Several points must be understood from the outset:
First, activities are NOT project objectives.
Second, there are two levels of project objectives. These are:
- Project objectives at the societal level (= impact, level 7).
- Project objectives at the target-group level (= outcomes, levels 4 - 6 in the results staircase).
What does that mean in concrete terms?
Activities are NOT project objectives
In the past, projects were primarily assessed on the basis of what activities and services they offered. This primarily involved looking at indicators first, metrics second, and then going back again to indicators. The results achieved as a consequence of the activities were rarely or never examined.
This fixation on OutputOutput describes the countable offerings and products of a project as well as their utilization by the target group. Outputs form the basis for a project to have a desired result. Yet, they do not describe results per se. output continues to have an effect today. Many organizations still primarily report only the most basic data: What and how many services does a project offer? What activities take place, and how many participants were there?
It is correct and indeed important to collect and communicate this data. However, it is also crucial to fill this basic information with lived experience:
- What has actually been achieved through all the activities?
- What difference does the project make?
- What results have been achieved?
Linking the activities carried out with the intended results is one of the key concepts underlying impact-oriented management. Of course, it is often difficult to collect such information on results, and most results cannot be measured or expressed in figures.
However, organizations that genuinely want to make a difference with their work have no choice other than to engage with their project objectives. This is because well-formulated objectives that are clearly distinguished from activities are the foundation for impact-oriented project management.
Moreover, funding providers such as grant-issuing foundations are increasingly inquiring about project objectives and what they’ve achieved. Thus, it also makes good sense from a fundraising perspective to focus intensively on your own objectives.
Two levels of effect
In order to define impact-oriented project objectives, you need to know whom you want to reach and what exactly you want to change for this target group:
- Which target groups do you want to address with your project?
- What exactly do you want to change for the benefit of the target group?
- What societal challenge should the project help resolve?
The last question makes clear that project objectives can refer to different levels. A distinction should thus be made between:
- Project objectives at the societal level, and
- Project objectives at the target-group level.
Project objectives at the societal level (Impact) describe the long-term results that are achieved or influenced by the project. These societal-level objectives are closely linked to the organization’s vision.
Project objectives at the target-group level (Outcomes) describe the desired results within the target group. What benefits does the project have for the target group, and what changes is it intended to bring about?
Developments at the societal level are determined by many factors. Demonstrating a causal relationship between the project and the impact can often be difficult, and may even be impossible, especially since impacts typically appear only after considerable time. Project-specific objectives at the societal level should thus be formulated cautiously ("The project will contribute to...").
The solution tree
If you find it difficult to define your project objectives, you can also develop these using the solution tree.
The solution tree is obtained by translating the negative statements of the problem tree into positive statements about the ideal state you’re working toward.
For example, "young people do not have sufficient social skills" becomes the more solution-oriented, "youth possess sufficient social skills."
It is important that the solution tree defines a solution for every problem within the problem tree, and that all solutions are related to one another.