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Linda Meyer on Helping Clients Develop Goals and Objectives

My name is Linda Meyer and I am an applied developmental psychology graduate student at Claremont Graduate University. I am going to give you a few tips on helping clients develop goals and objectives that can help you plan an evaluation.

Knowing programs’ goals and objectives is useful for creating logic models for evaluation, but new programs or project managers who are unfamiliar with evaluation may not know how to (a) develop goals and objectives or (b) easily explain their goals and objectives. The problem I run into most often is that they may have goals and objectives, but for whatever reason these goals and objectives do not aid the evaluation planning process.

Hot Tip: Create new goals – don’t try to change old ones. Especially if you are an external evaluator, program management may be weary of someone coming in and telling them how to run their programs. Clients often have mission statements or goals that they use for program promotion, but these may not be useful for evaluation. To work with program management and get the evaluation started on solid ground, I start by explaining how to write goals and objectives for the purposes of the evaluation. Often, they end up being similar to the goals or objectives the client originally had for their program, but are worded so that a clear and straightforward logic model and evaluation plan can be created. Clients are much more willing to help you write something that will help plan the evaluation than they are to amend their program’s stated goals and objectives. You get the information you need and they don’t feel like you are taking over their program.

Hot Tip: Use a visual aid to help define goals and objectives. Explaining that goals are abstract and broad and that objectives are concrete and narrow is not enough to help your client develop goals and objectives that will be useful to the evaluation. I usually do a demonstration using simple paper-and-pencil: I draw a large circle and write “goal” in the middle, explaining that goals are like a big, gaping hole that the program is trying to fill (or the need they are trying to meet). There isn’t a shovel big enough that can fill it with one scoop. Then I draw smaller circles in the “goal” circle and write “objective” in each, explaining the relationship between the two terms and how it is easier to fill multiple smaller holes sectioned off from the goal. Objectives are easy to measure and when achieved, contribute toward the broader goal. From there, I explain what outcomes are, which helps later on when you are picking measures. You can use whatever metaphor you like, but people tend to pay more attention when you draw a picture.

Rad Resource: The CDC has their own model for creating objectives, using the acronym “SMART” to help people come up with Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound objectives: http://www.cdc.gov/phin/communities/resourcekit/tools/evaluate/smart_objectives.html. The website has a link to a worksheet in a Microsoft Word document you can use if you have trouble getting clients to define appropriate objectives.

This contribution is from the aea365 Daily Tips blog, by and for evaluators, from the American Evaluation Association. Please consider contributing – send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org.

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