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Writing Objectives - Overview

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  PDF/Acrobat    Writing Objectives--worksheets : These materials include definitions, worksheets to help you write outcome and process objectives, and example worksheets
  PDF/Acrobat    Example Writing Objectives Worksheets : This file includes several sample completed worksheets
  PDF/Acrobat    Do We Have Program Gaps?--guidance and worksheet : Assess whether the existing and proposed interventions teach people healthy behaviors and create an environment that supports healthy behaviors
  PDF/Acrobat    Writing Objectives Cheat Sheet : This is a one-page summary of how to write good objectives

Objectives provide direction on how to achieve a goal. An objective is a specific, measurable, intended result of your committees work. Objectives need to relate logically to a goal, and they should include specific measurements and time frames.

The terminology for and categorization of objectives varies. For example, an objective having to do with the proportion of adolescents drinking three servings of milk per day could be defined as an outcome objective, intermediate objective, or health behavior objective depending on the resource. Or, an objective directing the establishment of a school employee wellness program might be considered a process objective, a policy objective, or even a strategy for an objective focused on improving the school health environment, depending on the resource.

The exact term for an objective is not important. It is important that goals, objectives, and strategies are logically related and that objectives are well-written. A logical relationship among goals, objectives, and strategies helps make sure that your work will impact what you are targeting.

Well-written objectives are essential to effective evaluation. Moving to the Future: Nutrition and Physical Activity Program Planning describes and defines two different types of objectives--outcome objectives and process objectives.

In Moving to the Future, outcome objectives can address health status, health behaviors, health environment or health policy. Generally it will take a community at least three years to achieve these objectives. Other common terms for such objectives are impact, long-term, behavioral, community-level and intermediate. Here are examples of three outcome objectives:

  • By December 31, 2010, increase from 37% to 44% the percentage of people in Friendly County who are of healthy weight. (Baseline data source: 2005 BRFSS data with data from Friendly County and 10 peer counties. The state chronic disease epidemiologist generated this regional data. Goal source: the upper 95% confidence interval from this same regional data.)
  • By 2015, reduce the diabetes death rate in the Black or African-American population from 138/100,000 to 100/100,000. (Baseline data source: the 2005 state health disparity report. Goal source: committee choice. Note: the state diabetes death rate for Caucasians is 75/100,000 and the Healthy People 2010 goal is 45/100,000, and the committee did not think either of these rates were attainable for the Black population in this time frame.)
  • By December 31, 2015, convert downtown Friendly City to a pedestrian-friendly design that complies with the state department of transportations Pedestrian and Streetscape Design Guidelines.

In Moving to the Future the second category of objectives are named process objectives, and they provide the groundwork to implement interventions. They are linked to the outcome objectives and provide direction on how to achieve outcome objectives. Sometimes the health environment and/or health policy objectives, included in our outcome objective definition, overlap with these process objectives. Generally it will take a community a year or two to achieve these objectives. Other common terms for these kinds of objectives include learning, short-term, structure, intervention, and annual. Here are four example process objectives:

  • By December 31, 2007, incorporate the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions VERB campaign messages and materials into the Friendly County adolescent healthy weight media plan.
  • By January 1, 2008, the 5ADay Team will have developed the 2008 Friendly Community comprehensive healthy eating plan.
  • By June 30, 2006, County Hospital will become a Baby-Friendly Hospital.
  • By September 30, 2007, increase to 50% the proportion of healthy food and beverage choices in all vending machines in the school district. (No baseline data is available. The school wellness council chose the goal. The wellness council will define healthy after considering the information in the Moving to the Future worksheet, "Healthy Food and Beverage Tip Sheet.")

Detailed steps to achieving the process objectives would be listed in the strategies and action steps/activities, described in the next chapter, Develop a Nutrition and Physical Activity Plan.


FAQs About Writing Objectives I've heard the phrase SMART objective--what does that mean? A SMART objective is one that meets these criteria:

  • Specific-tells how much of what is to be achieved or who will change by how much
  • Measurable-the information can be collected, detected, or obtained
  • Achievable-the intended result is realistic
  • Relevant-the result fits with the mission of the group
  • Timed-a timeline is included

The exact definition of each letter in SMART varies among resources. The acronym was developed to help people write clear, specific, and measurable objectives that direct interventions and improve evaluation efforts. You may also see SMART+C with C for "Challenging," meaning that the aims for improvement will make the team work hard.

Another acronym developed to help people write good objectives is RUMBA.

  • Relevant-relates to the needs, mission, and goals
  • Understandable-anyone reading the objective knows what is to be accomplished
  • Measurable-the indicators can be measured and there are systems to do so Behavioral-the desired outcome has to do with improving behaviors
  • Achievable-the objective is realistic and can be successfully accomplished

Why is clarity and specificity important? Evaluation is the primary reason for writing good, clear, and specific objectives. If objectives meet the SMART or RUMBA criteria then you can evaluate your success at the end of the program. Then based on evaluation data, you can expand, modify, or stop an intervention. Another advantage to clearly written, specific objectives is in the implementation phase. Clear objectives describe the plan for programs, services, policy, or environmental change.

How do you set the target in an objective? Good question. There are several acceptable ways to set a target. Your team can set a target based on what team members think is a reasonable change, or based on existing targets like Healthy People 2010 targets, or based on the existing status of peer communities. Given the same information, two different groups would probably write objectives with two different targets and both objectives would be acceptable. The New York State Department of Health has developed an online tool to help local communities conduct community health assessments. This resource, entitled, "10 Steps in Community Health Assessment Development Process," describes eight different ways to set targets. Click here for more information. The important thing about setting targets is to note in the objective the source or criteria used for setting the target. This information will be invaluable when evaluating and updating the objective in the future.

What happens if we don't achieve our objective? Sometimes continued funding is tied to successful achievement of your objectives. If thats the case then it is possible your teams funding would be cut or reduced if you don't achieve the objective. Often, however, nothing that drastic happens. Committee members may be disappointed, and it can be discouraging to report that you did not achieve an objective. Be sure to take time to understand and record possible reasons why an objective was not achieved and use that information in updating the objective for a future plan.

Copyright 2006 Association of State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors

Moving to the FutureTerminology

Coalitions. People work together in a number of ways, in coalitions, partnerships, committees, teams, task forces, and so on. The tools in Moving to the Future will help you no matter how your group is structured. To make Moving to the Future friendly to people working together in different ways, we use these group terms interchangeably. So, if you are working in a formal committee and Moving to the Future uses the word team, the information applies to you as well.

Program. In Moving to the Future, the word program is defined broadly and could encompass any group of activities including projects, services, programs, and policy or environmental changes.

Nutrition and Physical Activity. In Moving to the Future, we often pair the word nutrition with the phrase physical activity, as for example in "address the nutrition and physical activity needs" or "develop a nutrition and physical activity plan." This does not suggest that these materials are only useful to people working on community-based nutrition AND physical activity programs. You can use the Moving to the Future resources to develop a plan focused only on nutrition or a plan focused only on physical activity. Moving to the Future provides guidance on a process--not on content. In fact, these materials could be adapted and used to develop a teen pregnancy prevention plan, for example, or a plan for any other community health priority.

Moving to the Future principles Flexible and Realistic are the bywords of this approach. The intent of Moving to the Future is to provide guidance. Use what is helpful and modify materials to meet your needs. Planning and implementing community-based programs is not work that can be done perfectly. Do the best you can, given your real-world limitations, and commit to making improvements every year.

Copyright 2006 Association of State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors