need to think about your objectives. Your conversation should include your overall goal, your objectives, and your activities. It would not be productive to think about the impact you hope to have (objectives) without thinking about the program that you deliver (activities). The next step is focused on activities -you may want to keep the concept of a FIT program in mind and complete the activities section first, especially if you already have an on-going program. This will help you think about the actual program that is delivered and what you can expect from it.

The frequency of your program activity, the intensity of your activity, and the intended participants of your activity are all important aspects of thinking through what you can realistically achieve with your program.

Making Your Program FIT

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Making Your Program FIT

Task 3: Distinguishing between Immediate and Intermediate Objectives

Distinguishing between immediate and intermediate objectives will help you be realistic about what you can achieve within a given time frame and exposure to the program. It may be helpful to look at examples of Tips: Objectives (immediate and intermediate), Activities and Goals so that you can get a sense for how they relate to each other.

Immediate objectives refer to the results that are directly produced by your program; in other words they are immediate results or consequences of what your program did. This also implies that they are seen within a short time frame and/or with a smaller dosage of (or exposure to) the program. You can be reasonably held accountable for these, as they are more or less within the reach of your program. Common immediate objectives are knowledge and skills.

Intermediate objectives focus on results that are one or more degrees removed from the program. In other words they are logically related to your program but out of control of the program directly and are intermediate in the sense that other changes have to take place first before these intermediate results can occur. These are not in direct control of your program, and you need to be mindful of the time and dosage needed for these objectives to occur. Intermediate results may be seen in the community that you are working with if the immediate results were achieved and they are expected to be necessary to contribute to the achievement of the final result. Common intermediate objectives are attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors.

Keeping it real: Immediate and Intermediate Objectives

The difference between immediate and intermediate objectives is an important one- and it is often here that programs over-state what they can achieve. It is simply unrealistic for example, to think that you can change people's behavior (a more intermediate impact/objective) through a 6-month workshop series. The intensity of program participation that might typically occur in six months may be enough to increase knowledge levels, awareness, and possibly skills.

Your program may not have the resources (money, time, and staff) to achieve and/or evaluate intermediate objectives. In this case your program will focus on immediate objectives. Despite this, it is still be important to write some intermediate objectives. Much like writing a goal statement, it will help create a common understanding and focus for your work with the project team, and should there be the opportunity for more resources you have already put your work in the context of longer term, more resource intensive objectives.

Tips: Examples: Activities, Immediate and Intermediate Objectives, and Goals

Worksheet: Almost Done: Write Your Objectives

You can either use the worksheet below - or you can simply refer to it and write your objectives in your causal pathway.

Fill out a copy of the worksheet for each objective.

These are intended as guidelines to help you make your program grounded in reality, achievable, and doable. The categories can be over-lapping.

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Worksheet: Almost Done: Write Your Objectives

Worksheet: Fill in the Immediate and Intermediate Objectives section on your Causal Pathway

Keeping it real: Flexible and relevant objectives

Objectives are not written in stone and should be modified as needed so that your program and what you and others expect from it can continue to be tied to the realities of program implementation.

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Worksheet: Causal Pathway

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STEPS Update

Workshop. International Conference on Family Planning: Research and Best Practices. November 18, 2009. Kampala, Uganda.

Exhibit. American Public Health Association. November 7-11, 2009. Philadelphia, PA, USA.

Workshop. Margaret Sanger Center International at Planned Parenthood of New York City. October 22-23, 27-28, 2009. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.


For more information: ppnyc@stepstoolkit.org