Defining Outcome vs. Objective vs. Action

There is often confusion between the terms Outcome, Objective and Actions in strategic plans.

The principle behind the use of these words is to think in terms of:

  • What do we want to see change in our client?
  • What does that change look like from the perspective of the service that we provide?
  • What do we do to create that change?

When writing a plan, the general flow of thinking should be:

  1. What changes do we want to see in the people we serve?
  2. What changes do we need to make in order to effect the desired change in the people we serve?
  3. What do we actually do to cause those changes?

If this thinking is used, then:

  • The Outcome is the change that we want to see in the people we serve.
  • The Objective is the change that we need to make in order to cause the effect of the Outcomes in the people we serve.
  • The Actions are the things that we do to cause those changes.

In more detail, the differences between these terms are:

Outcome

  • The Outcome is the result is for the people we serve.
  • An Outcome is a description of the results written from the perspective of the client.
  • The advantage of writing Outcomes is that regardless of what we do and how we get there, if we focus on the outcome the result will always be delivered for the client.
  • Outcomes should be written so that the changes in the client, or the effects of our actions on the client, are observable and measurable in a specific timeframe.

Objective

  • The Objective is the result of what we do.
  • An objective is a description of the results written from our perspective.
  • The advantage of writing Objectives is that they more directly relate to us and what we do. A possible disadvantage is that that badly written objectives could result in success for us, but not achieving the goal for the people we are supposed to serve.
  • Objectives should be written so that we can see if we have done what we said we would do (i.e. observable and measurable) in a specific timeframe.
  • Objectives can be related to desired outcomes. Objectives can be determined from Outcomes, by re-writing them from our perspective. The achievement of well written objectives should inherently and unambiguously lead to the achievement of related outcomes.

Action

  • An Action is what we do.
  • Steps taken by us in order to achieve the Outcomes or Objectives.
  • Actions should be measurable and time-bound.

Example 1:

Outcome:

Strategic plans will contain correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in 2015.

Objective:

Explain the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end of 2014.

Actions:

Write and e-mail explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Post a blog entry explaining the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans in March 2014.

Respond to all questions from staff about the correct use of the terms Outcome, Objective and Action in strategic plans by end December 2014.

Example 2:

Outcome:

20 new countries have new Student Led Movements by end 2020.

Objective:

Student Led Movements launched in 20 new countries by end 2020.

Actions:

Training of students in leading new movements by end 2015.

Arrange sending trips for existing student movement leaders to 10 new countries by end 2017.

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