This is a hard one. What on earth is an aim? How does it differ from an objective and why should you care?
Why have aims and objectives?
The fact is aims and objectives are what keeps you on track when research complications set in-which they will. Both researchers and commissioners should agree robust aims and objectives for the research at the outset-just after you’ve agreed on a worthwhile rationale. Think of them as your map and compass; aims and objectives are the only way of deciding where you want to go and of knowing when you’ve arrived. They are your key research navigation instruments and without them, at best, you’ll drift, and at worst, you could get hopelessly lost. The very worst outcome is that unrealistic research of debateable value is commissioned which wastes time and money.
But I hear you asking “won’t this pre-empt my findings and lead me to look for particular results?”
Well the answer is no. The aims and objectives are not about the what of the research-what you might find, but the where and the how. Where are we going and how will we know when we get there?
So let’s try an example of a research aim. A current concern is the historical sexual abuse of young people in youth sports. We can state our rationale as this is a worthwhile topic which will improve learning about child protection. So an aim related to this concern which would enable us to do worthwhile research could be:
To improve learning and expand knowledge about child protection in youth sports organisations.
Creating SMART objectives
What objectives might fit with this aim? These cannot be thought up in seconds and should be discussed and agreed upon between the various stakeholders to the research. In fact ‘agreed’ is one of the features of a SMART objective. I would argue the most important feature. There are a few variations of this acronym but
are useful characteristics to keep in mind. What do you want to achieve? How will you tell that you’ve achieved it? Does everyone agree-because if they don’t agree at the outset there will be difficulties later. Can we actually achieve this? How long will it take and when will we have met our objectives? Personally I think the ‘timed’ element is best worked out separately in detail agreeing milestones and research activities by using a GANTT chart.
So be specific, measurable and realistic. In our example we might wish:
- To analyse and compare different sporting bodies’ child protection policies
- To compare sporting bodies’ child protection policies with other youth organisations’ policies
- To learn what different sporting bodies’ child protection practice looks like
- To establish what best practice in child protection in youth sporting organisations looks like
But perhaps you can think of smarter objectives for this example project? What aims and objectives would you select to address this issue?