4. Assessing problems and needs, setting up objectives

Needs assessment

  • The problems are the difficulties faced by a community or some of its members: environmental problems (drought, floods, pollution); health problems (lack of clean water, poor hygiene, infectious diseases, food problems, food shortages, under-nutrition); poverty problems (low income, bad housing, etc); safety problems (conflict, crimes, accidents, lack of respect for human rights); educational problems (poor access to school, school dropping, lack of teachers, etc.)
  • The needs are the solutions necessary to solve problems: irrigation, reforestation, waste management, drilling, water systems, clinics, vaccinations, improving agricultural production, creation of small businesses, home improvement, prevention of crime, establishment of schools, improving education, etc..

Problems and needs assessment – whatever the field of action you’ve chosen – must be done in consultation with stakeholders and beneficiaries. This involves considerable time to meet people and enter in dialogue with them. You cannot make people happy without them. Beware of the technocratic tendency which lead you believe that you know the situation better than people and that problems will be easily solved by applying technical solutions.

Setting objectives

Objectives are measurable qualitative or quantitative changes expected after a certain period of time to meet the identified needs.

We say that a good goal should be SMART. It’s a mnemonic device to remember the five characteristics of a perfect objective:

  • Specific – the objective must define exactly the result we want to achieve.
  • Measurable – you must be able to easily measure the results obtained.
  • Achievable – the objective must be achieved within the allotted time.
  • Realistic – the objective must be attainable with the available resources.
  • Timed – the wording of the objective must indicate a deadline for the achievement.

You have to practice writing objectives in order they have these five characteristics. Very often, we confuse activity and objective.

For example:

  • Building a dispensary for villagers” is not an objective, it is an activity.
  • In three months, villagers will have a dispensary equipped  for primary care” is a good objective: it defines a specific result to be achieved at the end of a given time.


To identify indicators, we must ask yourself: How will we know that what we have planned is happening or has happened? How to be sure that we have achieved our goal?

Note that it is often necessary to establish several indicators to measure a single goal. For example an indicator can give a good qualitative measure which should be supplemented by another indicator focuses on quantitative information.

However, one must be aware that checking indicators takes time. Therefore, avoid to define too many indicators because  their checking would become unmanageable.

A good indicator must be objectively verifiable, that is to say that if the flag is raised by two different people, it must give the same information. You can find more information on the indicators in the resource “the logical framework of a development project”

Useful resources:

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