Identify Goals and Desired Outcomes

Identify Goals and Desired Outcomes

step 2 graphic

Having chosen the priority needs you want to address, you are now ready to get more specific about your goals and desired outcomes for the population of focus. Clear goals and desired outcomes are important for knowing where you are heading, making sure all partners are on the same page, focusing efforts on what is most crucial, and measuring your impact.

Why identify goals and outcomes?

Clear goals and outcomes will help you select the most appropriate techniques or processes that have been identified through research and/or consensus among experts to be the most effective (sometimes called "best practices"). They will also help you specify how you will determine whether you are making progress.

What are goals and desired outcomes?

Goals reflect what impacts you hope to achieve in the future—they provide the vision of the work you are doing and state what is to be accomplished. Goals are broad statements that often have multiple strategies associated with achieving them. A goal should be based on some of the needs that you identified in Step 1.

Linked to a goal, a desired outcome describes how the target population might change based on successful completion of your strategies. Typically, outcomes are related to changes in:

  • Knowledge: What people learn or know about a topic (e.g., developmental milestones for children, the impact of smoking on a child's health)
  • Attitudes: How people feel toward a topic (e.g., attitudes toward parenting, attitudes toward alcohol and drug abuse)
  • Skills: The development of skills (e.g., parenting skills, conflict resolution tactics)
  • Behaviors: Changes in behavior (e.g., child maltreatment, child behavior problems)

Desired outcomes make goals more concrete, so that by changing these outcomes, you get closer to the goal that you set.

How to develop goals for your community?

The goals that you identify should be justified by the priority needs that you identified as a result of your Step 1 work. A goal is a statement for how you would like your community to change as a result of the program that you implement, so do not phrase your goal statement as an activity. "Implement a home visiting program" is not a useful goal statement; it does not describe how your work will improve the lives of children and families. And remember—you do not need a lot of goals. One or two good, clear goals will help you stay focused.

Here are some examples of goals:

  • Reduce child abuse and neglect in targeted families.
  • Improve parenting skills among first-time mothers.
  • Reduce low birth weight rate in the community as a whole.

How to identify desired outcomes?

A desired outcome is a statement that makes goals more concrete. To develop a useful set of desired outcomes (sometimes called objectives or outcome statements), you will need to describe what specific change(s) you hope to occur as a direct result of your program that will help you achieve your goals.

The CDC has developed the concept of "SMART" outcomes (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011). "SMART" can help you remember that a desired outcome should be:

  • Specific, describing what will change (e.g., knowledge, skills, attitudes, behaviors), and for whom (e.g., mothers, children)
  • Measurable, focusing on how much change is expected
  • Achievable within a given time frame
  • Realistic, accurately addressing the scope of the problem
  • Time-phased, indicating when the outcome will be measured.

You should have at least one desired outcome for each goal, and you can have more than one. The desired outcomes should be logically linked to support the attainment of the goal(s). It might be helpful to take a look back at the Community Needs Assessment you completed in Step 1 and note the measure availability for your community in order to specify your outcomes and how they will be measured, for whom, and by when.

Tip 1-2 provides some examples of desired outcomes for each of the goals listed above.

Tip 2-1. Sample Goals and Desired Outcomes

Goal: Reduce child abuse and neglect

  • Desired outcome: 10% reduction in the number of substantiated maltreatment cases per 1,000 children within a year
  • Desired outcome: 10% reduction in the number of child emergency room visits for trauma within a year

Goal: Improve parenting skills

  • Desired outcome: 20% increase in the number of first-time mothers aware of developmental milestones by the end of the program
  • Desired outcome: 20% reduction in the number of first-time mothers who use harsh parenting tactics by the end of the program

Goal: Improve birth outcomes

  • Desired outcome: 10% reduction in community-wide low birth weight rates by the end of the year
  • Desired outcome: 10% reduction in community-wide preterm birth rate by the end of the year

Identifying your community's goals and desired outcomes

In this section, we present the Goals and Desired Outcomes Tool, which will help you through the process of identifying goals and desired outcomes for your work. After the tool you will find the Townville example, which you can use to help guide you in filling the tool out yourself.

Tool 2-1. Goals and Desired Outcomes

Instructions for completing the Goals and Desired Outcomes Tool:

  1. A goal is a vision for how your community might change as a result of the program that you implement. Fill in the goals that you identify in the left-most column of this tool. And remember—you do not need a lot of goals. One or two good, clear goals will help you stay focused.
  2. Take a look at the second column of the Tool. Try your hand at specifying desired outcomes for each of the goals that you have identified. You might want to look at the sample worksheet and the description of how Townville did this before trying it yourself. To do this, you will specify the following:
    • What (specifically) will need to change to achieve your goal
    • For whom it will change
    • How you will measure the desired outcome, using the tips in this chapter as necessary.
  3. Repeat Step 2 for each of your program goals, adding rows to the Tool as necessary.

Tool 2-1. Goals and Desired Outcomes
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Townville Example 2-1. Townville's Goals and Outcomes

Based on their needs assessment, Townville's community coalition was already pretty certain about their goals. Given increased rates of child maltreatment in Townville, as well as high rates of hospitalization for injury, the community coalition selected two goals for Townville: (1) reduced child abuse and neglect and (2) reduced hospitalizations for injury among young children.

Identifying outcomes was a little trickier: What measurable outcomes could they set? By using their work in Step 1, Townville's community coalition realized that reducing substantiated cases of child abuse and improving parents' knowledge of home safety precautions were important outcomes. Meeting these outcomes would help them get closer to their goals.

How could they measure their progress toward these outcomes? The coalition had already looked at some statistics about their community, so they knew the types of measures that they could use, including using data from their local Child Protective Services (CPS) department.

Because they wanted parents' behaviors in the home to change to help protect children against unintentional injury, they decided that parents' understanding of in-home safety would have to change, and that they would have to assess this using a parent survey.

Townville's goals

Desired outcomes questions

Desired outcomes answers

Goal 1: Reduced child abuse and neglect

What will change?

Community rates of child maltreatment

For whom?

Families with children under
5 years old

How will it be measured?

Community CPS data

Goal 2: Reduced hospitalizations for injury

What will change?

Parents' understanding of adequate in-home safety procedures

For whom?

Parents of children under
5 years old

How will it be measured?

Parent survey

Tip 2-2. Data Collection Methods for Measuring Desired Outcomes






Self-administered surveys

  • Anonymous
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to analyze
  • Standardized
  • Easy to compare with other data
  • Could be biased if respondents do not understand the questions or answer honestly.
  • May not have very many responses, and some respondents may not answer all of the questions.

Low to moderate

Telephone surveys

  • Same as above, but may allow for conducting more surveys and doing more follow-up
  • Same as above, but those without phones may not respond; others may ignore calls

Moderate to high, depending on number of surveys to complete

Face-to-face structured surveys

  • Same as both of the above, but you can
    clarify responses
  • Same as both of the above,
    but requires more time and
    staff time


Recorded interview

  • Objective
  • Quick
  • Does not require new participants
  • Can be difficult to interpret
  • Data are often incomplete


Open-ended interactions

Open-ended face-to-face interviews

  • Gather in-depth,
    detailed info
  • Info can be used to generate survey questions
  • Takes much time and expertise
    to conduct and analyze
  • Potential for interview bias
  • Low to moderate if done in-house
  • Cost can be high if hiring outside interviewers and/or transcribers

Open-ended questions on a written survey

  • Can add more in-depth, detailed info to a structured survey
  • People often do not answer them
  • May be difficult to interpret meaning of written answers


Focus groups

  • Can quickly get info about attitudes, perceptions, and social norms
  • Info can be used to generate survey questions
  • Cannot get individual-level data from focus group
  • Can be difficult to run
  • Hard to generalize themes to larger group
  • May be hard to gather
    6–8 persons at same time
  • Sensitive topics may be difficult
    to address in a focus group
  • Low if done in-house
  • Cost can be high if hiring a professional
  • Usually incentives are offered to get participants


Observation (of children, parents, program staff)

  • Can provide detailed information about a program, a family, etc.)
  • Observer can be biased
  • Can be a lengthy process

Low to moderate if done by staff or volunteers

Adapted from Hannah, McCarthy, & Chinman, 2011.

Checklist 2-1. Completion of Step 2

When you finish working on this step, you should have done the following:

  • Established program goals that explicitly link to the findings from Step 1.
  • Clearly stated your program goal(s) and not phrased them as activities.
  • Identified desired outcomes that are linked to your goals using the SMART format.

Before moving on to Step 3

Now you are ready to take the information you developed in Steps 1 and 2 and use it to help you develop more of the details of your program planning and implementation. The next four GTO-HV steps (3 through 6) lead you through selecting the best evidence-based approaches to achieve your goals and desired outcomes. In these steps, you will review your program choices for the program that is most compatible with (Step 4) your local area and make sure you have the organizational capacity (Step 5) you need to actually carry out your chosen activities.