Design, Monitoring and Evaluation for Peacebuilding

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DM&E Tip: Measurable Goals and Objectives

Developing measurable goals and objectives is an important step in the project design process, and one that seems to be frequently overlooked in peacebuilding programming. We have a tendency to not only overpromise the results, but also on the timeframe the results could be realistically achieved in. We need to do better, not just to be accountable to donors or even to ourselves, but to the people we serve.

Clearly stated goals and objectives provide the scope, focus and purpose to the project. Goals link the project to the desired change in the broader conflict, while objectives describe the knowledge, attitudinal and behavioral changes that are prerequisites to achieving the goal. In other words, goals operationalize impacts and objectives operationalize outcomes (results).

Hot Resource! Check out Cheyanne Church and Mark Rogers’ Designing for Results: Integrating Monitoring and Evaluation in Conflict Transformation Activities, Chapters 3 and 4 for more on measurable goals, objectives and indicators.

Generally, there are four pitfalls to be avoided when conceptualizing measurable goals and objectives:

  1. Defining goals too narrowly so that they appear to be objectives or activities; defining objectives so broadly or narrowly that they appear to be goals or activities 

Narrow Goal: Media in Kosovo will prevent violence between religious sectors through increased professionalism gained from training.

Broad Objective: To prevent election-related violence in Kenya.

  • Remedy: Think in terms of what the activities are designed to achieve. Shift thinking away from describing activities and toward describing the knowledge, attitude or behavior changes those activities are intended to achieve in the project participants and/or context. This will result in a stronger orientation towards results rather than activities. Remember, activities are action steps taken to get to objectives or goals.

Goal: Media professionals will strengthen capacity to raise awareness of and promote religious freedom in Kosovo.

Objective: Journalists in Kosovo will report more balanced news stories and facilitate on-air dialogues related to issues of religious diversity after training.

  1. Stating implementation or operational benchmarks as goals or objectives

Goal as operational benchmark: Training will be provided to 25% of Kenyans to help them shift their identity from tribal membership to seeing themselves as a Kenyan first.

Objective as operational benchmark or an output: To increase the number of mediators trained in Rwanda by 15%.

  • Remedy: Write the goal in terms of changes that will occur in the knowledge, attitude or behavior in participants. The focus is thereby shifted to the result rather than the activity conducted to achieve it.

Goal: There will be a 25% increase in the number of Kenyans who identify themselves as Kenyans first before tribal affiliation.

Objective: Mediation centers will increase capacity to effectively mediate and resolve land-based disputes.

Hot Resource! A Guide to Actionable Measurement by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

  1. Writing compound goals or objectives 

Compound Goal: To develop the capacity and professionalism of the Burundian police and media and journalists to manage difficult situations and prevent further violence.

Compound Objective: To contribute to the counter-radicalization process in Indonesia and rebut violent and extremist theological arguments that support terrorism.

  • Remedy: Focus on one target audience and/or change at a time.  Structure the goals and objectives statements so that the target audience for the project is the subject and the change in knowledge, attitude or behavior is the verb.

Hot Tip! Your goal or objective might be too broad if it has ‘and’ in it.

Goal: (1) Burundian police forces will develop the capacity and professionalism to successfully manage and de-escalate difficult situations with potentially high levels of tensions that could erupt in conflict in the period leading up to the 2010 elections. (2) To develop the capacity and professionalism of journalists and media outlets to prevent the media from being co-opted into public violence.

Objective: (1) Prisoners in Indonesian state and regional facilities will increase their knowledge of Islamic theological arguments against violence.

Hot Resource! Check out Catholic Relief Services’ Guidance for Developing Logical and Results Frameworks by Carlisle J. Levine

  1. The passive voice

Passive voice Goal: To build the capacity of the justice sector in Timor-Leste [action] to achieve equal and timely access for men, women and children [subject].

  • Rephrase the sentence so that the subject performs the action expressed in the verb. This is referred to as the active voice and makes the sentence meaning clearer for readers. Active voice sentences are also more concise than those in passive voice because fewer words are required to express them. Passive voice sentences are easily recognized because the verb will always include a form of be, such as am, is, was, were, are or been.

Active voice Goal: “The men, women and children of Timor-Leste [subject] will achieve equal and timely access to justice [result] by building the capacity [action] of the justice sector.”

Hot Tip! The Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding is preparing to release a series of self-guided training modules that breaks each phase of the project cycle down into manageable steps, including practice exercises! Check back this summer for more details.

Hot Resources

Free Online! Designing for Results: Integrating Monitoring and Evaluation in Conflict Transformation Activities by Cheyanne Church and Mark Rogers for Search for Common Ground

Free Online! Catholic Relief Services’ Guidance for Developing Logical and Results Frameworks by Carlisle J. Levine

Free Online! Measuring Progress in Conflict Environments (MPICE): A Metrics Framework edited by John Agoglia, Michael Dziedzic and Barbara Sotirin

Free Online! A Guide to Actionable Measurement by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation


Jonathan White is the Manager of the Learning Portal for DM&E for Peacebuilding at Search for Common Ground. Views expressed herein do not represent SFCG, the Learning Portal or its partners and affiliates. 

Thanks for outlining these!  I think that they offer some great insight that goes beyond evaluation and extend into legibility and clarity of objectives for others reflecting on our programs broadly.  I do have a question to throw back out there in regards to the first pitfall: specificity.  While, I can understand how a broad goal can greatly increase the success of the measurability of that goal, but I question whether or not it is wise to stretch more specific goals so thin.  Is there a cost to broadening goals that we do in fact hold to be specific in nature just for measurability's sake?  

Ekaypo, I had the same concern when I read this as well.  However, I interpreted the tip as keeping the goal broad by clearly separating the actions from the intent.  Instead of specifying what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it, focus instead on the changes you want to see.  In my opinion, the goals are your underlying reasoning for designing a program.  The activities are informed by the goals.  Patton talks to great lengths about clarifying goals throughout the evaluation and design process; by keeping activities separate from goals, it is easier to clarify them and, if need be, alter some goals without completely changing the program.  However, I do agree that specificity in terms of goals is necessary in some sense and I am curious to hear other responses to this topic.


To me, goals are more of an orientation, a direction.  As SCompton states in her comment, goals are the underlying reasoning for an intervention and objectives specify what you want to achieve and how you will achieve it.  Activities are the options through which to attain the objectives.  To apply a metaphor here, it’s as if one knows that she wants to head north (goal), she specifies which route she’ll take and embarks on a road (objectives), and within that road, there are multiple lanes from which to choose for travel (activities).  In this light, goals can be very broad, but to make it worthy of pursuit, the objectives and activities must be specific.                                 

Thank you for the resources referenced in this article!  To join the discussion about goals being too broad, I think we first need to define the differences between goals and objectives in how they are measured.  Goals may not be strictly measurable or tangible.  Objectives must be measurable and tangible.  In M&E, the term goal is used in a slightly different sense than everyday use.  Usually goals must be SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely).  IN M&E, goals provide a big picture for the influence of a project; they are broader.  Objectives are then used to fill in the smaller picture details for what changes are necessary in order for the goal to be achieved.  Redefining goals and objectives helped me to understand the author's position in the first and third pitfalls more clearly.