Formulation of goals and objectives
(go to Outline)
The goal of a survey, when written out, ought to explain in one sentence why the survey is being done. It is a general statement. The objectives of a survey should be more detailed descriptions of what indicators and outcomes will be measured in what population. Both goals and objectives should be written down at the start of survey planning.
Below are examples of survey goals:
Goal of a survey done in refugee camps on the Sudan-Chad border:
This survey will measure nutritional status and measles vaccination coverage among children living in Camps X, Y and Z in June, 2007.
Goal of a nutrition assessment survey done after two consecutive severe winters in Mongolia:
This survey will determine the existence and severity of the nutritional effects of the severe weather during the prior 2 winters in Mongolia.
True or false?
Is this a feasible goal for the survey in Mongolia?
After the goal of the survey is determined, you need to write clear, detailed objectives for each of the major outcomes to be measured. Each objective should include:
- The specific health or nutrition indicator or outcome to be measured,
- The target group in which it will be measured, and
- The population or geographic area in which the survey will be conducted.
Of course, the health outcomes to be measured will depend on what program questions you want to answer. You may also wish to explicitly state in the goals and/or objectives the time period during which the data will be collected and to which the conclusions will refer.
Two of the objectives of a survey done in Mugunga Camp, Goma, Zaire, in 1994:
- Measure what proportion of the population of Mugunga Camp had died since arrival in Zaire in mid-July, as reported by a household informant.
- Measure what proportion of persons ill with diarrhoea in Mugunga Camp since arrival in Zaire sought health care at a health facility during this illness.
Which of the following outcomes would you want to measure in a survey if you want to know whether or not anaemia is a serious problem in adult women?
What target group would you include in the survey if you are interested in whether or not anaemia is a serious problem in adult women?
Obviously, you must carefully define both the indicator or outcome of interest and the target group in which that indicator or outcome will be measured. You should have already defined the population in which the survey will be done. The diagram below shows the relationship among these groups
To check if your definitions are clear, ask yourself if your definition of the population and the target groups allow someone else to determine if any individual on earth is eligible to be included in your survey. For example, as above, if you are targeting women of child-bearing age (15 -49 years of age) who currently live in country X, this will exclude all women of child-bearing age living elsewhere in the world and all women older than 49 years and girls younger than 15 years of age who live in country X. This definition could be used to determine if any individual human on earth is eligible or ineligible to be included in the survey sample. If a survey report you are reading does not define the target groups and indicators and outcomes to this level of detail, perhaps the survey workers or managers themselves were a bit unclear as to whom they included in the survey and what outcome was measured in them.
Which of these objectives is adequate to describe a survey measuring anaemia in refugee camps in Tanzania?
We should not belabour the point, but having clear objectives will greatly help you with:
- Negotiations with collaborating organizations
- Writing the questionnaire
- Planning logistics and needs for supplies and equipment
- Data analysis
Not having clearly defined objectives may result in:
- Misunderstandings and bad feelings from collaborating organizations whose outcomes were left out of the survey
- Poor direction to those who are commissioned to do a survey, potentially producing survey results which do not answer the questions which the sponsoring organization needs answered
- A poor questionnaire which does not gather the data required to measure one or more important indicators or outcomes
- Lack of appropriate supplies and equipment
- Undirected and unfocused data analysis and wasted time
These are certainly qualities no one wants to have in a survey. Will you trust the results of a survey in which objectives were not clearly defined and listed in the survey report? Probably less than if specific objectives are clearly presented.