How to formulate capacity goals and objectives

Summary: key points and action steps

Different models and organisations use the words goal and objective in different ways, alongside other elements of the Logical Framework approach such as outputs, outcomes and impact.  This page provides some basic guidance for how stakeholders can reach agreement on what is needed for their particular need and context.

A capacity goal is the ability to do whatever is needed to achieve a development result.

Objectives are the capacities needed to achieve the goal.

Capacity goals

A capacity goal should state the overall purpose or aim of the CD initiative in terms of what it is that an organisation, target group or sector needs the capacity to be able to do.  It can be written by answering the following questions:

  • Who or what (organisation, target group, sector, etc.) needs capacity? 
  • Why is the capacity needed – for what purpose?
  • What type of capacity is needed in order to achieve the purpose?

However, equally important as the content of the goal is the process used to create it. Supporting key stakeholders to come together and create a shared vision about a new situation with new capacities in place creates ownership and buy-in for the process of achieving it.

A capacity goal should focus on the intermediate or middle level of the overall development framework and what is expected can be achieved in the middle or long term. This is somewhere between the national or sector level development result to which the capacity goal will make a contribution, and the specific objectives and results needed for system components, organisations and individuals to contribute to the higher level targets.  Because of the level and time frame they cover goals would normally be stated in somewhat general terms.

Capacity objectives

Capacity objectives should be statements of the results to be achieved and they are, therefore, much more specific, and achievable in less time than the goal. The most common guidance for writing objectives is to make them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bounded.  This guidance applies for capacity objectives so long as care is taken in the way that the capacity result is formulated.  This means objectives need to be written at the level of outcomes, with the focus on results rather than inputs and outputs.  Objectives apply at the level below the goal in the Logical Framework so it is important to make sure that they are stated differently. 

Example

A helpful guide to formulating goals and objectives, making sure they are clearly different but related can be to state the goal focusing on a verb – the ability to do something, and focus the objective on nouns – whatever is needed to achieve the goal.  The difference is clear in this example:

Goal: The food production sector has the capacity to continuously increase the quality and quantity of food production.

Objective: By (date) food producers will have the knowledge, conditions and resources needed to implement improved food production methods.

Explanation

Setting goals and objectives for CD provides the framework for action. In order that they have meaning and will contribute to real development results CD activities need to be situated within the setting and context of initiatives in sectors, such as agriculture or education, or development themes such as democratic governance or decentralisation.  They may also be part of work on cross cutting issues such as gender or human rights.

A particularly important consideration is the process by which the goal and objectives are formulated.  Something produced externally is unlikely to resonant with the relevant stakeholders or engage their commitment to action.  Whereas if key stakeholders are facilitated to come together and create a shared vision about their desired new situation and what capacities are needed to achieve it, they are much more likely to have ownership not only of the goal but also of the changes needed to achieve it.  This in turn both generates energy for the change and diminishes potential resistance. A step in this process would be to help stakeholders to see the potential in their current situation and opportunities, and to believe in its achievement. Also checking whether or not there is local leadership to support change processes, and this links to the necessity of assessing change readiness and the political economy.

Different models and organisations use the words goal and objective in different ways, alongside other elements of the Logical Framework approach such as outputs, outcomes and impact. There are also different opinions about whether the SMART criteria should be applied to objectives or indicators. This page gives some basic guidance and examples that can help with the formulation of  goals and objectives for integrating CD into other initiatives, including guidance about SMART objectives for those who feel that is the most appropriate method for their needs.

What is a capacity goal?

A goal is the aim or purpose of doing something.  A capacity goal should state the overall purpose or aim of the CD initiative in terms of what it is that the target group, organisation or sector needs to the capacity to be able to do. 

This will make most sense when the capacity goal is related to strategies, programmes or projects with higher, perhaps national, level goals.  For example if a government has a national agriculture strategy to achieve food self-sufficiency and food security it is likely to have a range of components on issues like land, markets, and technical resources. The capacity goal would fit in where the focus is on developing the capacity of key elements of the system and key groups of actors.

What does a capacity goal need to cover?

The ultimate goal of CD is for more people to gain greater control over their own destinies. (Lusthaus et al.Lusthaus et al., Capacity Development: Definitions, Issues and Implications for Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Universalia Occasional Paper No. 35, September 1999)

In this goal it is ‘people’ who need capacity, in order to ‘gain greater control over their own destinies.’  

Another example from the African Management Services Company’s work in Rwanda is more specific:

To help create a self-sufficient team of local employees at Fina Bank, capable of independently managing and leading the bank in the future.  (Tijan, Jallow, et al.Ahmad Tijan B. Jallow et al, Mapping of Ongoing and Planned Capacity Building Activities in Rwanda, Final Report, April 2008 )

In this example it is ‘local employees at Fina Bank’ who need capacity, so that they will be ‘capable of independently managing and leading the bank’.

Both of these goals focus on people, which still implies that capacity is about developing individual knowledge and skills. However, current concepts of CD do not focus on individual alone, as this is not sufficient. Organisational or higher level capacity is the core issue and that is a more appropriate focus for a capacity goal.  While of course it is a fact that individuals, who make up much of the organisation and the enabling environment, and also implement change processes, structures and legal framework, etc. they are not the whole story. The start of the art now is how to integrate all levels and components into cohesive whole for a holistic and sustainable approach. Despite the individual focus in the statements above they hold some very important ideas that can help to guide the formulation capacity goals.  Those ideas can be framed as questions:

  • Who or what needs capacity?  Sometimes individuals have capacity but they are in an organisation or system that does not function effectively and blocks the use of the capacity that does exist, so it is the capacity of the organisation or system that needs to considered, rather than that of the people. 
  • Why is the capacity needed?  What is the ultimate purpose or development result for which the capacity is needed?

There is a very important third question that neither of the goals above specify, and that is the type of capacity needed:

  • What type of capacity is needed in order to achieve the purpose?

A general statement in the goal of the type of capacity needed will help with the specification of the objectives that will be needed to achieve the goal.

An example from an NGO capacity development project in Cambodia specifies capacity at the organisational level and also the type of capacity that is needed.

To strengthen the organisational capacity and management of the partner organisations in order to strengthen their ability to deliver programmes that achieve positive impact.

This is a comprehensive capacity goal statement because it specifies the capacity is needed by organisations (who/what), why it is needed and the typeof capacity needed.

Where to focus the capacity goal? Which entry level?

This example illustrates where to focus the capacity goal.  Cambodia has a new law to establish sub-national administration (SNA) structures and, as would be expected for a national initiative of this nature, planning for implementation is multi-level and multi-dimensional.

Developing a capacity development strategy for the SNAs was part of the implementation planning for the new law.  This strategy has a capacity goal that is linked to the national development goal.  The strategy also provides analysis of the core capacity needs at the three primary entry levelsand uses this as the basis for a framework to guide implementation and M&E.  This includes specifying a more detailed capacity goal for each of the three different levels. Note that this still stays focused at the level between the national development goal and the specific objectives about results needed to achieve the overarching goals.

National development goal

To develop the functioning and capacity of SNAs, in particular Districts and Municipalities, Khan, Communes and Sangkats to represent the views of local citizens and to respond to their demands, within an established legal framework.

Overall capacity goal

To develop and enhance performance and effectiveness of SNAs to carry out their mandates that encompass delivery of ongoing public services, reflecting the principals of democratic development defined by the National Program for Sub-National Democratic Development.

Capacity goals by level

Institutional: To interpret, use or influence the enabling framework

Organisational: To enhance organisational effectiveness and achieve the mandate

Individual: To deliver on specific tasks to contribute to the mandate of local SNA

The example in the table below ‘The food production sector has the capacity to continuously increase the quality and quantity of food production’ also illustrates that the capacity goal needs to focus on the intermediate or middle level of the overall development framework.  That means somewhere between the national or sector level development goal, and the specific objectives and results needed for system components, organisations and individuals to contribute to the higher level targets. 

What is an objective?

An objective is a statement of a result to be achieved.  The most common guidance for writing objectives is to make them SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bounded.  The general guidance for writing SMART objectives still applies for capacity objectives so long as care is taken in the way that the capacity result is formulated, see the example below. 

At what level do capacity objectives apply?

Objectives apply at the level below the goal in the Logical Framework so it is important to make sure that they are stated differently.  A helpful guide can be to state the goal focusing on a verb – the ability to do something, e.g. ‘The food production sector has the capacity to continuously increase the quality and quantity of food production’.An objective can be stated with the focus on nouns – whatever things (capacities) are needed to achieve the goal, e.g. By (date) food producers will have the knowledge, conditions and resources needed to implement improved food production methods. This helps to keep a clear difference between the different levels. 

Because of the level and time frame they cover goals will tend towards being somewhat general, whereas objectives need to be much more specific and achievable in less time. Very often objectives are written with a focus on inputs and outputs, which may sometimes be appropriate, but that level does not lead to a clear specification of the capacity that is needed.  In general it is more helpful to write the objective at the level of outcomes, in order to move the focus beyond inputs and activities to the results that the inputs and activities need to achieve. 

This example shows how to be clear that the objective is focused at the capacity outcome level.  

Type

Example

Not SMART – input oriented

To train farmers about pest control and crop rotation

SMART - but input/ output  oriented

By the end of 2011 the agriculture college will have provided N farmers from X province with training on pest control and crop rotation

SMART at the outcome level

By (date) food producers will have the knowledge, conditions and resources needed to implement improved food production methods

A more specific objective for a component of the strategy could be:

By (date) essential linkages, subsidy and tariff systems for the food production value chain will be established and fully operational

The learning and change perspective

CD, learning and change are all very closely linked.  Some of the more recent approaches to CD have a strong focus on learning and change as guiding principles.  Questions about learning can be very helpful in the process of specifying capacity objectives, for example:

  • Who needs to learn? This is not only about individuals, but also at the organisational and sector level
  • What do they need to learn about in order to achieve the desired change?
  • To what higher level goals will this learning contribute?

This table provides an illustration of how the most commonly used words and ideas can be applied for setting capacity goals and objectives.

Component

Level

Description

Timeframe

Agriculture Example

Development Result

National or sector impact

The ultimate target changes in people’s lives and circumstances to which the capacity goal needs to contribute. 

Long-term

National self-sufficiency in food production

Capacity goal

Impact: organisationalIn this context the word ‘organisational’ also covers groups that may not be defined as formal organisations, for example all the farmers in a province or sectorIn this context to word ‘sector’ also covers networks such as a federation of farmers’ associations, and lateral groups across multiple sectors, for example all women managers in ministries performance

 

Improvements/increases in the ability to do something

Medium and long-term

The food production sector has the capacity to continuously increase the quality and quantity of food production

Capacity objective

Outcomes: individual and organisational functioning

Changes in the way people or organisations do things because they have applied their learning

Short and medium-term

By (date) food producers will have the knowledge, conditions and resources needed to implement improved food production methods

For programme and project planning purposes this overall capacity objective would be underpinned by specific objectives relevant to each to the necessary outputs list below.

Activities and immediate results

Outputs: conditions, physical resources, system changes, individual and organisational learning that contribute to the outcome of change

Immediate results: the achievement of activities and what people or organisations have learned from the activities; and the acquisition of resources

Short and medium- term

Institutional level

Supporting legal and policy structure in place

Secure land tenure for farmers

Value chain linkages supported by relevant subsidy, tariff and market systems ICT systems in place (access to market information)

Agriculture disaster risk reduction plan in place

Organisational level

Systems, policies and procedures fully functioning in relevant central and local authorities

Agriculture Colleges technically upgraded

Farmers’ associations resourced to support application of new methods

Individual level

Farmers knowledge of new methods, e.g. pest control & crop rotation

Farmers have physical access to markets (roads)

Inputs

The people, activities and other resources allocated to CD activities at the level of agricultural colleges, farmers’ associations and farmers

Technical inputs for legal and policy development, physical resources like road building and ICT, and sector learning

Resource inputs such as finance

Training for farmers and their associations

Provision of resources such as finance

n/a