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How do we define aims and objectives?

This article looks at the concept of aims and objectives, the purpose of SMART objectives, and the links between activities and objectives.
Aims make big statements like

How do we select the direction of change and the action that is required?

This article is adapted from: Planning for VISION 2020 at the district level, International Centre for Eye Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, 2006.

Defining the aim

Setting the aim for the district plan helps us define where we want to get to. The aim and objectives should be agreed by all parties on the planning committee at the start. It may need revision during project implementation as experience and contact with the problems in the field brings changing insights.

All parties involved should contribute to the design of the district plan. These may include:

  • Health care workers; government, private, and NGO
  • Local administrators
  • School teachers
  • Local volunteers

This will strengthen ownership of the plan, avoid duplication, increase efficiency, and therefore optimise the use of scarce resources. The planning process should recognise the need to:

  • work to national guidelines
  • appreciate the resource limitations shown by your situation analysis and be realistic
  • select priorities carefully, with the easiest first, heeding the distribution of need, the availability of resources, and the advantage of securing early positive community reactions to the benefit of the ongoing programme.

As well as achieving cost-effective interventions, there are four broad themes that should be central to the design of any district plan. These can be summarised as ISEE: Integrated, Sustainable, Equitable, and Excellent.

Community eye care should be integrated into district health care services, characterised by wide access, community participation, and health promotion.

  • Eye care services should be long term and sustainable with regard both to financial and personnel resources and to the assurance of continuing demand. External help may be needed to secure this goal in poorer areas.
  • Services should be equitable across genders and all of society, not just the better off or those in urban areas. This is often difficult to achieve with an uneven distribution of resources.

Clinical and non-clinical excellence for all will ensure that trust is created, community support is fostered, and patients use the services.

The district programme, working to the above guidelines, should combine strategies to achieve comprehensive eye care, demonstrating the four components:

  • Promotion of eye health
  • Prevention of eye disease
  • Curative intervention
  • Rehabilitation.

The process of constructing the district programme at the planning meeting is summarised in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 Building the district plan from the situation analysis Taken from the WHO/IAPB Tool Kit – Developing an Action Plan for VISION 2020

Visualisation of how the district plan is built from the situation anlaysis Click to expand

The steps are to:

  1. Decide the objectives, that should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound (SMART)
  2. Define the priorities in the context of need and present resources
  3. Agree on prioritised strategies with set targets that can be monitored to show progress with the objectives
  4. Define the action plan of activities and linked sub-activities.

A Gantt chart is a table of project tasks with a bar chart graphically showing the project schedule, depicting progress through time and enabling both tracking and planning to be maintained.

Specifying objectives

Objectives for the district plan are designed to overcome constraints that have been identified in the situation analysis. These objectives:

  • may relate to human resource development, infrastructure development, and disease control interventions selected from the five main causes of blindness
  • will be achieved through broad activities and narrower sub-activities forming a strategy to implement the change
  • will be directed at precise targets, that have a given completion date and that are measurable as monitoring indicators
  • are realistic in the time frame and in the wider resource environment.
© London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine CC-BY-NC-SA
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